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  • Writer's pictureDave Balzer

Food for Thought (and Function!)

Here's some food for thought...

The nutrients we eat affect everything in our body, from physical and cognitive performance to immune function. What we put in our body is crucial in maintaining a resilient, healthy life. Proper nutrition promotes well-being by giving our body the nutrients it needs to support healing and growth.

Pretty simple and straightforward, right? On paper, yes... in reality, not at all!

The nutrition and dieting world can be a confusing, dark, and scary place. Heck, I am anxious just thinking about sharing a nutrition blog post as any "stance" on nutrition comes with polarizing opinions. Vegan vs carnivore, cholesterol is the devil, eggs are good... eggs are superfood, fat is bad... no fat is good - do KETO!, vegetables are amazing... no they aren't, they have oxalates, eat small meals all throughout the day to keep energy up... nah, you have to keep that eating window small by skipping meals, and so so much more! These zero-sum debates in nutrition are endless and unproductive.

The bottom line is there is a ton of unknown in the nutrition research industry. A TON! But sadly, this "unknown" is used against the general population when they are trying to make healthy choices in regards to food. A productive discussion on nutrition should be nuanced and specific to individuals.

A great way to start the conversation on nutrition is a quote from Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food:

"Eat food, mostly plant, not too much" - Michael Pollan

The first two words are the most important. Eat food! The vast majority of our culture follows the Standard American Diet (acronym "SAD"... very fitting!) which consists of highly processed (fake) foods. Our culture has shifted to focusing on the nutrients instead of real food in its entirety, then taking those broken down so-called "nutrients" and adding them to processed foods. Research has continued to show how this quick fix in regards to food has failed and actually caused more damage to our health.

So, let's circle back to those first two words. Eat (real) food... vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, and meat. Yes, the recommendation says "mostly plants", not only plants. This is where the individualization comes in as some can thrive without animal protein, but for the most part fish and meat serve a crucial role as they are extremely nutrient dense and packed with easily bioavailable proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Acadia National Park, Maine - Fall 2019

So what are some actionable tools to implement in regards to eating real food? Michael Pollan makes seven simple recommendations that build on his seven influential words quoted above. These recommendations can be found in his book In Defense of Food:

  1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. "When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, "What are those things doing there?" Pollan says. If the food or "food product" didn't exist 100 years ago, then it's probably not food.

  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce. I mentioned earlier in this article that there is a lot of unknown in the nutrition industry. One way those in the industry take advantage of that unknown is by putting synthetic "food-like substances" with fancy names in products to improve shelf life. Plus, they market those substances as "heart healthy" or "brain healthy". If they have to advertise on the package as "insert healthy" then it's probably a false claim.

  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store. The reason behind this is once the food goes bad it can easily be transported out of store, which takes us to the next point.

  4. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says. Take a moment to think about this. Those crackers and chips have been sitting in a bag in your pantry for over 3 months, plus however long they were on the shelf at the store... Do you really think that is something you should be putting in your body?

  5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry," Pollan says. "Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, 'Tie off the sack before it's full.'" Our bodies adapt to the stressed it's put under. If the body is trained to be completely full, then it will crave that sensation.

  6. Enjoy meals with the people you love. Traditional meals were enjoyed together with family around a table, not a TV. Food does not always have to be about promoting bodily health or weight loss. Food can be an enjoyable experience promoting social community, ritual, and pleasure. (More on this in future articles about the Blue Zones and longevity.)

  7. Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car. Food deserts are real problem in our culture as gas stations are the only option people may have for "grocery" shopping. This problem is very real and I've seen it first hand working in low socioeconomic communities.

These recommendations are great, and many of them are probably familiar to you, but this information only goes so far if we don't understand the mechanism behind the recommendations, or the "why" behind making these lifestyle nutrition changes.

Nutritional interventions serve a much greater purpose than simply regulating body weight. Research continues to show the positive effects nutritional interventions can have on healing chronic pain, arthritis, migraines, skin irritation, gut dysfunction, autoimmune disease, depression, musculoskeletal pain, and a variety of other chronic conditions. Proper nutrition paired with effective physical activity is by far the most effective treatment tool medicine has for improving function, reducing pain, and restoring health. (Article on Nature's Magic Pill - Movement)

The following studies demonstrate the powerful effects nutritional interventions can have on well-being. They also shed light on certain conditions you may not have expected to be treated with a nutritional component.

First, a 2002 study from the British Journal of Psychiatry examined the effects of supplementing an array of multivitamins, including omega-3 fish oil, on behavioral disturbances and aggression for prison inmates. The study was performed on 231 inmates and found a 35.1% average decrease in disciplinary offenses over the study time periods. Another study in the Netherlands in 2010 reproduced similar results on prison inmates and there is currently a study looking solely at omega-3 fish oil supplementation being performed in Australia on over 600 inmates.

Second, a 2020 systematic review study from Nutrition Reviews examined the impact of dietary interventions on Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), one the most most debilitating immune-inflammatory conditions that is becoming more and more prevalent today. The review found beneficial outcomes from a wide range of nutritional interventions such as Vitamin D supplementation, processed food dietary restriction, fasting, Mediterranean diet, elimination diet, and increasing omega-3 fish oil foods in diet.

The purpose of mentioning these studies was not to recommend everyone run out and get a fish oil supplement to improve their aggressive behavior and reduce risk for RA. It's that type of reductionistic thinking that has put medicine in poor positions to treat chronic conditions. Disease and dysfunction is more nuanced and these studies also have their flaws -- in example, the inmates weren't "eating real food", just supplementing... imagine if these individuals had been following the seven recommendations above and supplementing. The purpose of discussing these studies was to demonstrate there are other solutions to treating chronic conditions that do not involve potent pharmaceuticals and their horrific side effects.

Are you suffering from chronic aches and pains or debilitating stress/dysfunction? It may be time you take a look at addressing your nutrition. Every cell in our body either produces energy from or was created by the food we put in our body. The body has an incredible, innate ability to heal, but much like a garden, we have to cultivate it and provide it with nutrients like sun, water, and proper soil to bear fruit.

Thanks for your interest in health and wellness!



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