What is the single most important thing you can do to improve your energy and mental functioning, reduce pain and inflammation, reduce your risk for chronic disease and age gracefully? Improving your nutrition! Eating a healthy diet continues to be a challenge for many individuals because there are so many factors at play. The ability to break bad habits that, in most cases, have been established in childhood is challenging. Beyond the knowledge and awareness of what are healthy choices is the challenge that mental emotional imbalances and fatigue play on cravings and making bad decisions. There is a lot involved in what is the right diet for you. This article is intended to give you a solid foundation to start making better choices to meet your body’s needs.
The nutrients in food can be characterized in 2 ways: by their micronutrients or macronutrients. The micronutrients are their vitamins and mineral content and the macronutrients are the amount of carbohydrate, protein or fat content it contains. Both of these categories are important in determining what amounts are optimal to provide energy and nourishment to the body. Let’s further break these macronutrients down:
Carbohydrates (“carbs”): there are 2 types of carbohydrates- simple and complex carbs. Simple carbs such as table sugar, maple syrup, honey, fruit and soft drinks are converted into glucose (sugar) in our body very rapidly. Complex carbs such as vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes are converted into glucose slower and do not give you the crash that simple carbs do. When eating carbs you want to select the most unrefined options. For example, choose brown rice instead of white rice and whole grain instead of white. Eating carbs that are colourful contain phytonutrients that are essential for optimal cellular and organ function. You want to focus on carbs that have more fibre and less sugar content. This improves your feelings of satiety, improves bowel health, toxin removal and improves cholesterol. Be mindful of how much sugar you consume by starting to be more aware of nutrition labels. Sugar should not exceed 10% of your caloric intake. For a 2000 kcal diet, this would be less than 50g of sugar.
Fats: fats are characterized as saturated or unsaturated fats. Saturated fat is found mainly in animal products just has animal meat, fish, dairy eggs and any fried food. Unsaturated fat are mainly plant sources such as olive oil, raw nuts and seeds and avocado. The best sources of fats also contain omega3 fatty acids such as oily fish, flaxseeds, hemp seeds and walnuts. The worst fats to consume are those from deep fried foods. These contain trans and hydrogenated fatty acids that increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and chronic pain. Fats are good for you if you eat the RIGHT ones. They are essential for your energy, skin health, brain, nervous system and hormone production.
Protein: Protein supports muscle mass, provide the building blocks for tissue repair and muscle recovery and is essential for immune function. Healthy sources of proteins include eggs, wild fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy. You would want to limit your red meat consumption to 1-2x per week and avoid deep fried and processed meat. Moderation and variety are key for healthy protein intake. Depending on your activity level, protein intake should be around 0.4g per pound. Ideal macronutrient proportions for optimal health and weight management is 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carb intake.
Hydration is an undervalued component to your health. Hydration regulates your body temperature, lubricates joints, prevent constipation, improves toxin elimination and kidney health, needed for nutrient bioavailability and carries nutrients and oxygen to all the cells in your body. Most people are aware of the “8-cup per day” rule but a more accurate recommendation is to consume ½ your weight in ounces. Be aware that consuming caffeinated beverages and sweating increases this requirement further.
Deciding what “diet” is right for you can be very overwhelming. It is best to work with a health care provider to decide which diet is best to meet your health goals. Generally, improving your diet can be accomplished by answering 4 simple questions: WHAT should I eat? WHEN should I eat? WHERE should I eat? HOW should I eat.
- WHAT– The quality of the food you are eating is the most important thing for you to improve. Good quality food is referring to whole foods that have been minimally processed. Each meal should be balanced in carbs, fats and protein, and should vary in different foods from day to day. Avoid food intolerances or foods that affect how you feel.
- WHEN– Our bodies thrive on routine. Create a routine of eating at the same time each day. Your body will respond with giving you consistent signals back.
- WHERE– Take a break to eat! Get away from your work station and eat outside of your typical (and maybe stressful) environment. Your absorption and digestive function will improve.
- HOW– Mindfulness is key. Chew slower. Allow yourself to smell, taste and feel the food in your mouth. Recognize when you are full or satisfied and avoid over-eating.
Improving your nutrition is all about taking charge of the things you CAN control and setting yourself up for success. Making weekly meal preparation a priority is the best thing you can do to take control. You should have a plan and know what you are eating each day. Stop buying unhealthy foods so you are not tempted when you are tired and hungry. Have healthy snacks on hand at home and ones you can bring with you on the road or when travelling (see other blog posts on this). Remember we are here to help. Naturopathic Doctors can develop a nutritional plan for you, assess you for food intolerances and provide individualized supplementation and treatment recommendations.
Set the intention and better nurture your body. We are here to help!
Dr. Deanna Walker, ND
Naturopathic Doctor, Clinic Co-Owner
Sage Naturopathic Clinic