The number one question I get asked by friends, family and clients now that I'm a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner is, "What can I do to be healthy?" I love this question because it lets me know that people are aware that they need to be proactive when it comes to their health. It warms my heart knowing that people want to make their health a priority.
During my training with the Nutritional Therapy Association, I learned that there are six foundations of health. I'm throwing in two bonus foundations that I think are equally as important. Read on to learn more about each of them.
What we consume is the number one foundation for health. Why? Because we literally are what we eat. Ann Wigmore said it best when she proclaimed, "The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison". This quote right here tells me that we have the power to choose whether we want to nourish our bodies or slowly poison them with foods void of nutrients. We've been given the choice of what we feed ourselves! How cool is that?!? And when we choose a diet full of nutrient-dense foods, our bodies thank us with the gift of good health. I like to stick to foods that resemble their natural state as much as possible. I opt for colorful vegetables and fruits, humanely raised animal proteins, properly prepared nuts and seeds, and some 85%+ organic dark chocolate every now and then.
We are what we eat...but only if we're absorbing and assimilating our nutrients properly through good digestion. Digestion is a north to south process. It begins in our brain when we start the process of thinking about what we're going to eat. We then consume our food by putting it in our mouth, chewing it, and swallowing it. I don't need to tell you how this part works. What you may have not considered is what happens to your food once you swallow it. The food you swallow (bolus) goes into your stomach to be broken down. The majority of the people I've worked with do not have adequate stomach acid levels, therefore breakdown of food is impaired. Low stomach acid is epidemic and can lead to digestive problems. If you've experienced bloating, belching, nausea, heartburn, and gas just after a meal, chances are that your stomach acid levels are too low. When our stomach acid is too low, the foods we consume cannot properly get broken down and assimilated into our cells. This can lead to undigested particles ending up in the small intestine, which is a main cause of leaky gut syndrome. If digestion is not optimal, our health will suffer. We won't be able to extract critical vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat. Many of those vitamins and minerals are cofactors for other health processes in our bodies. Therefore, it's important to make sure that our digestion is in top shape. Choosing nutrient-dense foods, drinking enough water between meals, avoiding processed foods, and eating foods that contain essential fatty acids are all important ways we can improve our digestion.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Today, the majority of us are inundating our bodies with sugar and refined carbohydrates like never before. This is the first time in human history that we have seen a huge rise in metabolic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer). Many of the people who come to me with health concerns are worried because they feel like they're addicted to sugar. And that may be true. Recent studies have shown that sugar may be more addictive than cocaine. Some people literally cannot resist sugar. Why? Because sugar activates our reward pathways. In more simple terms, sugar makes us happy. But you know what else makes us happy? Reducing insulin surges by adjusting macronutrient ratios. This means we need to focus on consuming more quality fats and clean protein sources. The carbohydrates we consume should come from unrefined sources such as high-fiber vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, and slow burning starches (sweet potatoes and plantains are some of my favorites).
It's time to stop fearing fat. Why? Because good sources of fat will not make us fat. In fact, fat is essential for good health. Fat can can help us absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It can boost our metabolism and increase satiety. It can provide fuel and energy for the body. Fat can insulate our bodies and keep us warm. It can make our skin glow...because no one wants dry, dull skin. Fat can improve nerve, heart and brain function. In fact, our brains are made up of mostly fat. The type of fats we consume matters. Good sources of fat include monounsaturated fats and saturated fats. Yes, that's right. Demonized saturated fats are actually good for us when consumed along with a nutrient-dense diet void of processed and refined carbohydrates. The fats that we should avoid are trans fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils (canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, sunflower, safflower, and rapeseed oils). Two types of fats are essential for our health, meaning our bodies cannot produce them on their own. These essential fats are most commonly known as Omega-3 (ALA, EPA and DHA) and Omega-6 (linolenic acid). You can find Omega-3 in fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. Nuts, seeds and meat are good sources of Omega-6. Just be careful not to overdo the Omega-6 fats.
Minerals are essential for optimal health. They act as cofactors for enzyme reactions, maintain pH balance in the body, facilitate the transfer of nutrients across cell membranes, maintain proper nerve conduction, help to contract and relax muscles, help to regulate tissue growth, and provide structural and functional support for the body. When people think about minerals, often times they think about calcium - one of the the most abundant elements in the human body. Unfortunately quite a few people lack the cofactors that allow their bodies to absorb and use calcium. Magnesium is a mineral most people are deficient in as well. Magnesium is important because it is needed for over 300 bodily processes. Common signs and symptoms of mineral deficiency include fatigue, muscle cramps, dry skin and hair, bleeding gums, anemia, depression, fertility issues, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, weakness, problems with vision, and more. Supplementation can sometimes help. However, making sure that your digestion is optimal and consuming good sources of fat, other minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, and filtered water with added electrolytes can aid mineral absorption and assimilation.
We can potentially live without food for several weeks. But go without water for just a few days and we'll die. The human body is made up of around 60% water. Every cell in our bodies depends on water to function properly. That's why we need to make sure we're drinking enough water and staying hydrated. The average adult is told to drink at least half of their body weight in water per day. The need for water goes up even more if you're actively sweating or drinking diuretic beverages like coffee, tea, soda, alcohol, and sugary juices. Water is needed to flush toxins out of the body, to deliver oxygen to cells, to transport nutrients, to keep tissues from sticking, to lubricate joints, to regulate body temperature and more. If you experience fatigue, anxiety, irritability, depression, sugar cravings, muscle cramps, tension and/or migraine headaches, heartburn, joint pain, back pain, fibromyalgia, constipation or colitis drink more water because chances are you're experiencing signs of dehydration. I like to start each morning with a 12-16 ounces of room temperature water. I also consume water between meals to keep cravings at bay.
I love listening to podcasts. One of my favorite things from some of my favorite podcasters (Shawn Stevenson, Dave Asprey, and Dr. Mark Hyman) is when they ask their guests to list top health tips. I would say the health tip I hear most often is to make sure you're getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night. Getting enough good quality sleep has many benefits. It improves cognition and productivity, helps us live longer, curbs inflammation, reduces cravings for processed foods, reduces the risk of metabolic diseases, improves immune function, and more. When we don't get enough good quality sleep we may experience fatigue, moodiness, unhealthy cravings, brain fog, inability to concentrate, and more. I often tell my clients to up their sleep hygiene by limiting screen time before bed and going to bed and getting up at the same times each day if possible.
The last foundation of health, but definitely not the least, is movement. Our bodies were designed to move on a daily basis. We did not evolve to sit in a cubicle for eight hours a day or in a car during a one hour commute to said cubicle. Moving daily has many benefits, even if done for just 5 minutes each morning. When you move your body regularly, you'll look younger than your chronological age, have healthier skin, experience less inflammation and infections, have fewer unhealthy cravings, lessen your risk for cancer, sleep better, have less bone loss, reduce body fat levels, improve your mood, turn off negative gene expression and more. Walking is one of the easiest forms of movement. I suggest walking briskly a few times per week. In the morning, make it a habit to get up and stretch. Do a few jumping jacks or burpees. One of my favorite forms of movement is jumping on a rebounder for 5-10 minutes a day. Not only is this a fun form of movement, but it's also a great detox method since it gets lymphatic juices flowing. Aim to move daily. Choose something that is enjoyable for you like hiking, surfing, or yoga.