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What to Eat - Principles of Healthy Eating
Posted By Dr. Ben Kim
What you eat isn't the only determinant of your overall health status. There are plenty of other facets of your life that play major roles in determining how functional and energetic you are.
Here's how I think about the role that diet plays in contributing to health and disease:
If you're consistently eating foods that nourish your cells and don't create cellular injury or inflammation, your diet can take a back seat to other high priority items, like getting enough rest, being physically active, being in a healthy environment, and spending time with people and projects that leave you feeling fulfilled.
If you're not eating the right foods for your health - foods that are injuring your cells and creating inflammation in your body with or without your awareness - then your diet deserves the bulk of your attention and resources, as taking care of other areas of your life while continuously crippling your body with your food choices is a recipe for chronic disease.
Figuring out what to eat to support your best health is a project that you best take on yourself, as no one else can observe all of the ways in which your body responds to the foods and beverages that you consume.
Put another way, it's virtually impossible for one specific dietary program to best support everyone because we're all unique in countless ways and we're always changing.
What is possible and effective for many is to follow a few specific principles that govern healthy eating, to continuously be mindful of how you're feeling, and to make modifications whenever necessary.
Sometimes, modifications may be called for immediately, as in the case of discovering a food allergy. At other times, you may find that changing life circumstances - like aging or even changing of seasons - require alterations to your diet to keep you feeling strong and healthy.
What follows are general principles of healthy eating that I personally strive to follow and that I recommend to my clients.
1. Eat Nutrient-Rich Foods.
Nutrient-rich foods are naturally abundant in one or more of the following health-promoting nutrients:
- Healthy protein
- Healthy fat (including cholesterol)
- Healthy carbohydrates (including fiber)
- Phytonutrients (health-promoting nutrients found in plant foods)
Dark or brightly colored vegetables, fruits, and legumes are generally considered to be nature's most nutrient-rich plant foods that are typically well tolerated by the masses.
From the animal kingdom, eggs from healthfully raised birds and cold-water fish are good nutrient-rich food choices for many people.
Broths made from vegetables and/or bones from cold water fish or healthfully raised chickens are also deeply nourishing choices.
2. Minimize Or Avoid Consumption of Highly Processed Foods.
Foods that are predominately made of sugar, flour, and highly processed grains (found in many commercially prepared cereals) are generally low in nutrient value. Ditto for the vast majority of deep-fried foods like donuts and potato chips.
You may be able to indulge in highly processed foods without experiencing significant consequences to your health in the short term if your health is relatively good, but the more you stay away from this group of foods, the healthier you will be and feel in the short and long term.
3. Minimize or Avoid Consumption of Foods that Cause Cellular Injury or Inflammation.
Based on everything that I know about human health and nutrition, the worst offenders are:
- Pasteurized and homogenized dairy products.
- Foods that contain shortening or partially hydrogenated oils.
- Most varieties of highly processed luncheon meats, hot dogs, bacon, and sausages.
- Factory-farmed flesh meats that have been cooked to a crisp.
4. Chew Your Foods Well.
Chewing your foods until liquid takes burden off your digestive organs, and allows your body to maximally extract and absorb nutrients in the foods that you eat.
You aren't what you eat; you're what you fully digest, and thoroughly chewing your foods is an essential requirement for optimal digestion and health.
In sharing the principles noted above with clients, I'm often asked to provide examples of what I eat on a day-to-day basis.
Here's a look at what I typically eat during colder months:
- Some type of fruit - usually pomegranates, apples, or clementines
- Lightly scrambled organic eggs - scrambled in coconut or extra-virgin olive oil
- Drink made with almond milk, green food powder, acerola cherry powder, and chocolate powder or a new product that I may be testing
- Tablespoon of Carlson cod liver oil
- 5000 IUs of vitamin D
- Bowl of soup, usually miso, seaweed, or Chinese radish
- Bowl of rice
- Kim Chi
- Filet of fish (just once in a while, usually salmon, sardines, or mackerel)
- Pinto beans or chickpeas (usually in the form of hummus)
- Rice with a number of vegetable side dishes, similar to bi bim bap, a Korean dish of rice and vegetables.
The foods listed above are typical fare for our family of four, though my wife and two sons tend to have more animal protein than I do; they all do well eating small amounts of free-range chicken and turkey, and occasionally even beef, but any animal protein that they eat is accompanied by generous portions of vegetables and mineral-rich soup, as well as some rice.
As a family, we also enjoy the recipes that I publish in our healthy recipes archive. For example, we'll occasionally treat ourselves to some pancakes along with fresh fruit for breakfast. Sometimes, we'll have vegetarian chili for dinner. We're big on avocados and guacamole all the time.
Given that our family is pretty active, we tend to eat healthy snacks at least once a day. These snacks include raw cashews, smoothies, trail mixes that we make with goji berries, chocolate nibs, and dried coconut. We also enjoy coconut butter and coconut butter-based spreads.
We almost always have a big bin of baby organic greens in our refrigerator - we add handfuls to most of our soups. I also like to munch on a bowl of raw greens while I work, as I find that this helps keep my teeth strong.
After playing tennis or doing any other type of exercise, I typically make another drink for myself with a variety of superfood powders - the same kind that I have in the morning.
We regularly make our own vegetable or chicken broth to have on hand for the soups we make.
I do a lot more juicing in the summers than in the winters. But even during colder months, I like to juice up a couple of heads of romaine lettuce once in a while and drink the whole batch within a few hours. Like munching on raw baby greens, drinking freshly pressed lettuce juice makes my teeth feel strong, and I also find that this practice makes it possible to participate in strenuous activities for hours at a time without feeling muscle fatigue or cramping.
In the summer, we eat many of the same foods mentioned above, but we tend to eat mostly raw foods, especially during the hottest months. From about June to September, the four of us go through at least one whole watermelon a day - I'm talking about 15-pound melons.
Also in the summer, I find that I prefer to eat less whole grains and more steamed vegetables, along with generous servings of a wide variety of raw vegetables.
Enough about what me and my family eat. If you're looking for guidance on what to eat to get and stay healthy, I encourage you to consider the four principles mentioned above, to follow your instincts in trying foods and recipes that are appealing, to observe how you feel while eating different foods, and to make modifications whenever necessary.
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