Even though everyone is aware of the three critical contributors to good health that we will be discussing in this post, many people do not practice what they know to be true. Each person has his/her own reasons – either it is too complicated, takes too much time and energy, or s/he believes that it really doesn’t make that much difference. The last one is particularly true of people who seem to be basically healthy. Unfortunately that attitude is extremely short-sighted.
Let’s review the three critical contributors and you can evaluate how well you are doing with each of them.
1. Nutrient Rich Food
Understanding the nutrients you need to stay healthy is important – and easy. There are only six categories that you must remember.
Except for possible deficiencies of vitamin B12 and vitamin D as mentioned in an earlier post Eating Well – One of Life’s Great Pleasures, you can get all of the above from a healthy diet – including vegan. The secret is to be sure that you are eating enough of the foods that provide the necessary nutrients. When you make the proper choices – making an effort to eat a balanced diet that is close to nature with fresh, organic foods, you will be on the road to continuous good health, including recovery if you are already sick. All you need is to understand the nutrients you should be getting from your food, and why.
It is best if you eat at regular intervals throughout the day with at least three hours between each meal and snack. For most people who work 8:00 to 5:00, this works out to be about four times a day – three meals and an afternoon snack. If you work longer hours, you may also need a morning snack to keep your metabolism working well.
The reason for the three hour gap is that you system works more efficiently if you eat when you are hungry – and your body has had time to digest each intake. When you are really hungry, you mouth should water when you think about eating. Unfortunately, most of us have completely disrupted the natural digestive process by eating too often – especially when we are not hungry – and eating empty-calorie junk food (making it even worse).
We have lost touch with our wonderful digestive system and the signals that it gives us by interrupting the natural digestive process. Because of that the body may have problems with mineral absorption and constipation. It is time to get back to eating nutritious foods at regular, well-spaced intervals.
Let’s look at each group of nutrients.
If you remember from grade school, proteins are known as the building blocks of life.They break down into amino acids, which promote cell growth and repair, making protein one of the most important nutrients for humans. Unfortunately, many Americans eat far more protein than is necessary. As a general rule, only 8% to 10% of your daily diet should be comprised of protein and many people will be fine with 5%. The required percentage is so small that it is easy to consume the amount of protein your body needs – with or without meat.
Meat and fish are both a good source of protein, but there are many other sources, as well. In fact, protein is in almost everything we eat, which makes getting enough protein quite simple regardless of your diet (as long as it isn’t a “junk-food” diet).
Protein rich foods include: Meat, fish, foul, eggs, cheese, green leafy vegetables, quinoa (a seed that is called “the perfect protein), other seeds (sesame, sunflower, poppy), legumes (peas and chickpeas), beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters, soy milk, and tofu – many choices.
It is not only important to eat the right foods, it is also important to eat enough calories to maintain your weight. As long as you are eating a healthy, balanced, empty-calorie-junk-food-free diet, you will get enough protein.
There is an on-going debate on how much fat and types of fats you should include in your diet. One side of the argument advocates avoiding saturated and trans fats completely and eating only moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (“good fats”) that come from olive oil, fish oil, coconut oil and the like.
The other side advocates that you should avoid any kind of processed fat. They insist that you can get all the fat you need from whole foods such as nuts, avocados, olives, and coconut.
I agree with the first group, but you should decide what makes the most sense for you. Just be sure that you are getting some fat in your diet.
Words from some of the experts:
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Some fats are found in foods from plants and animals and are known as dietary fat. Dietary fat is a macronutrient, along with protein and carbohydrates that provide energy for your body. Fat is essential to your health because it supports a number of your body’s functions. Some vitamins, for instance, must have fat to dissolve and nourish your body.
Most foods contain several different kinds of fat, and some are better for your health than others. You don’t need to completely eliminate all fat from your diet. In fact, some fats actually help promote good health. But it’s wise to choose the healthier types of dietary fat and then enjoy them — in moderation.”
Healthguide.org states, “Bad fats, such as trans fats, are guilty of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for—weight gain, clogged arteries, and so forth. But good fats such as the monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s have the opposite effect. In fact, healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.
Trans fats and some saturated fats are bad for you because they raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease. But monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are good for you, lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease.”
The main consideration is the state of your health. If you are overweight or struggling with a serious condition such as diabetes or heart disease, you may want to follow the advice of the second group and eliminate all processed fat and eat only moderate amounts of fat from natural sources. Follow your doctor’s advice on your consumption of fat.
One final thought – avoid “low-fat” and “non-fat” foods. In order to adjust the taste, they are loaded with sugar.
High-fiber diets help in the following ways:
- Maintaining healthy bowels and normalizing bowel movements
- Lowering cholesterol
- Slowing the absorption of sugar and improving blood sugar levels
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
How much fiber do you need? The Institute of Medicine (2012), which provides science-based advice on matters of medicine and health, gives the following daily recommendations for adults:
Age 50 or younger
Age 51 or older
High fiber foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, oats, brown rice, nuts and seeds, and beans.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has stated that, “A diet high in fiber (and low in fat) contributes to a healthy diet that may lower, prevent, and reverse obesity, diverticulitis and type 2 diabetes. Fiber can also reduce your risks of colon cancer and breast cancer. The benefits of getting enough fiber are clear, yet most people don’t get enough due to the proliferation of overly processed foods in their diet.”
Once again we see the danger of eating a diet filled with overly-processed, empty-calorie foods!
If your eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus whole grains, nuts, beans, chicken, fish (including shellfish), and meat, you will get all the vitamins you need, except for vitamin B12 and vitamin D, which you may have to get through supplements. Ask your doctor for a blood test to check your levels. Be careful about taking supplements without checking. Too much can be as bad or worse than not enough. See the previous post: Nutritional Deficiencies.
If you want to find specific foods that are rich in each of the vitamins, read this article: The Best Foods for Every Vitamin and Mineral.
Minerals that you need for good health are: Calcium, Iron, Chromium, Copper, Fluorine, Iodine, Magnesium, Manganese, Molybdenum, Sodium, Zinc, Phosphorus, and Selenium. Some of these probably sound familiar, others not so much, but they are all important.
The good news is that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables will be automatically rich in these minerals. So, if you eat a well-balanced diet that includes many foods close to nature – in particular a variety of plant-based foods, you will be getting all the minerals you need.
For a detailed list of specific foods that contain each of the vitamins and minerals, please read Vitamin and Mineral Sources from WebMD.
We have all heard, “Drink lots of water” – “Stay hydrated.” Everyone is aware of the importance of water in a healthy diet. The experts tell us that we should drink 8 glasses of water a day, which is a good guide. But, you do not have to get all your water from a glass. When you eat high-water content fruit and vegetables such as: green leafy vegetables, carrots, citrus, melons and strawberries, you are also taking in water. On days when you are consuming those foods, you will not have to drink quite as much water to stay hydrated.
Fresh, filtered tap water is recommended.
Drink enough so that you do not feel thirsty. When you are thirsty – drink! When you ignore the thirst signals, you may begin to feel hungry, which could be a false signal. If you struggle with a need to “snack” in-between meals, try drinking a bottle of water first. If the hunger persists, eat a piece of fruit, or celery and carrots dipped in hummus to give you a little more water and also curb your hunger until dinner time.
2. Regular Exercise
Eating nutritious food is critical for good health and staying well. However, a regular exercise regimen is also important. I am not talking about running a marathon or lifting weights, etc. In fact, a lot of exercise is not required.
There are many ways to approach this, depending on your health and physical capacity.
- Walk 15-20 minutes every day.
- Take a 5-minute walk after every meal.
- 30 minutes of aerobic exercise coupled with 10 minutes of resistance exercise (this can be done 3 to 5 times a week).
Whatever you choose, do it regularly; it will make all the difference in how you feel. It also helps your digestive track work more efficiently, exercises your heart and lungs, “oils” your joints, and helps you sleep better.
3. Adequate Rest
Your body needs rest to work at peak levels. On average, people need eight hours of sleep each night. Some can work well on seven, but any less than that is harmful to your body. You may be one of those who is convinced that four or five hours a night is enough – and it may seem that way, but the truth is that you are depleting your body’s resources and it will catch up with you eventually.
Your body will tell you the amount that is enough. Figure out the amount of sleep that makes you feel the most energetic – somewhere between seven and nine is the required amount for most people. Too much sleep can also be bad for you. I know that if I sleep more than nine hours, I feel sluggish all day – and yawn a lot.
The goal is to make it through your work day without hitting a wall at some point. If that happens, you are not getting enough sleep. One way to deal with the “wall” is to take a 20-minute power nap, it will work wonders.
People sometimes complain of difficulty falling asleep. If you are among that number, there are some things you can try:
- Don’t eat for at least three hours before bedtime. I try not to eat after 8:00 (6:00 is even better).
- Avoid liquids for more at least an hour before bedtime.
- Get into a routine – go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Getting enough rest will not only give your body the break it needs to rejuvenate and help you feel better in general; it will also increase your productivity and help you control your eating. The need to snack on sweets and caffeine will diminish. You will be able to choose much healthier foods because the need to fight fatigue with empty calories will no longer drive you.
Everything goes together when it comes to nutrition and a healthy body.
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