Truth lies in the proverbial saying “you are what you eat” meaning to be healthy and fit one needs to eat healthy food.
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the famed French politician, gastronome and observer of his countrymen, wrote in his 1825 culinary tome, The Physiology of Taste, “tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are.” Brillat-Savarin was much ahead of his time even preaching that floury, starchy foods contributed to poor health.
The notion and practice of eating healthy food is not a new idea, but now as never before we need to pay attention to following a healthy diet and finding a healthy weight especially as we age. This goes for kids, too. Our abundance of food choices is robbing us of health and quality of life as we consume more calories than we spend while our weight creeps higher. An insidious process, called inflammation, is at work causing increasing numbers of people to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, dementia and some cancers. A better term for inflammation might be “inflammaging” because these chronic conditions increase with age and rob us of longevity.
Inflammation is a complex process. For example, excess weight around the waist, so called belly fat, causes insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance means insulin is unable to carry blood glucose to muscle and liver cells. Consequently glucose continues to circulate in the blood. Elevated blood glucose creates conditions for immune cells to infiltrate the fat issue, especially fat around the waist, and set off other metabolic events and byproducts that in turn create inflammation. The inflammation targets the cardiovascular system damaging blood vessels and setting up cardiovascular disease. In managing rheumatoid arthritis, an anti-flammatory diet, along with medication, may help reduce flare-ups and pain.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet is widely considered by nutrition experts as a healthy plant-based eating approach to taming inflammation. Here is how to get started.
(1) Decide with conviction that you are changing your diet lifestyle. This includes planning your meals and grocery shopping as well when you eat and what you eat. Steps might include researching recipes and revamping your pantry for healthier choices. Check calorie values on menus when you eat out, especially at fast food restaurants. It’s just as easy to order something that has 1,000 calories a serving as one with 400 calories.
(2) Set health goals like losing a certain amount of weight to improve blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
(3) Explain to people who eat with you why you are changing your food choices. They may not be ready to do the same and that can be challenging for you to keep your focus.
(4) Diet Basics
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially the colorful ones as they are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants and The National Cancer Institute defines an antioxidant as a substance that protects cells from the damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules made by the process of oxidation during normal metabolism). Antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, vitamins A, C, and E and others. Scientists estimate there may be more than 5,000 phytochemicals that are plant chemicals contributing to plant color, taste, and smell and seem to offer protection from heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Legumes, nuts and seeds are also rich in phytochemicals. Eating a varied diet offers the chance for these phytochemicals to complement each other. A supplement of a single phytochemical does not provide the same benefit as those found in food. All these foods are rich in fiber that helps with bowel regularity, an unwanted challenge of growing older.Favorites: All berries, dark green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. Please don’t ignore all the other fruits and vegetables.
- Leave foods with sugar, salt and fat These ingredients seriously impact health and promote inflammation. Especially give up sugar sweetened beverages. Avoid high fat meats and processed meats that are high in saturated fat and salt. Snack foods are also high in fat and salt. Read labels and look for trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils that raise LDL cholesterol.
- Use healthy oils like olive, canola, or avocado. These oils have the same calories as other oils, but do not raise cholesterol.
- Use low fat dairy foods like milk and yogurt and consider cheese and butter a treat in small portions.
- Make a list of the sugary foods you eat. The recommended amount of sugar is only 6 teaspoons a day. Decide what you can give up and what you absolutely can’t live without. A 12-ounce coke has nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar.
- Eat less, eat slowly, eat wisely.
- Physical activity, stress management and sleep also help tame inflammation.
Quick Recipe: Tomato Vegetable Soup
This is a basic vegetable soup that can be easily adapted to include a variety of vegetables as well as beans and even a bit of lean meat.
In a 1-1/2 quart or bigger pot, warm 2 Tbsp. olive oil and saute 1 cup chopped onions just until tender. Add 1 cup sliced carrots, 4 small potatoes (diced), 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes with added puree, 2-1/2 to 3 cups of chicken broth, 1 12-ounce bag of mixed frozen vegetables (any kind), 1 tsp. Mrs. Dash, 1 tsp. dried basil, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for one hour or until vegetables are tender. About six servings.
Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator
Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.
On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.