“Eat real food
— and then not too much, and mostly plants”
Your diet is the best medicine to prevent heart disease, cancers, Alzheimers, and many other illnesses
There are many theories concerning diet and health, yet over the years as I have studied and worked as a naturopathic physician and nutritionist I have come to the conclusion that the truth is quite simple. It’s all about eating healthy and natural whole foods. I have recently read The Blue Zones, a book I highly recommend which looks at the lifestyles of four of the longest living communities in the world and as a result I am convinced I am right.
Michael Pollan, a renowned modern food philosopher, puts it more eloquently than I: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That is, eat a natural, whole-food diet, high in fruit, vegetables and whole-grains and low in animal protein, sugar, junk food and processed food. Following this advice not only prevents but also treats many diseases. In fact, the impact of diet on health is best illustrated by the research that shows the foods a women eats when pregnant can affect the health and genes not only of her children but even that of her grandchildren.
Eat a Rainbow of Colours
The scientific research is definitive: a diet high in fruit and vegetables lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease including strokes, protects against many cancers and alzheimers; guards against cataracts and macular degeneration, plus much more.
The latest research shows that vegetables are in fact the most important in maintaining optimal health. Ideally we would all have access and be able to afford organic food, free of pesticides and toxins. Failing that, you should try to go organic for the following ‘dirty dozen’ fruit and vegetables: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce and kale. These have been identified as being more prone to pesticide contamination by the Environmental Working Group, an organisation that works to protect public health,
Some of the least toxic — the “clean 15” — include onions, sweet corn, avocado, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant, mangoes, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, mushrooms, grapefruit and sweet potatoes.
Eat at least five servings (serving = ½ cup) and preferably 10 servings a day. You should also eat a ‘rainbow of colours’ with the different colours representing different phytonutrients which provide the protection we need; the darker the colour the richer the nutrient. For example, iceberg lettuce is almost nutrient devoid, so I recommend choosing romaine, rocket and other darker green salad leaves. Of all plant foods, darkly coloured blackberries have the highest content of antioxidants.
There are some other ideas for great weight loss foods on this site.
Don’t Forget the Fibre
Grains provide the main fibrer needed for healthy bowel movements, to help prevent diverticulitis, and provide many nutrients. However, eating the wrong grains, or too much can lead to health complications. Always eat whole grains, nothing white and refined. Try to limit wheat to once a day, as it is becoming a very common food intolerance. Rather, replace wheat with grains like quinoa, wild and brown rice, millet, oats, spelt, barley and corn. When trying to lose weight, limiting grains to once a day can be very helpful.
Choose the Right Oils
Avoid partially hydrogenated oils which contain trans fats, the fats that lead to cardiovascular disease. Instead, include good oils in your diet as these contain essential nutrients in them that nourish us and are necessary for good health.
In particular, the right balance of omega-3s help prevent inflammation and promotes healing, is beneficial for pain prevention, lowers blood pressure, cardiovascular disease risk and lipid panels, and assists in insulin sensitivity so is useful in metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Omega-3s are anti-allergic, lead to vasodilation and prevent platelet aggregation, thereby helping to prevent strokes. They keep cell walls healthy so that receptors cells and neurotransmitters work as they should, improving mood and physiological function. DHA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids, helps fight cancer and is needed for neural and cognitive development in infants.
Good oils are found in organic butter, extra virgin olive oil and unrefined, high-oleic safflower oil. Coconut oil is also good to use. If you are dairy sensitive, you can buy Earth Balance or Smart Balance instead of butter and margarine. These products are available at city’super. The best source of omega-3s is from oily fish but also eggs, seeds and nuts.
Choose the Right Proteins
The world of protein is complex and controversial.
As a society we eat way too much animal protein, and the animal protein we are consuming is extremely unhealthy. If one looks at the work by Ornish and Barnard and studies on the Seventh Day Adventists, a vegan diet is shown to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease and to promote longevity.
But a vegan diet is not necessarily healthy nor practical for all. As a compromise, eat animal protein only once a day or possibly every second day. As a replacement, eat healthy vegetable sources of protein like nuts and seeds, legumes like peas, beans and lentils, and organic soy products like tofu, tempeh and miso. Organic soy, which is not genetically modified, is protective against breast cancer, prostate cancer, balances out female menstrual problems and lowers cholesterol. While cutting down on animal protein, you are providing the body with foods high in essential fats, fiber and nutrients.
When it comes to dairy, if you are not intolerant, it is essential to buy organic products to prevent the consumption of hormones and toxins. Eggs too should be organic and free-range. I am of the belief that good quality eggs eaten in moderation are healthy for you.
When eating meat choose organic, grass-fed and wild game whenever possible. Other meat is filled with hormones, antibiotics and is very high in omega 6s which are proinflammatory. Grass-fed meat has the natural balance of omega-3: omega-6 oils. Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids but again make smart choices. Avoid tuna, which is high in mercury, and also farmed salmon which is high in PCBs. Rather, go for wild salmon, herring, cod, trout, sardines and halibut.
Even with the ideal diet, we are not always able to get enough nutrients from our foods, and sometimes a body needs a push to begin the journey back to health. Therefore certain nutrients in supplementation form can be extremely helpful.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
I recommend taking fish oils to get a healthy dose of omega-3 oils. Oils like flax-seed require extra nutrients and biochemical processes before the oils become available to the body as EPA and DHA, two of the most effective omega-3s. At least 1000mg of fish oils a day will go a long way in preventing heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and increasing longevity.
I have begun to test almost all my patients’ vitamin D levels and have found that almost all are deficient and those with serious illnesses have extremely low levels.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that is so essential to health yet many of us are deficient in it because we work and live indoors, use sun block and can’t get enough from our diet — even in fortified foods. Vitamin D plays an essential role in cell and gene functioning. Deficiency is linked to many cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic muscle pain, bone loss and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.
It is essential to get tested and take supplementation if necessary. If possible, you should also spend about 20 minutes a day in the sun without sun block and with as much skin exposed as possible. I have begun to test almost all my patients’ vitamin D levels and have found that almost all are deficient and those with serious illnesses have extremely low levels. So many patients have reported that simple supplementation makes them feel much better and have noted that they even have fewer colds during the winter months. It is especially important for cancer patients to be tested.
Greens like wheatgrass and barley grass have many health benefits. Spirulina especially is a power-packed super food. It is a great source of protein and is filled with powerful phytonutrients and minerals. Research has shown that it prevents cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, cancer and diabetes; it protects the liver and decreases damage from toxins and it also improves the immune system and reduces allergies. A simple 1 tablespoon a day can provide so much protection and so many health benefits.
I could spend days talking about protective nutrients but by following a healthy diet, and taking the above supplements on a daily basis, you can prevent and protect yourself against the diseases that affect so many lives like heart disease, cancer and Alzheimers. Simple changes can improve your vitality and longevity. Remember — eat real food — and then not too much, and mostly plants.
I have seen simple changes make a huge difference in people’s lives. Here are two stories to illustrate the point.
Jane was my receptionist in my practice in Cape Town and she saw for herself how my practice improved the health of so many of my patients. Intrigued she asked me for some suggestions to improve her own health. We decided on a simple diet plan: taking out the junk and the processed foods, increasing the fruit and vegetables, eating only whole-grains, good oils and good protein sources. I also added in some fish oils and liver support, and encouraged her to start exercising again.
Within weeks she noticed amazing changes: her chronic acne was almost gone, she was starting to shed the unwanted weight, she was eating less but also felt less hungry as the foods she was eating were more nutrient dense, and her energy and mood improved significantly.
The experiment ended up being a great advertisement for me as so many patients noticed the difference and asked her why she was looking so vital and well.
Jennifer is a lovely, elderly patient of mine. She is also vegan. When she came to me she had high blood pressure and fairly high cholesterol — high LDL, low HDL — and high triglycerides. She may have been vegan but had lapsed into eating a mostly carbohydrate diet, low in essential nutrients and fatty acids.
We made simple dietary changes, lowering her carbohydrate intake, and increasing fruit and vegetables, and good sources of proteins and fats. As she was vegan, we used chia seeds as a source of omega-3s, together with a powerful antioxidant co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and a natural blood pressure lowering supplement high in bioflavonoids. It took a while to find the perfect combination but on this protocol, within a few weeks her blood pressure dropped and on retesting her lipid panel three months later, we found her triglycerides had dropped to the normal range and her cholesterol had dropped from 6.9 to 5.7 with her HDL increasing and her LDL decreasing.
This same patient had been recommended a life on statins and blood pressure medicines as a ‘cure’ by her cardiologist. We achieved a real cure within three months with a lifestyle change
About Anti-Oxidants Help with Heart Health
Anti-oxidants benefit in the prevention and treatment of many diseases.
Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10), a powerful anti-oxidant, plays a unique role in energy production at the cellular level and is very important for the proper function of organs with high energy requirements such as the heart, liver and kidney. It also helps keep the fats in cell walls healthy, which in turn protects from heart disease, angina, heart attacks, high blood pressure and cancer.
Flavenoids, also found in plants, are another powerful group of antioxidants. Crataegus oxyacantha (hawthorn) and Hibiscus sabdariffa (sour tea) have a long history of use in traditional botanical medicine in many parts of the world for their multiple health effects, but especially in relation to cardiovascular disorders. In the last 15–20 years, modern research has expanded and clarified those beneftis. Hawthorn research has focused on congestive heart failure, and sour tea research has focused on hypertension and dyslipidemia, with several clinical trials emerging in the last 3–4 years.
The active flavenoid in hawthorn leaves, berries, and blossoms is proanthocyanidin which has especially important cardiovascular effects. The exact mechanisms is uncertain, but it is thought that the primary activity is its ability to increase coronary arterial blood flow, perhaps due to dilation of the coronary arteries.
Hawthorn has also been shown to exhibit antioxidant activity in a number of studies, which is probably due to its flavonoid and procyanidin constituents. Hawthorn preparations are modestly effective in reducing blood pressure, preventing and treating atherosclerosis, lowering cholesterol, and preventing the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL).Hawthorn preparations may improve the blood supply to the heart by dilating the coronary arteries, increasing the force of contraction of the heart muscle, and regulate cardiac rhythm. Hawthorn can be taken in capsule, liquid tincture or as a solid extract.