Nutrition is a big buzz word these days. Nearly every week we hear about the newly discovered health benefits of whole foods or the harmful effects of denatured processed foods. From the heart-protective antioxidants in grapes and dark chocolate to the cancer-causing downside of refined sugar, our national awareness of the role food plays in our health is on the rise.
A nutritional crisis
While information about healthy food has gone mainstream, personal health is still a mystery to many people.
It’s no secret that the standard American diet—appropriately acronymed SAD—is the worst diet humans have ever eaten, and it has created a health crisis unlike anything seen in human history. Within the last 100 years, we have gone from growing, harvesting, and preparing our own food with our own hands, to mass producing concoctions that are made in laboratories. In the name of progress, we have blindly and tragically denounced many of our traditional real foods as unhealthy, and replaced them with synthetic look-alikes. Fearful of rising cholesterol levels and heart disease, we swapped real eggs for Egg Beaters, for example, and real butter for margarine.
Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings, flavor enhancers, stabilizers, hormones, antibiotics, trans-fats, preservatives, and pesticides have infiltrated our pantries and eateries, stripping us of our birthright of good health. Most recently, in the 1990’s, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), were unleashed into our food supply without being tested for human safety. Since then, incidences of food allergies, digestive disorders, and cancers have risen sharply.
We’ve become so far removed from foods in their natural state, that we now call such foods “health foods,” a sad admission that we’ve compromised our health for the sake of convenience. The effects of our nutrient deficient diets and sedentary lifestyles have taken their toll, not just on our bodies, but also on our souls and psyches. Traditional wisdom and sheer intuition tell us that not only is it unnatural to replace real food with chemical concoctions, but this way of eating simply cannot be sustained.
Holistic nutrition involves much more than healthful food choices; it encompasses the care and feeding of the whole person, which has profound effects not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
At its most profound level, health is not is not just the absence of pain, stress, or disease, but also an abundance of vitality, passion and purpose. It is the daily experience of wholeness and balance—a state of being fully alive. Getting to this state can begin with conscious, mindful food choices.
Holistic nutrition reaches beyond the conventional approaches of dieting and calorie counting, and employs a variety of approaches concerning food and nutrients, blending traditional, ancient food wisdom from cultures around the world with modern scientific discoveries, as a way to individualize what works best nutritionally for each person. It takes into account a person’s culture, lifestyle, constitution, and how aggressive he or she wants to be with obtaining the results that he or she want to achieve.
Different illnesses, conditions or diseases have different nutritional requirements and each responds to diet and nutrition uniquely. This holistic approach provides ways for each person to participate in the care of his or her own health.
The underlying principles of holistic nutrition are nourishment, mindfulness, awareness and nutritional and environmental responsibility. It helps us to better understand food and appreciate it as an instrument of personal healing. Nourishing ourselves according to holistic nutrition principles becomes a wise, mature, and loving act of self-care.
The word diet comes from the Greek word dieta, which means discipline, or way of living. The Latin root of the word means “a day’s journey.” Holistic nutrition emphasizes and encourages us to approach changes in our food choices as a gradual process to be taken one day a time. The key is to make real changes—changes we can live with successfully on a long term basis—in the way we approach food, fitness, and the challenges and opportunities of living. Changes are best achieved slowly, as an understanding of food and individual needs deepen.
Although holistic nutrition is largely individualized, there are some basic guidelines that apply to all individuals who wish to follow holistic nutrition principles. One of the main tenets of holistic nutrition is to eat foods in their closest-to-natural form as possible. The focus is on eating more SOUL foods—that is, foods that are seasonal, organic, unprocessed, and local. We find these are the types of foods that provide our bodies with the highest levels of nutrients and life-force energy. These are also the types of foods humans thrived on for thousands of years.
10 steps to better nutrition
1. Drink plenty of pure water each day. The amount of water each person needs is individual. To determine the total amount you need, divide your body weight by two. The resulting number is the number of ounces of water your body needs. If you are not currently drinking enough water, gradually increase your intake by 8 ounces each week, until you have reached your optimal amount.
2. Read ingredient lists and avoid foods with artificial ingredients. The basic rule of thumb is, if you are buying a prepared food that comes in a box or bag, make sure you know what all the ingredients are and if they have any known health effects. If the ingredient list includes chemical names you can’t pronounce, it’s a pretty sure bet the product isn’t healthy.
Some ingredients to avoid include aspartame, sucralose, BHA, BHT, TBHQ, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium benzoate, nitrates and nitrites, partially hydrogenated oil (aka trans-fats), artificial colors and flavors, and anything with a number after it such as red 40, yellow 5 and polysorbate 80. These are just a few ingredients with known links to such health effects as headaches, hyperactivity, weight gain and cancer.
3. Eat loads of fresh fruits and vegetables and moderate amounts of whole grains (if appropriate). Eat at least 2 cups of green, leafy vegetables each day, and strive to include an additional 2 cups of other brightly colored vegetables into your meals and snacks. Juicing some fresh vegetables is a great way to make sure you get the optimal amount each day.
If you do eat grains, expand your horizons and eat a diverse variety. Minimize wheat and glutinous grains, and instead try some quinoa, buckwheat, millet or teff.
4. Avoid GMOs as much as possible. More than 90 percent of the corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are from GMO seeds. A genetically engineered growth hormone, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) is used on many conventionally raised dairy cows, which results in GMO milk and dairy products. Ingredients made from these GMO foods are used over 70 percent of processed foods, so it’s best to stay away from as many processed foods as possible.
5. Choose organic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program strictly prohibits the use of GMOs in any food carrying the USDA Organic seal. So if your food carries the organic seal, you know it’s not made from GMOs.
Also, pay attention to the little stickers with numbers on them when buying produce. If the item is conventionally grown (meaning grown with the use of pesticides), the number on the sticker has four digits (for example, 4060 indicates broccoli). If the item is organically grown, the number has five digits starting with a 9 (94060 indicates organic broccoli). If the number has five digits beginning with an 8, that means the produce you are holding has been genetically modified.
6. Eat small amounts of protein throughout the day, to tame sugar cravings. If you eat animal protein, select hormone-free, antibiotic-free, organically raised meats, poultry, eggs and dairy. Animal proteins are best consumed in smaller amounts compared to the plant foods that should make up the majority of your food intake.
7. Minimize caffeine, sugar and alcohol. These are stimulants that interfere with the body’s natural detoxification pathways, inhibiting and negating your efforts at improving health. If you do drink coffee, make it organic as much as possible. Conventionally grown coffee beans are one of the crops most heavily sprayed with pesticides.
8. Know which fats are healthy and which aren’t. Plant based saturated fats such as coconut oil and palm oil, and small amounts of organic butter are the best for baking and cooking because they are stable and don’t oxidize when heated, while monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocados are less stable and provide the best health benefits when unheated or used with very low heat. Polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils, nut and seed oils should be avoided as they are highly unstable when exposed to air and heat and quickly oxidize. Oxidized oils introduce harmful free radicals into the body, which create chronic inflammation that leads to diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.
Obtain nut and seed oils from eating raw nuts and seeds instead, rather than as pressed oils. One exception is flaxseed oil, which if properly stored away from heat and light, can be added to foods.
9. If your body temperature is cold, eat more protein, essential fatty acids, seaweeds, and warming spices such as ginger and cayenne. If your body temperature is warm, eat more cooling foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and green herbal teas and spices like mint, rosemary, lemongrass, and rooibos.
10. Take time to truly enjoy food. Chew slowly, savor flavors and give thanks for the blessing of the life force energy being transferred into you.
Your care and feeding
“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs but rather he will cure and prevent disease with nutrition” said Thomas Edison. In its simplest definition, nutrition refers to “the care and feeding of an organism.” Understanding how to properly care for and feed ourselves is one of our most important human responsibilities.
Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA) offers an online and on-campus 200 hour Holistic Nutrition Specialist Program designed for people who are interested in learning to make healthier food and lifestyle choices for themselves, as well as how to develop a meaningful and successful business by helping to make a positive difference in the lives of others. The program provides students with a comprehensive understanding of the foundations of whole food nutrition and how it contributes to the prevention of illness and the promotion of optimal health. For more info, go to http://www.swiha.edu/