Nutrition is a complicated topic, and there's a lot of controversial information on it. What should we eat to be healthy? What should we avoid?
I think Michael Pollan nailed it when he said: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” For those of you who don’t know who Michael Pollan is, he is an American author and journalist who studied and wrote multiple books on food and nutrition. “Eat food” means we should eat whole foods, not genetically engineered, not processed nor stuffed with chemicals the names of which you cannot even pronounce.
We eat way too many packaged, highly processed foods. They are packed with salt, sugar, and inflammatory oils. There have been numerous studies showing that people who eat a lot of processed packaged foods have a lot more heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, strokes, and cancer. Did you know that processed lunch meats are named carcinogens by the World Health Organization ? And yet we keep not only eating them but believing that they are the healthier parts of our lunches. Meanwhile cancer rates are rising, even in young people.
What happens in the body when we eat processed foods? The body reacts to them by creating inflammation.
The body is smart and knows that these things are not supposed to be inside us and tries to eliminate them. In the process our immune system becomes activated. This is a normal response that helps the body get rid of the toxic substances. However, if we keep eating these foods the body is constantly fighting, and immune cells go into overdrive and release a cascade of inflammatory substances. They increase the formation of free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons. That allows them to react easily with other molecules. This can cause a chain reaction in the body, but in any case over time it contributes to tissue damage.
Inflammation leads to damaged blood vessels, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, and many other health problems. DNA even can get damaged to the degree that it could lead to cancer. And it can weaken the immune system so that we cannot fight infections well.
Chronic inflammation leads to premature aging and wrinkles.
It damages the protective caps on our chromosomes called telomeres. If telomeres become too short our cells cannot divide any longer. Therefore, we cannot replace and replenish our skin cells, our immune cells, our blood cells, the cells that line our gut, lungs and kidneys. Our organs would start to shut down.
So what are whole foods? Think of them as plant parts that have not been changed. Vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains. Much of the time the closer the food is to its original state the better it is for us.
Why eat mostly plants?
These are four top reasons.
1) Plants contain fiber that is good for you in a few different ways. Fiber helps us stay fuller longer so that we do not overeat. It lowers cholesterol and improves blood sugar, reducing risk of developing heart disease, stroke or diabetes. It is good for digestion health, and decreases risk of developing colon cancer. Fiber also is necessary for healthy gut bacteria. No amount of probiotics will help you if you don’t have enough fiber in your diet, because they will simply die very quickly. There is more and more research showing how these gut bacteria are beneficial for our health. They play a part in our immune system and help us maintain or achieve healthy weight. These healthy gut bacteria have even been linked to better mental health. Plants contain the fiber that provides all these benefits, but animal products have no fiber or very little.
2) Plants contain antioxidants. These are protective molecules that help against inflammation. Therefore eating more plants decreases our risk of chronic diseases.
3) Most plants are naturally low in sodium. Research shows that eating too much salt, because it is high in sodium, leads to high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes, heart problems and kidney disease.
4) Eating more plants is better for the environment, as it typically takes less resources to produce crops than animal products.
By no means am I telling you to become vegan or vegetarian; I myself am not. I simply want to encourage us all to be mindful of what we are putting in our bodies and try to eat more plants than most of us do to improve our health.
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