How to approach food as one of the four pillars of health
“We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly.”
Eating is part of socialising, and many wonderful memories are created around a table where families and friends get together to share meals.
Being mindful, and in the moment when we eat, is important.
Do not eat on the run. Sit down to eat, and consciously enjoy every eating experience. Lighting a candle even if it is just a regular evening meal, can add atmosphere and pleasure to a simple, healthy meal.
Unless you have blood sugar issues, are elderly or fragile, try eating only 2 or 3 meals (and no snacks) a day within a 10 hour period. We were not designed to eat all the time. Time restricted eating/ intermittend fasting has many health benefits, including improved immune function, improved blood sugar control, better mitochondrial function resulting in more energy, and reduced inflammation.
To eat healthy, one has to prepare, and make sure that healthy options are available. On the flip side, one has to remove food temptations. To constantly have to rely on will power to make the right food choices, is not reasonable, especially when the journey is new. Therefore, strip the fridge and cupboards of those temptations, and replace it with healthy food choices.
So, here we go!
The ‘do’ list:
Eat real whole foods, as close to the way it is found in nature as possible.
Avoid ultraprocessed foods, also known as ‘frankenfoods’ or food-like products like viennas and packaged foods with long shelf lives.
Eat more vegetables (at least 5 portions per day), increase the variety of veggies you consume. Incorporate colourful veg like beetroot, red peppers, carrots, red onions, and dark green leafy veg. If plant foods can make up the majority of your plate, you are off to a very good start!
Increase cruciferous veg intake like cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, and broccoli. (These veggies are particularly helpful to boost a healthy gut microbiome, they play a role in estrogen detox, and help to regulate the immune system.)
Eat fruits and veggies that are in season.
Buy whatever you can from local sources. Less time in transit means fresher products, and less money spent on transport. Supporting local producers will ensure better and more local products.
Experimemt with herbs and spices. Not only are they tasty, but many of them hold surprising health benefits. Turmeric, for instance is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Try to incorporate a good quality protein with every meal. A boiled egg, or chicken breast added to a colourful salad, drizzled with an olive oil dressing, is an excellent lunch option.
Eat healthy oils like olive-, coconut- and avocado oils. Avoid ultraprocessed seed oils like sunflower oil.
Remember to incorporate seeds and nuts in your diet.
Drink plenty of water.
Herbal teas can be healthy.
The ‘do not’ list:
Eat as little sugar and refined carbs as possible (a concept to chew on is to ‘denormalize sugar’). Everything in the grocery store from meat products to bread can contain added sugar. That is not necessary, and certainly not healthy! Realize this, check labels, and avoid these foods.
Do not eat until you feel full, stop at about 80%.
Do not eat a big meal late in the evening.
Limit coffee (especially if you have anxiety or insomnia), and alcohol consumption.
Limit carbonated beverages.
Avoid artificial sweeteners.
Gluten in wheat, barley and rye, as well as dairy products are very commonly consumed. Many people have sensitivities to either, or even both, with consequent adverse health effects. Anything from joint pains, brain fog, chronic sinusitis, diarrhea or eczema can be caused by a food sensitivity. Keep this in mind, and consider an elimination diet to find out if one of these is a problem for you.
Limit the use of plastic containers for food and beverage storage. Use glass and stainless steel instead.
Remember Food is Medicine… bon appétit!
Dr. Alma le Roux
Rangan Chatterjee, The 4 Pillar Plan (2018)
William W. Li, MD, Eat to beat disease (2019)