What is healthy eating? What does a healthy diet look like to you? Eating right for your blood type? Paleo-diet? Vegetarian? Vegan? The truth is that there is no absolute right or wrong way to eat; we each must find a diet that works best for us as individuals. However no matter which diet you follow, there are a few basic guidelines that everyone can agree upon:
- Get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid or completely eliminate processed foods
- EVERYTHING in moderation
However, there are more refined guidelines that are important to remember:
When eating meat, make it free-range, antibiotic-free, GRASS fed, organic meat. Whether you choose to eat meat or not is not the issue. From a traditional Chinese medical standpoint, eating small amounts of meat can be beneficial to overall health. However, the meat that we eat today compared to the meat of 2,000 years ago is not created equal. The classic adage is true—we really are what we eat. Most animals—cows specifically—are meant to graze on grass, not grain. Cattle that consume grain become sick. In addition, meat that was fed grain has a higher proportion of omega 6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation. Grass-free meat products have a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory. When humans consume sick cows, we become sick. This is a gross oversimplification of a more complicated process, but Michal Pollen beautifully describes this concept in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
2.Organic produce matters! Many people are hesitant to switch to organic produce due to the increased price. However, there is certain produce that you can get away with not having organic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has identified the “dirty dozen”—a list of 12 produce that should ONLY be organic. The EWG has also identified the “clean fifteen”, which is a list of produce that doesn’t need to be organic. These lists are a guideline for navigating the importance of when or not to buy organic. (Check out the EWG at www.ewg.org)
3. Purify your water! We are bombarded on a daily basis with different environmental toxins. Whether in the air, food or water, we cannot avoid ALL the toxins from the environment. We can, however, choose to drink purified water. First, don’t think anything that comes from plastic. Many plastics contain bisphenol A (BPA) which leeche into our water. BPA is an identified endocrine-disruptor. Instead, put water in a recyclable glass or stainless steel bottle. There are several ways to filter water at home, but getting a reverse-osmosis water filtration system is one of the best investments for this purpose. Reverse osmosis is able to remove arsenic, nitrates, sodium, lead, copper and organic chemicals.
As I always tell my patients when it comes to diet, do your best. There is a wide variety of “food movements” these days that preach widely different approaches to diet and wellness. However, for most of us who eat the standard American diet (SAD), it is incredibly difficult to make these changes. My advice is to take it slow and to remember that making the switch to a healthier diet is a journey, not a destination. It takes time—months, years!—to fully make the switch. As time continues and you become more accustomed to these changes, it will require less thinking and will become second nature. Just remember—do your best!