The Basics of Healthy Eating
by Janice Carlin, PhD, CHHP, CHNP, CNHP
Copyright © 2017 Janice Carlin
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Knowing what to eat in order to be healthy has become more and more of a challenge in our technology-filled world. Everyone seems to have their own ideas of what is the “best diet” and what is safe or not safe to consume. It can feel overwhelming and confusing to try to sort through all of the information that is available. I know, I have been there. And I was determined to find my way through it, help myself and my son to live to our highest capacities of thriving, and help others to do the same.
What I am providing to you here is not one kind of diet that fits everyone’s situation, because there simply is not one. However, there are basic fundamental concepts that benefit every person. Once you adopt these foundations into your life, you can then customize your own diet (and your family’s) to work for whatever you personally need to be healthy.
So what are you supposed to eat?
It is simple: Pure, clean, whole foods that have as much nutrition as possible. However, this is where marketing really tries to confuse you. When you read a food label, advertisers use words that are intentionally there to make you think you are eating something that is healthier than it really is. In the United States, there are no regulations for using words like “natural”, “whole grains”, “fat free”, and “non-gmo”. Just because something contains some whole grains does not make it a healthy product. This is vital to be aware of when you are shopping.
Because of all of this, in order to really grasp the concept of what to eat, you have to know what not to eat, so that when you read labels, you are truly empowered. Making decisions based upon your own knowledge is so much better than blindly trusting what you read or hear from someone else who is trying to sell their products to you.
Eat pure, clean whole foods (not processed) that naturally have as much nutrition as possible.
Do not trust the words you see on food labels and in advertisements because they are mostly not regulated. The only one that is in the United States is “USDA Organic”.
Two Important Things to Know:
Before addressing what to eat and what to avoid eating, there are two concepts that it will really benefit you to know about when it comes to making the best food choices possible for yourself and your family. The first is called synergistic toxicity. This refers to the effect of two chemicals on an organism that is greater than the effect of each chemical individually, or even the sum of the individual effects. Many processed foods, sodas, gum, and fast foods contain more than one toxic element. When taken into consideration that the chemicals (additives, preservatives, pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, and other medications) have a stronger reaction in the body when they are combined, it becomes easier to see why people of all ages are struggling so much with their health and well-being. The harder your body has to work to process the foods that you eat, the harder you have to work to concentrate, stay healthy, and perform to your best abilities. Having to work so hard to discern the toxins from the nutrients you actually need puts added stress upon your body’s systems.
The second is food allergies and sensitivities. If you or your child has an allergy or sensitivity to any foods, make sure to keep these foods away until the allergies and sensitivities have been resolved. Until then, consuming these foods causes a great imbalance within the body as the immune system is working overtime. Food reactions can take many different forms and are different between different people. They can be immediate or delayed by a few minutes or even a few days. If you are unsure if you or your child has a food allergy or sensitivity, it is worth being tested. However, often the allergy tests do not prove effective for identifying sensitivities at all, so sometimes you will have to do elimination protocols and watch for reactions yourself. Ask your doctor for a food sensitivity test as a place to get started.
Some examples of food reactions include: hives, swelling, hyperactivity, difficulty focusing and concentrating, lethargy, weight gain, insomnia, mood swings, crying, pain anywhere in the body, constipation, diarrhea, clumsiness, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, reflux, dark or red circles under the eyes and of course, anaphylaxis. Some preservatives and additives, as well as gluten and sugar have been directly linked to ADHD symptoms, behavior issues, and depression.
Food allergies and sensitivities occur for a variety of reasons. They can be genetic or due to damage to the body from toxins. They can be the result of emotional traumas or due to the inherent toxicity of foods, such as GMOs, hybridized wheat, and added chemicals. It is important to know about food reactions as mental, physical and neurological health conditions are often misdiagnosed because food allergies and sensitivities have not been addressed first.
WHAT NOT TO EAT
Unhealthy and Dangerous Ingredients to Look for When You Read Labels and More
Although not every person is sensitive to gluten in wheat, more people are than are aware. Gluten is present in wheat, rye, oats, and barley. If you do choose to eat wheat, be aware that all non-organic wheat is desiccated with high levels of cancer-causing pesticides and other chemicals right before it is harvested, so avoid non-organic wheat, at least. Wheat is known to be addictive and causes an opiate reaction in certain individuals, especially those with ADHD, autistic symptoms, depression, and auto-immune conditions. Many people are able to lose and maintain a healthy weight by simply removing gluten from their diet. Be aware that soy sauce contains wheat, so use organic tamari sauce (it tastes the same) instead.
Products marketed as “gluten free” are part of the biggest health scam going on right now. You have to read the ingredients to know if something is healthy. Avoiding gluten to create more health for yourself is not going to have the same result as if you avoid all harmful foods. “Gluten free” labeled foods often contain processed GMO ingredients and non-fiber starches. To your body, it is the same as eating sugar. If you have any questions or would like to learn about wheat, read Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD.
Refined sugar is very toxic to the body, addictive, and inflammatory. Sugar causes major imbalances in the body. Sugar sourced from beets is further toxic in being genetically modified. Sugar contains no nutrition, only empty calories, so it is not worth consuming.
All artificial colors and flavors, MSG (see below), artificial sweeteners, and “natural flavors” are additives to avoid. The FDA allows many of these synthetic additives in foods and places them under the heading GRAS, or generally recognized as safe. You and your family are worth and deserve more than what is generally considered to be safe; you deserve what is only safe. Artificial colors and flavors have been linked to inflammation and hyperactivity. Artificial sweeteners have actually been proven to not help people to lose weight, but instead to trick their brains into wanting to consume more. Natural flavors are marketing tricks. Insects are natural and their bodies are often used to color and flavor candies and other foods, but do you really want to consume them?
Preservatives are used to extend the shelf life of foods. Many of the following commonly used preservatives have been proven to be carcinogenic among other negative health effects: Sodium nitrates and nitrites (found in processed meats like hotdogs and lunch meats), BHA and BHT, Benzoates, Bromates, Mono-glycerides and Di-glycerides, Propyl gallate, Sulfites, Maleic hydrazide, Maleic hydrazide, Proplene glycol and Carboxymethylcellulose, Citric acid, Potassium Bromate. This is not a comprehensive list, but provides examples of common harmful preservatives. BHT can even be found in the plastic lining of certain cereal brands.
Genetically Modified Organisms have never been evaluated as safe for human consumption after entering our food supply in the 1980's. Most processed foods in the supermarket contain some amount of GE (genetically engineered) foods. These include non-organic ingredients containing soy, corn, sugar, cotton (watch for cottonseed oil), canola oil, alfalfa, papaya, non-organic meat and eggs from animals that have been fed GMO foods, genetically modified salmon, and apples. The insecticides are actually within the seeds of GMO corn crops, and GMOs are sprayed with more Roundup than other crops because they are engineered to be resistant to the weed killer. These foods are currently not labeled in the U.S., although they are labeled in Europe and banned in over 40 other countries in the world. To be sure you are not buying GE foods, look for the Non-GMO verified seal on the package or buy organic. Do not be fooled by the words “non-GMO” on a food package. If they do not contain the Non-GMO Project verified seal, they have not been tested correctly or at all.
High Fructose Corn Syrup:
Despite what the corn industry would have you believe through their advertising, HFCS is not natural, not processed in the body the same way as sugar, and is linked to obesity, causes damage to the lining of the gut resulting in inflammation, and can be contaminated with toxic substances such as mercury. HFCS is the most widely used sweetener in processed foods, candies, and sodas in the U.S. HFCS is also made from genetically modified corn, which adds further toxicity. Avoid it at all costs.
Monosodium glutamate is a neurotoxin that is hidden in many processed foods, including those marketed as “natural” or “health food”. MSG adds flavor to food, tricking your brain into thinking that the food tastes better than it really does. It is not always labeled as MSG. It is also found in many Asian food restaurants, which is why many people get headaches after eating at these establishments. Refer to this website for extensive lists and information about this commonly used toxin: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/
Potatoes and many oils produce toxins when heated at high temperatures. Olestra (Olean) is a toxic additive added to “fat free” products. Potatoes are now being genetically modified, adding further toxicity. Potatoes and chips are a high glycemic food that is best avoided by those wanting to lose weight and achieve healthy blood glucose levels.
Ninety-one percent of soy crops planted in the U.S. are genetically modified. Unfermented soy is known to be harmful to hormone levels in the body. Soy lecithin and soy protein isolate are highly processed forms of soy used in most processed foods. Read labels carefully and avoid non-organic soy.
Partially hydrogenated oils:
Partially hydrogenated oils are synthetically man-made and convert to toxic trans fats within the body once consumed. When you read a label that states that a butter alternative is healthier and natural, think for yourself when you see that it is made of partially hydrogenated oils.
Artificial sweeteners are chemicals. They include Aspartame, Saccharin, Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame – K), Sucralose, and Neotame, Cyclamate. Avoid them completely. There are other low-glycemic sweeteners that you can use that are safer to consume including xylitol (as long as it is not sourced from corn) and stevia.
Added vitamins and minerals (Enriched):
Processed foods are often “enriched” with synthetic forms of the vitamins and minerals that were lost during processing. As these are synthetic in form, they will not be assimilated by the body the same way as the natural form. When you have the choice to purchase a product that is enriched versus one that is not, opt for the latter, which is purer. You can provide the other nutrients you need either through the rest of your diet or through a high-quality supplement if needed.
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH):
This synthetic hormone is not labeled in the U.S., and the only way to be sure to avoid it without the label is to consume only organic dairy products or those labeled specifically to not contain rBGH. Consuming dairy treated with this toxin is consuming the toxin yourself. In addition, cows given rBGH often develop mastitis, which means that they are treated with more antibiotics. When this happens, pus from the mastitis goes into their milk, which is transferred to whoever consumes it. This includes dairy in any form, including cheese, yogurt, milk, cheese crackers, ice cream, cheese powder, and cheese flavoring.
Unhealthy Vegetable Oils:
What we've been told for so long about cooking oils is false. Canola, soy, corn, and vegetable oils are toxic and rancid.
There are many meat substitutes aimed at people who are vegetarians, but this does not mean that they are all healthy. In fact, many are highly processed and contain questionable or harmful ingredients. Mycoprotein is meat substitute found in Quorn products made from processed mold. Many other products are made from processed wheat gluten and non-organic soy. See Wheat and Soy above to review why these are not good choices to eat. Vegetarians and vegans are best served by using healthy nuts, vegetables, and legumes to provide protein in their diets.
BPA is a chemical is used in plastic bottles, aluminum cans (soda and canned foods and infant formula), and dental sealants. Scientific studies have shown it to be an endocrine disruptor, affecting hormones and brain functioning. You can avoid it by not buying food in cans or using plastic bottles unless otherwise labeled as BPA free.
“Lean Ground Beef”:
The low-quality meat that is for sale at grocery stores and is used in restaurants labeled “lean ground beef” often has added “pink slime.” Pink slime is the fat and trimmings that people would normally not consume, mixed with ammonia. It is cheaper and served in school lunches and in restaurants. Just because you pay a lot of money for a steak dinner does not mean that you are getting chemical-free, high-quality meat. You have to know where the meat is sourced from in order to be able to tell if it is pure or not and if it contains antibiotics and hormones.
Unwhole grains have the same effect upon the body as consuming sugar. They are simple carbs that cause imbalance. The amount of chemicals involved in turning whole grains into “white” grains is staggering. If a product contains some whole grains and some processed grains, the whole grains are not going to balance the equation. There are many “gluten free” products that contain a mixture of whole and processed grains, which do not benefit you to eat.
Processed salt is not the same as sea salt, the more healthful version. Along with processing comes chemical treatments and additives, as well as the loss of nutrients. If the label does not say “sea salt” then it is processed.
Mercury is a toxic heavy metal. Unfortunately, even seafood is polluted. Dangerous levels of mercury are found in fish, especially larger ones.
Caffeine is an addictive stimulant. Although it is naturally found in coffee and chocolate, there are products that contain added caffeine. Be sure to read labels carefully to avoid it.
Although eating out and grabbing something quick on the go is convenient, in the long run it is not worth the toll it takes upon your or your children’s bodies. It is not possible to read the labels of everything you are served in a restaurant. You can, however, make choices based upon where they say that their food is sourced, which they can tell you if you ask. Also, some will list this information on their websites. Doing the research before going to a restaurant is worth it.
Regarding fast food, however, you can go online and read the ingredients for yourself. Take this list from McDonald’s, for example: http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/ingredientslist.pdf
When you read it, at first it sounds pretty good. It is 100 percent beef and vegetables, etcetera. However, scrolling down to the lower part of the document, you can read the ingredients that are actually within those 100 percent angus beef burgers and buns. Note the inclusion of maltodextrin and autolyzed yeast extract, both processed additives and forms of MSG, which is a neurotoxin. Also, take note of the many different preservatives and artificial flavors listed. Soybean oil is sourced from GMO soybeans and is also a toxic oil itself. The partially hydrogenated oils in some of the products are the dangerous oils that turn into trans fats in the body when eaten. Even within the sauces, there are preservatives, additives and artificial flavorings added. You have to scroll down pretty far to read the scary ingredients in the “pasteurized process American cheese,” but it is worth the look.
When these different chemicals are combined upon ingestion, the result is that the toxicity within each one is amplified through synergistic toxicity. Therefore, just by consuming one meal at McDonald’s your child could be ingesting numerous chemicals, including the hormones and antibiotics in the meat. There are too many risks in this type of food. The added flavorings and MSG make the food taste appealing so that people will eat more of it. Beyond obesity, which many people are dealing with today, these foods are simply toxic.
Even if you have never cooked, you can learn how to do it! I am living proof of this. I did not start cooking until my thirties, and it was because I started using special diets to help my son to be healthy. There are free resources all over the Internet in the form of recipe blogs. You can search for anything you want, in any style of diet you desire, and you will find it. Then, you can just start modifying the recipes to meet your personal needs.
WHAT TO EAT
Now that you have an idea of what to avoid eating, here is some information about what is good for you to eat. As you read the following, notice how simple it is, and how it is within your reach to eat this way.
Fruits in their whole, natural form. You will find that when you take processed desserts and candies out of your and your children’s diets, that fruit will taste so much better. Fruit provides necessary vitamins and minerals, water, and sugar that your body needs in order to function. Fruit is best to be consumed with some protein or high-quality fat like nuts or seeds so that it does not result in spikes in blood sugar levels. You can make healthful desserts by freezing fruit and then blending it with some water to create delicious sorbets that everyone will love! If you eat dried fruits, be sure that they have not been treated with sulfites or other preservatives.
Vegetables are an essential part of the diet. There are so many ways to prepare and enjoy vegetables. From raw salads, to stir fries, you can add any flavors that you like to make wonderful dishes. Vegetables can be combined with meats, eggs, or legumes to create filling, healthy meals. You do not have to worry about eating kale if you do not like it to get enough good nutrition in your diet. Romaine and green leaf lettuce and raw spinach (very mild tasting) provide plenty of vital phytonutrients when you eat them as part of your salads. Try to eat at least one salad each day. Remember that vegetables and salads do not have to be regarded as side dishes! They can and ideally should be the main part of your meal, with your protein component as a much smaller portion in comparison to the veggies. Sweet potatoes are a good source of carbohydrates if you avoid eating grains. They have vitamins, minerals, and fiber. You can boil them or cut them up and bake them in the oven plain or with some coconut oil. Kids love them and they are great to send in lunches.
Nuts and Seeds provide healthy fats and protein. You do not want to go overboard by consuming too many nuts each day because they do contain a lot of fat. But, small portions are healthy and important to eat. Nut butters make great sandwiches for kids’ lunches. Nuts, seeds, and their butters are great spread on apple or pear slices for a healthy, balanced snack. Be sure to buy nut and seed butters without added oils, salt, and sugar.
Lean Meats can be a healthy addition to an omnivorous diet. Red meat is best avoided, but poultry and some wild-caught fish provide protein without too much added fat. Make absolutely sure that you purchase meats that are sourced from animals that have not been fed or given antibiotics, growth hormones, or other medications. Do not buy farm-raised fish, as they are given antibiotics and other medications and live in very unnatural environments. Looking for the Certified Humane seal adds another level of quality. Note that there are copy-cats of this seal, and the one that counts is “Certified Humane”.
Pastured Eggs provide quality nutrients and fats in the diet. There is a lot of confusion created by marketing about eggs. “Free range” and “Cage free” do not mean that the chickens were provided any space to humanely live their lives. It does not mean that they were fed quality food or that they were allowed outdoors at all. Look for eggs that are sourced from chickens that are raised in a pasture setting where they can roam freely outside and eat a natural diet. Most commercial eggs contain GMOs. An “organic” label does not mean that the chickens were pasture-raised. It only means that they were not fed a diet that contains pesticides or GMOs. You really have to do your homework when it comes to eggs.
Water is the liquid that your body needs. When you are a baby, it needs mother’s milk. Once you have grown, it needs water and then the rest of your nutrition comes from your foods. There is simply no other beverage that you need in order to live and be healthy. However, water sources vary in quality. Avoid toxic harm to your body by not drinking fluoridated water. Spring water is simply the best source of living, natural water to drink. However, it is not always accessible. If you drink the tap water from your home, make sure that you are using a high-quality water filter.
Beyond the Basic Foods
Here are some more important things to know about food and cooking:
Not all oils are healthy, despite what marketing will tell you. Avoid all processed “vegetable oils” and “corn oils” and “canola oils”. Most oils become toxic once they are heating, making them unsuitable for cooking your foods. Canola oil is genetically modified, so you will want to avoid using it completely. Avocado oil is great for cooking and frying as it can be used safely with higher heat. Olive oil is best used raw on salads or drizzled on vegetables or pasta dishes. A great, healthy oil to use is coconut oil, which can be used raw or over heat. It adds a sweet taste to foods and is not toxic. Read this article by Dr. Dan Pompa to learn which oils are safe to use for cooking and frying and which to avoid altogether: Fats 101: The Best Oils to Cook With and Which to Avoid (drpompa.com)
The best sweetener to use is natural stevia. Beware of products that are marketed as stevia, but actually contain other ingredients. Some of these are toxic. Stevia is sold in powdered and liquid forms. It is strong, so it does not take much to add sweetness.
You can also use birch tree sourced xylitol. There are some gums and candies made with xylitol. Makes sure what you buy is Non-GMO Certified. If you experience any digestive issues when consuming xylitol or erythritol (sugar alcohols), this is a sign that your body is not able to tolerate them.
The third choice is raw honey or pure, maple syrup. If you are not vegan and can tolerate some glycemic rise, you can use raw, not processed, honey. It actually contains some beneficial enzymes when it is in raw form. Do not buy maple flavored syrup! It is mostly made of high fructose corn syrup.
Another way to add a lot of sweetness is by using dates. You can blend them or put them through a food processor and make a paste. Then you can add them to what you are baking or to sauces. Many delicious raw food recipes are sweetened with only dates.
Pots and Pans:
Pots and pans coated with non-stick chemicals are dangerous because when they become scratched, the chemicals leach into the food you are cooking. Stay away from Teflon coatings. Also stay away from aluminum cooking pans, as the heavy metal can leach into your food.
Look for pots and pans that have no coatings at all, or are made of cast iron. Use baking pans that are glass. Using a light coating of coconut oil will help food not to stick and make clean up easier.
I truly hope that this information has been a helpful way to get you started on the path to wellness. Remember that food is the foundation for a healthy life. Whatever else you do, your healthy, natural foods diet needs to be consistently maintained.
Everything that I have provided here is what I have implemented for my own family as we made the switch to eating pure, natural, whole foods. If your children are already older, the best approach is to educate them as much as possible, so that they can make knowledgeable choices. If your children are very young, start educating them right away and be completely consistent in the ways that you feed them. No sugar means no sugar. But there are other ways to have treats that everyone can enjoy.
Best wishes in living a healthy life!