In my daily practice one common issue I attempt to educate and help my patients with is in gaining an understanding of inflammation, what it is, how we experience it and how to minimize our personal inflammatory load. Reason being, inflammation leads to pain and disease two things most of us are motivated to avoid. Systemic inflammation can be considered one large form of toxicity. The longer inflammation stays with us and the higher the levels become the worse we feel, the more toxic we become and bit by bit our ability to function and perform as we once did slips away from us. So understanding inflammation empowers us to take control of our health in a big way.
Our bodies produce inflammatory compounds as a natural by-product of living. These compounds have a useful role as they alert us to danger and when we have injured ourselves as well as playing a role in the healing process. Conversely when these products are produced in higher levels than what is necessary for our body to warn itself and initiate a healing response then we actually injure ourselves with them. We become toxic waste dumps or storehouses for excess inflammation and waste.
From Arthritis to Obesity, Irritable Bowel to Multiple Sclerosis most if not all disease have inflammation as a root factor in their activity against us. These inflammatory compounds are produced in large part according to the type and quantity of foods we eat as well as the activities we do or don’t involve ourselves in. In other words to control our inflammatory load is to limit our exposure or intake of foods and compounds that produce inflammation, promote healthy foods, avoid harmful activities and promote healthy activities. For many of us getting back to a state of health may require a period of time to detoxify ones-self and this gradually leads to a restoration of our health and well-being. Reducing or controlling our exposure to systemic inflammation can only be done once we understand what we are doing to create or perpetuate the problem. Unfortunately most Americans eat what is referred to as the Standard American Diet (SAD) and that acronym is not a joke. Our American diet truly is SAD.
The SAD is the one we are most accustomed to. It contains too many empty (nutrient-devoid) calories; too many simple carbohydrates (sugars); too much fat (especially hydrogenated, trans and saturated fats); too much-processed food, and too many chemicals (preservatives, colorings, stabilizers and other additives) that have no nutritional value. This diet helps contribute to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and a host of other disorders most if not all of which are related to creating more inflammation throughout the body.
The incidence and severity of these diseases can be minimized – even reversed – by eating more fruits; vegetables; legumes (beans); unprocessed grains; and by drinking more pure water. When a person eats more “good” food, they ingest more vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. These are the building blocks by which our body repairs itself. These substances are good for the cardiovascular system; the immune system; the neuro-musculoskeletal system; and the gastrointestinal system. Junk food (sodas (including diet sodas); fruit drinks; fried foods; most fast foods; chips; doughnuts; ice cream; cookies; desserts; etc.) and processed meats (hot dogs; pepperoni; salami; sausage; bacon) add empty calories, little fiber, artery-clogging fat, simple sugars, and a host of unwanted chemicals. These foods can contribute to the diseases mentioned above.
There are at least 21 chances a week (seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners) not including snacks to give your body appropriate fuel. I like to have my patients imagine each meal on a plate and divide the plate into 3 sections. The largest section should be all green or colored vegetables. The other two sections should be equally divided and represent roughly equal amounts of a lean protein containing good fats and the other should contain a low glycemic carbohydrate (refer to www.mendosa.com for the glycemic index).
OK, so now you have what your plate should look like but how do you put this into practice? I mean who is going to eat half a plate of colored vegetables for breakfast? Well in my experience maybe 1 in 100 people will even give this a try and they typically don’t follow through for more than a week or so. Now for lunch and dinner building the ideal plate is much more achievable for the average American. So instead of making a goal of something that you are likely to fail at lets consider ways to accomplish the ideal plate. For breakfast, eat a balance of protein (eggs, cheese, turkey, whey, soy, nuts, etc and a high-fiber whole grain (Ezekial bread, Oatmeal, soaked whole grain or legume and finally for the color you can use a variety of fresh fruits or if you want the quick approach you can use a flash dried fruit and vegetable drink such as “Greens First” (my personal favorite!).
If you are really in a hurry you could make all this plate in the form of a mixed protein drink. Your particular needs and specific diet will vary depending on your level of activity and weight loss concerns. Add extra nutrient-dense calories for high activity needs, and skip them if you need to lose weight. For lunches and dinners, eat seven vegetable-based meals and seven protein-based meals. So, either for lunch or dinner each day eat a vegetable-based meal, such as a large salad with a small to moderate amount of protein. This should consist of four to five colors of vegetables and one legume (pinto; kidney; black; white; red; garbanzo; navy; lentils; or soy). Use a spoonful or two of olive or canola-oil-based dressing and vinegar.
If that is not enough flavors, you can add spices to season to your taste. Other options for your vegetable meal would be a large plate of steamed vegetables (again, shoot for at least five colors such as Trader Joes prepackaged mixed greens mix of chard, bok choy, mustard greens, spinach, and kale) or a bowl of vegetable soup. People who are moderately active may want to add some protein, such as cheese, fish, chicken or turkey. For the seven animal-protein-based-meals, I prefer fish, chicken or turkey with a nonstarch vegetable side dish. For people with high activity or growth with no weight loss, starches such as pasta, potatoes, and rice may be added. Fresh fruits are great for snacking; apples and citrus can go anywhere. Eat two to three pieces of fresh fruit per day. Mixed raw nuts also make a great snack. If you are trying to lose weight, limit the nuts to a handful a day and some folks may need to limit that as well until the root inflammation is controlled. Alcohol, sodas, fruit drinks, and even fruit juices are high in nutrient-devoid calories and sugars. When you see or hear the word sugar please think Inflammation, as sugar is a huge fire starter for systemic inflammation.
If you have a weight problem, stick to water and use these as an infrequent dessert. Unfortunately, many people only eat a few healthy meals per week. The goal of this plan is to eat at least 14 healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners each week. Compared to the standard American diet, this plan is higher in mixed fiber, vitamins and minerals and is lower in bad fats, sugars, empty calories and chemicals. It is also high in phytochemicals (plant nutrients) and yields 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
By following this plan you will enable your body to gradually lower its total systemic inflammatory load and therefore your toxicity. Gradual detoxification is generally well tolerated and dietary modification lays at the foundation of this type of Spring-cleaning for the body. Hopefully the process will extend past the Spring-time and become a natural way of eating. By putting healthier food in your body, you will feel better now, and reduce your chances of serious illness later. Some folks will require more direction than what is noted above. In many cases very specialized detoxification programs need to be implemented.
These involve specific organ cleanses that utilize key nutrients and botanicals to assist the body in eliminating waste so that it can begin to absorb and make use of the good foods that we eat. In some cases our body has become so toxic that despite our best efforts at correcting our diet we still feel crummy. For these individuals I still recommend attempting to correct the diet along the lines of what is described above but they should also seek specific counsel from their doctor and nutritionist as to how to get their body to a place where it can make proper use of the foods they are eating.
These are the things that we at A Natural Balance specialize in. When you are ready to make a positive change we encourage you to join us to investigate how to find the health you once had.