Here is some information that could help us make better choices when we select our food:
- Processed food- Staying away from packaged and caned foods and consume more fresh, natural, and unprocessed products, is a great way to get started with healthier eating habits. All these processed foods are loaded with excessive amounts of sugar, GMO ingredients, additives and preservatives, and other artificial ingredients. Be selective when choosing packaged items that you may still need. Read the ingredients list. Look for items with the lesser amount of ingredients. In general, stay away from packaged foods that contain more than five ingredients. Also, you should be able to recognize all those ingredients. If there is any word in the ingredients list that you do not understand or cannot even pronounce, your body will not recognize it either.
- GMOs- Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) may be present in many of our food sources. These are organisms which genetic material that have been artificially modified. These animal or plant products have been treated with chemicals or other organism genetic material, in order to increase their availability. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation as defined by Hill's Criteria in the areas of strength of association, consistency, specificity, biological gradient, and biological plausibility. The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies.” Since genetically modified food had not been properly tested for human consumption, the recommendation is to avoid these products.
- Simple sugars- When we consume simple sugars like sucrose (e.g. refined sugar) and fructose (e.g. high fructose corn syrup), we are giving our bodies excess “fuel” amount to deal with in little time. A big shot of insulin is released from our pancreas in order to handle the sugar presence in our blood. It is like lighting up a match in a cave, the match is burned out very quickly, and then we need to turn on another match to remain with some light. According to Robert Lustig, MD, a UCSF pediatric neuroendocrinologist, “Sugar both drives fat storage and makes the brain think it is hungry, setting up a “vicious cycle.” Furthermore, a series of other metabolic events also occur in order to complete the whole processing, which consequently affect different hormonal functions throughout our bodies. This also applies also to artificial sweeteners as well. A relationship of artificial sweeteners with overweight in children has been supported by various epidemiological studies (R.J. Brown et al, 2012). It is recommended to consume carbohydrates only if they are associated with fiber, as in whole natural fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Trans fatty acids- According to Mayo Clinic “Trans fat raises your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and lowers your "good" (HDL) cholesterol.” Commercially processed baked goods such as crackers, cookies and cakes and many fried foods, such as doughnuts, French fries, and chips may contain trans fats. Trans fats present in processed foods seem to be the most harmful. Furthermore, the most popular brands of vegetable oils like corn, soy or canola are usually made from GMOs. Stay away from all processed or hydrogenated vegetable oils such as margarine. It is better to use organic expeller pressed oils, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee or organic butter in moderation. Always avoid over heating or reusing any kind of fat.
- Gluten- Gluten is a protein present in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and in other processed cereal products, and as a thickening agent in sauces, dressings, and other products. A part of this large molecule, called gliadin, cannot be digested by us, humans, and induces intestinal permeability according to extensive research done by Dr. Alessio Fasano, Clinical Professor from The University of Maryland Pediatric Gastroenterology Department. This intestinal permeability means that undigested particles, toxic material or allergens, possibly present in any kind of food, may reach our blood stream. This particles or toxins interact with different tissues throughout our body provoking autoimmune responses and a large variety of chronic symptoms. In addition, increased intestinal permeability will not allow the adequate absorption of nutrients. Although a gluten free diet is mostly recommended in Celiac disease patients, many people show health improvements when they switch to a natural gluten free diet, since gluten sensitivity has considerably increased in the last two decades.
- Spices- There is a vast variety of natural herbs and spices that can enhance any food flavor. For example, cinnamon has the charasteristic to "mimic" a sweet flavor when we add it to smoothies or sprinkle it over plain yogurt and fruits. Also, use coarse sea salt instead of refined or processed salt. Again, it is better to avoid processed condiments as they may may content excessive amounts of sugar, artificial colorants or flavors, preservatives or GMO ingredients that may be potentially harmful to our health. Read the labels carefully!
The more conscious we are of what we eat, the best we can identify possible food sensitivities or other health risks. After all, we really are what we eat and our overall health depends primarily, on our nutrition. Our bodies have an intrinsic capacity for self-repair or healing. But we need to give our bodies the right “materials” for that repair to occur.
Finally, there is nothing better than fresh home prepared or home cooked meal. We don’t have to be expert cooks or chefs to make fast but healthy dishes for our family. Just use the above recommendations as a guide to select your foods or food ingredients. Make a plan, get creative, and look for help. There are many simple recipes that you can find over the Internet, cookbooks or magazines. Explore the possibilities!