The Science Behind a Healthy Diet

It’s difficult to emphasize how critical understanding diet is to healthy living. This site does not prescribe any specific diet. So far the research has not identified a single miracle diet, curative diet, or supplement that addresses all of the dietary needs of the whole population.

Instead, the research demonstrates that eating in moderation, choosing fresh foods, and consuming a variety of foods rich in nutrients, promotes health and well-being.

There are many misconceptions about diet. Some we learned from our families. Others we learned in school. The dietary recommendations by the government have changed several times throughout the years from the Four Food Groups, to the Food Pyramid, and now to My Plate.

This section focuses specifically on foods that research demonstrates do not increase your risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Instead, the dietary information focuses on foods known to increase health, wellness, normal weight, and not directly contribute to early death from disease.

“Protein”

The first area that causes a lot of confusion is protein. Consider the following: what do these animals eat to grow strong bones and muscles…how do they get so big and powerful?

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These animals get all of the building blocks for muscles and bones from greens and grains. Greens and grains contain something called “amino acids”.

Amino acids are used by the body to build its own protein.

Humans also use amino acids to develop their own muscle. When you eat meat, you are eating a complete protein. However, that protein does not automatically transform into your own muscle. Your digestive system first has to break the protein down into individual amino acids. Then it takes those amino acids and rebuilds human protein.Amino Acids

Ultimately, all that is needed by racehorses, bulls and humans to build strong muscles is amino acids.

Where do Amino Acids come from?

A total of 20 amino acids are needed to develop human protein. The human body can make 11 of these, but 9 of them need to come from food. These are called “essential” amino acids.

Essential amino acids include the following:

histidine,
isoleucine,
leucine,
lysine,
methionine,
phenylalanine,
threonine,
tryptophan
Valine

Essential amino acids are found in a variety of plants including:

  • Beans and Riceshutterstock_185417738
  • Chia
  • Quinoa
  • Peanut Butter and Bread
  • Steamed veggies

Eating a combination of rice, beans, grains, nuts, vegetables and greens provides the body with all of the amino acids it needs to build its own protein.

Why plants? While meats, dairy and eggs contain complete proteins, eating those foods is also associated with higher rates of cancer, illness and a shorter lifespan. The more you can meet your nutritional needs from plants the better your health.

Phytonutrients, Flavonoids, and Lycopene

Phytonutrients are chemical compounds found in plants that help protect the plant from damage. There are different types of phytonutrients in plants, and researchers are still collecting data on everything they do.

So far, there is evidence that they help protect the body against cancer, protect the skin from sun and environmental damage, and may affect the aging process. Foods rich in phytonutrients include berries, oats and green tea.

shutterstock_528452Flavonoids are plant protective substances.

“They act in plants as antioxidants, antimicrobials, photoreceptors, visual attractors, feeding repellants, and for light screening” (Pietta, 2000)

Flavonoids are believed to work as anti-oxidants in the human body, helping to counteract natural biological aging processes, and the exposure to environmental stresses such as pollution. Flavonoids are found in a wide range of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens.

Lycopene is responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their bright red and orange colors. Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene. Lycopene is another wonderful anti-oxidant compound that helps the body recover from normal metabolic and environmental damage.

Eating Habits

Changing to a healthier diet is difficult. There are many elements that affect our food choices:
Money
Access to healthy food
Favorite foods
Society and friends
Emotions
Education

Crash diets do not work, and can also be damaging. What’s important is changing basic food patterns.

Instead of deciding to diet for 2-4 weeks just to loose weight, make a complete a comprehensive assessment of current eating habits, and figure out which foods are the least healthy. Then, start by phasing those out first.

A food journal can be very helpful. It’s easy to forget how much we snack throughout the day. For a week, keep an exact log of everything you eat and drink. At the end of the week decide to cut down on:

  1. Candy, high sugar and high fat snacks
  2. Processed foods such as packaged lunch meats
  3. Deep fried foods
  4. Replace those foods with healthy choices such as berries that are full of phytonutrients.

Avoid “hot spots” of unhealthy foods. For example, make promise to yourself not to eat out of a vending machine Vending machine foods are usually full of sugar, salt and preservatives, and highly processed and fattening. Each week, buy healthy snacks such as bananas that you can take with you and eat on the go!

shutterstock_166409219Changing one’s diet is challenging, and sometimes you don’t receive the amount of support you should from friends and family. Gradual adjustments tend to work the best. As you begin to eat healthier foods and feel healthier, you start to lose the craving for those unhealthy choices.

Bananas…a billion monkeys can’t be wrong.

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Lap Tai Le and Joan Sabaté*; Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts Nutrients. 2014 Jun; 6(6): 2131–2147. Published online 2014 May 27. doi: 10.3390/nu6062131

Singh PN1, Sabaté J, Fraser GE; Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):526S-532S.

McCarty MF1, Barroso-Aranda J, Contreras F. The low-methionine content of vegan diets may make methionine restriction feasible as a life extension strategy. Med Hypotheses. 2009 Feb;72(2):125-8. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2008.07.044. Epub 2008 Sep 11.

Pietta PG1.; Flavonoids as antioxidants. J Nat Prod. 2000 Jul;63(7):1035-42.

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