Today’s post is not about an infectious disease but about healthy diets. Because healthier ‘bodies’ are better able to resist infection, or fight one that has taken hold, I spend a lot of time discussing diet and lifestyle with patients.
Weekly, patients asks me for tips on how they can improve their diet to achieve a more healthy weight, or for improved diabetes control, among other reasons.
Many people admit that they just don’t know what to eat. When you don’t know what to eat, and you are faced with numerous options, many of which are very convenient (prepackaged, etc), you take the easier, and often cheaper, way out. This is often not the healthier way.
I admit that eating healthier may be a bit more costly, but there can be a trade off. You can pay less for healthy foods, but this often means putting in more work to prepare meals from scratch. And of course, you have to know what to buy.
At the end of the day, I think spending a little more on healthier, more wholesome foods, will in the long run, result in massive savings in healthcare costs down the road.
You might think you don’t have to worry, because you have health insurance. However, depending on how many doctors visits you have, and the amount of different prescriptions you have to fill, your copays at the end of the month can run into hundreds of dollars, literally.
Imagine spending your hard earned money on great quality foods, rather than on pills, potions, and doctors visits where you have to fill out tons of paperwork, then wait for over an hour to see the (frequently overworked) doctor.
Here are 4 quick tips that I often give patients in the short time I have with them:
1 – Cut out sodas and sweet drinks, even if the label says 100% natural juice. Sugar accounts for one of the biggest chunks of calories consumed. I was guilty of this sugar abuse myself, to the point where I used to feel very embarrassed to ask for packets of sugar for my coffee, because of the large amount I used.
To cut sugar out ‘cold turkey’ is hard for most people so I recommend a gradual elimination. If you drink 6 bottles of soda per day, start decreasing the amount by one every day, or every few days. If you still have cravings for more sodas at 5 drinks, wait until after the craving wears off, before cutting down to 4 drinks. Keep gradually decreasing until you stop buying sodas altogether. Do the same for sweet drinks. In fact, you can do this for any food you are trying to eliminate from your diet.
2 – Cut down on packaged foods and ‘fast’ foods. And if buying something packaged, the less ingredients in the list, the better. Further, if there are too many ingredients with names of additives and chemicals that you can’t pronounce, it’s probably not good for you.
Regarding fast foods, these tend to be of poorer quality – using white bread, highly salted processed meats, etc. I do admit however, that fast food chains have come a long way, with many now offering healthier options, including salads and the like. Just beware the amount of condiments (salad dressings, etc) you use, as these may have quite a bit of salt and sugar, among other undesired additives.
3 – Eat more vegetables and fruits. You can’t go wrong here. Unless you are a diabetic, in which case you have to limit fruit intake due to the sugar content. The great thing about vegetables (many of them) is that they have a low glycemic index. That is, because of the fiber (roughage) they contain, they take a longer time to digest. Therefore the glucose produced after the slow breakdown of the starches within them, or contained in the meal as a whole, is absorbed more slowly. This slow absorption means blood sugar levels rise only gradually, and don’t get very high, as there is time for the body to produce insulin to keep the blood sugar levels down.
4 – Eat less refined but instead more complexed starches. Refined starches include white flour bread, crackers and pasta, white rice, and cereals such as rice crispies and Frosted Flakes.
Complexed starches include whole wheat and multigrain breads and crackers, brown rice, root tubers such as sweet potatos and yams, quinoa, etc.
Like vegetables, complexed starches have lower glycemic indices and don’t cause drastic increases in blood sugar levels after meals. Furthermore, because complexed starches are not refined, much more of the natural nutrients are still present in the food and available to your body.
So there you have it…4 quick tips to get you started on a healthier diet.
I usually don’t go out of my way to recommend low fat diets (although I definitely don’t advise consumption of lots of fried foods). Fat is a necessary part of many of the cells in our bodies, and it is vital for the absorption of several vitamins from our food. A type of fat that is particularly bad however, is trans fat, which can be found in some packaged snacks, and some fast foods. Fortunately many companies have now stopped using trans fats in their products.
Much of changing our diets has to do with acquiring new tastes. We just have to retrain our tastebuds. Discipline is a very important quality to have as well.
I remember I used to say when I was younger, that I hope I never become diabetic, because I can’t do without sugar. Now, my tastebuds have been so retrained, that many things are just too sweet for me.
If you sit and truly consider the negative consequences of poor dietary choices on overall health, and appreciate that the pain of poor health is much worst than the pain of gradually changing to a healthy diet, then you will realize that it is worth your while to better your diet.