Our culture has been making great strides in the direction of eating healthier foods and being aware of where those foods come from. We’ve gone to great lengths to bring the real science back into the homes of the everyday person.
I’m sure you know of someone in your life that has cut processed sugars from their diet and gone full organic or a person that no longer eats out but instead creates all their meals at home and packages them to-go, or someone that has given a Ketogenic or Intermittent Fasting Diet a shot. (link both articles here)
The point is there are more choices out there for people to experiment with than in recent history, and that offers a more authentic exploration to finding how to optimize one’s diet for a better, healthier living. However, there are still plenty more ways we can level up our nutrition that may have remained unheard of by the everyday person.
You are what you eat
Most of us have heard the adage, “you are what you eat.” We all know this to be true, but there is also a more profound truth, and that is, we are also what we eat ate.
Think not only where you buy your eggs, blueberries, and lean meats such as Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, or a local farmer’s market. Think about how and what raised these foods.
Were the chickens cage-free? Were they living on a farm with open grass fields where they could wander, eat, and lay their eggs as they would naturally? Remember that healthy eggs have rich orange yolks compared to the bright yellow eggs of factory-farmed eggs.
What kinds of pesticides are on your fruits? One study found organic produce was 4x less likely to contain pesticide residues, a 48% lower presence of Cadmium – a toxic metal – and 50% higher in antioxidants. That shouldn’t be a tough decision to make.
This doesn’t mean you need only to eat the awesome stuff all the time. Be more aware of how the things you eat are grown, raised, and what you can do to help with the final decision.
Pre- and Probiotics
One of the best ways to improve our overall health is to start eating a more diverse assortment of food. Each food you eat has a unique nutrient profile, whether it is organic or processed – which, which the help of an ever-improving public knowledge of the health risks of processed foods, should lean our decision making more towards the organic sort.
Within our gut, we have around 3 million micro-organisms – known as the microbiota – with more than 1,000 species that break down the foods we eat and make it readily available to absorb or digest. We have an entire colony of (good) bacteria-fighting within our gut to ensure those tiny nutrients get transferred from the outside source into our own body. However, the decline in public health and a rise in overweight and obese individuals speaks to how poor our nation’s gut health is.
This is where Pre- and Probiotics come to assist us.
Prebiotics are foods that feed the microbiome in our guts, giving them the necessary fuel to improve our digestive tract and immune system. Some great sources include almonds, pistachios, blueberries, artichokes, and onions.
Probiotics are foods that add more friendly bacteria into our guts. Probiotics not only improve the amount of microbiota in the gut but also enhance the bio-availability of nutrients such as dairy and soy – ones that can be irritating to the digestive system. Some great sources include miso, kimchi, kombucha, dark chocolate, and Greek yogurt (not fat-free).
By eating these diverse foods, we can ensure our gut team is always on its A-game.
Antioxidants can come across to some as a magic ingredient that can be the cure for all negative things from a harsh headache to cancer. It gets a lot of hype, though it isn’t as magical as it presented, it most definitely has its upsides.
Antioxidants fight off oxidative stress in the body by eliminating free radicals – molecules that take away electrons from other cells to restore balance to themselves; only they are always hungry. These free radicals produce higher levels of inflammation that can cause significant issues down the road, such as cancer. Therefore, a balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary to allow the body’s proper physiological defenses to fight inflammation.
There are a variety of classes of antioxidants, some are familiar to us while others aren’t, but all should have a place within your diet when considering overall health improvement.
Polyphenols reduce C-reactive proteins, which causes inflammation. Top foods containing polyphenols are dark chocolate, red wine, and green tea.
Anthocyanins boost our immunity against inflammation and are within most dark-colored fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, black currant, cherries, acai, and eggplant.
Curcuminoids reduce both oxidative stress and age-related brain diseases. The top food containing curcuminoids is turmeric, but studies have shown taking it alone may not be enough to absorb it effectively. Adding black pepper has been shown to improve absorption.
Garlic. That’s right, garlic. My all-time leader in “being put on foods it probably shouldn’t be.” Garlic is a powerful antioxidant and was found by one study to subdue the common cold at a 63% higher rate than a placebo. Not only that, but even for those who did catch a cold, their symptoms lasted, on average, 3.5 days less than those not eating garlic – better stock up now.
Sulforaphane decreases damage to our DNA over time by reducing inflammation. Studies have shown that this decrease in DNA damage can increase our lifespan and help us stay younger, longer. They’re found within vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, even wasabi – when eaten raw. Another neat trick to increase the bio-availability of sulforaphane is to add mustard seed.
It turns out, you, I, and every other human being are mostly made up of bacteria, bacteria that are found on our skin, in our nose, and our guts. We are alive, full of bacteria and micro-organisms that feed and grow based upon what we put into our mouths.
Always wanted to be a double-bacon cheeseburger? Eat double-bacon cheeseburgers every day. Want a powerful gut able to break down complex foods and fight off disease? Start with something on this list and just go with it. I recently started a 2-week Kombucha challenge to see for myself what the deal is. Take it and run with it.
Conclusively, it’s vital to keep one eye open to what you are really eating. You might be surprised when you take a closer look.
- Marcus, A. (2018). Own the day, own your life: Optimized practices for waking, working, learning, eating, training, playing, sleeping, and sex. New York: Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins.
- (2016, December 12). Sulforaphane and Its Effects on Cancer, Mortality, Aging, Brain and Behavior, Heart Disease & More. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz4YVJ4aRfg
- Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic revision of Rochefortia Sw. (Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: E7720. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720. (n.d.). doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f
- Talarico, A. (2018, May 28). My Secret To Happiness: A Healthy Gut [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://whatsgood.vitaminshoppe.com/2018/05/28/mood-gut-connection/