Pillar 2: Nutrition

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  You are what you eat!

Everyone has heard this phrase, but most don’t really pay attention to how true it really is. What you put in your mouth probably has the greatest overall impact on your health. I tell my clients that what they put in their mouth can either support their health or hurt it.  It is really that simple.  This is a really good way to start looking at food.  It is something that can either help fuel your health or hinder your health.  Now, some foods can actually do both as many things are loaded with multiple ingredients.  A good example would be protein bars.  They have high levels of protein which is good for your body and helps you build muscle for a strong and sturdy frame.  However, most of them also have high amounts of sugar and preservatives in them.  These things can create inflammation in the body and create a situation where the body is trying to put out fires.  In this instance, the food of choice is both helping and hurting you.  Thinking of foods in this context can help you to make better choices.  The goal is not to be perfect, but rather to fully understand what choice you are making.  Over 2400 years ago a wise man said:

“Let food be they medicine and let medicine be thy food.”

                  • Hippocrates

It is shame we didn’t follow this advice and create a healthcare system based upon the foods we eat.  The point is that we’ve known that foods were crucial to health for a very long time. Most people understand that nutrition is a key component to optimized health. However, the marketing machines of the food industry are experts at confusing people. They spend millions of dollars every year to sell you their products and have no real intention of supporting your health. In fact, most advertised foods are processed foods and those are the last thing that you should be eating! However, as I stated before, most people’s nutritional education comes from commercials,

billboards, newspapers, etc., and you are brainwashed into thinking that many foods are healthy for you when in fact they are not. One specific example is the gluten free marketing angle. While going gluten-free is a great goal for many people (especially in the United States since we alter the protein structure significantly), most foods that are ‘gluten-free’ are loaded with sugar and/or other things that are just as equally bad for your health. As I tell my clients, don’t ever pay attention to the claims on the packages of food. Unless you can fully understand and read the ingredients list you have no business paying attention to the marketing claims of the manufacturers. This leads us directly into my 2 key nutrition tips:

#1 Always, always read ingredients labels before buying foods

If you do not know how to read food labels then you absolutely need to learn this ASAP.  This is something I ensure all my clients know how to do and can do without any issues. If someone at a restaurant just handed you a drink and said “Drink this you’ll like it”, there is no way you would drink it before first finding out what was in it. However, most people just blindly buy packaged food without ever taking the time to figure out what is in it. You would probably be shocked to learn what was in many foods that you consume regularly. And it is not enough to just briefly look at the calories and sugar content. The food companies have learned all the tricks and know how to make the food labels look as innocent as possible. However, they cannot mess with the ingredient list and must put exactly what ingredients are contained in their products. While they don’t have to include the amounts of each ingredient, they do have to list them in order from most to least. The only way to really understand what you are consuming is to read the ingredients label. It’s not difficult. Just take the time to learn or have someone who knows teach you. It will take less than an hour, but will benefit your health for the rest of your life. If you can’t understand what all the ingredients are, or there are an insane amount of ingredients, then it probably isn’t good for you anyways.

#2 Buy and consume only (or mainly) whole foods

One way to make reading ingredients labels easier is to buy foods that just don’t have them! The simple truth is that we would all be healthier if we just ate foods that came from the earth and didn’t need to be packaged and processed. If you shop at grocery stores, then do most of your shopping on the perimeter. That is where the real food is contained and usually needs to be refrigerated or kept cool. That’s because it is living! I know that we all want the convenience of the foods that stay fresh for weeks, but that just doesn’t jive with health. If you move away from processed foods and move towards whole foods, you will inevitably get healthier. Now, this does have some rules to it. This doesn’t mean that you can just eat grains all day long, avoid vegetables, and suck down fruits whenever you want. You still need to eat lots of vegetables (and a wide variety) and make sure that you are getting plenty of well rounded protein sources on board. But a general over-arching rule is that the more whole foods you eat, and the less processed foods you eat the better!

While these 2 tips seem very simplistic you would be surprised how many people get better just by focusing on these simple things. Going back to the basics is something we all have to do and there is a reason they were the basics in the first place!

My nutrition synopsis is that about 80% of healthy nutrition is the same for most people, and the other 20% needs to be customized to each individuals needs. For instance, some people do better with limited protein while others need a larger amount. Some people can handle moderate levels of gluten-free grains, while others need to severely limit this. Some people do well with eating eggs, while others have reactions to the protein found in eggs. My goal is to uncover each clients specific nutritional needs while educating them to be able to make wise decisions and decipher the food labeling chaos. Food sensitivities and allergies are becoming exceedingly more common and without the correct information many people are continually causing damage to themselves simply by eating certain things everyday. Unless you can uncover what works best for YOUR SPECIFIC BODY it can become difficult to reach health and stay there.  There are many ways to do this, from food sensitivity testing to elimination/provocation diets. Whatever way you decide to do it is fine, but it is something that you should eventually learn. Remember, these specific nuances of your health will be with you forever, so the sooner you learn them the better.

The other problem with nutrition is that the information changes at a rapid rate and without the proper mentoring it can be very difficult for the average person to stay well informed. Many times this is because it takes years, sometimes decades, for government agencies to change what they are telling people. The food pyramid was outdated decades ago, but was just recently changed. Other reasons for this rapid evolution is that the research and science behind foods is growing very fast. Not only that, but the ways in which the food companies are altering the foods continues to change and evolve as well. Which is why eating organic and locally sourced is always the best way to go. My goal is to give you the absolute best nutrition for YOU, so that you can make the best, informed decisions on nutrition for the rest of your life!

Nutrition Strategies

What some people call diets I like to call nutrition strategies.  The reason for this is that many of them can be beneficial if applied to the correct situation.  The problem becomes when we take these strategies and start applying them to every human being on the planet.  While it would be nice to have the one exact strategy that worked for everyone, it never really works that way. Nutrition can sometimes be a moving target.  While there is typically a generalized strategy for eating healthy, the many popular diets, or eating strategies, can be used as targeted protocols to achieve a specific goal.  Very few of them prove to be strategies that work for everyone.  In my opinion, the closest one that seems to work for most people is the Evolutionary Paleo approach.  This theory of this dietary strategy is that we should be eating only things that grow or live on the earth, and in direct relation to how our genetics have evolved over time to handle them.  So, for instance, any food that has only been recently introduced to the human gut can have a higher chance of irritating our gut environment.  This is because our gut has not evolved to recognize or process these ‘new foods’.  However, I still believe that even this approach has variances depending on the person.  While paleo states that things like grains are not approved, I believe that non-gluten grains can be good for certain people.  The only way to figure that out is to either doing advanced testing or comprehensively assess your diet and how it affects you.

Another reason that dietary strategies can be a moving target is because sometimes we need to utilize a specific strategy to help improve or overcome a certain health condition. For example, someone who has a condition called SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) will need to eat a specific way in order to help heal and overcome that situation.  This FODMAP diet that they need to follow it by no means a long term plan, but without implementing this strategy there is no way to get better.  There are many other instances where this can come into play, with the full understanding that it is a temporary strategy to meet a specific goal.

Another example would be intermittent fasting.  While this has become the hot new dietary fad it is not for everyone as the popular media would have you believe.  The benefits can be many and everyone seems to be jumping on board.  However, there are many situations when even this strategy can be the absolute wrong choice.  For more information on intermittent fasting, its benefits, and when it might not be the best approach you can read more on one of my previous blog articles. (https://momentumfunctionalhealth.com/intermittent-fasting/)

In a nutshell, someone who may be trying to improve a situation of insulin resistance (pre-diabetes or diabetes) may benefit highly from this dietary strategy.  However, someone who is tall and skinny and has tendencies toward hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) would do very poorly with this strategy.  We must start educating people more about each strategy and when they are best to apply.

The easiest way to approach this is to use the following guidelines:

  1. Eat only whole, real foods
  2. Eat a wide variety of vegetables
  3. Have your plate be at least half vegetables
  4. Limit grains and ideally make them gluten-free
  5. Eat lean meats and source them appropriately (i.e. organic, grass-fed, etc.)
  6. Limit fruit intake and ideally eat them with either protein or fat to minimize insulin spikes
  7. Consume healthy fats
  8. Eat enough calories to match your activity level

While this does seem to be very general advice, it can solve many of the health issues people are facing today.  In light of this, the absolute best thing you can do is start to learn more about nutrition.  The biggest thing that you can do for you health is make wise decisions about what you eat and when you eat it.  Learning more about the basics of nutrition can help you make better choices everyday and over the long term can drastically improve the trajectory of your health.  Many people are doing their best to make good food choices, but have actually never been taught the basics about nutrition and how to choose foods properly.  While this should be part of our education as we grow up, sadly it is not.  I can’t tell you how many times people tell me about their attempt to make good decisions only to be sabotaged by something that they just weren’t aware of.  When I work with my clients I make a conscious effort to teach them all I can so that they are empowered to make proper, healthy decisions.  In order to help more people learn these crucial things I have created a very simple, educational series that can teach you these basics once and for all.  It was designed to be completed in as little as 20 minutes each week for a 6-week time span.  Each step will explain the basics of reading food labels, understanding sugar, healthy fats and oils, macros (protein, carbs, and fats) and calories, meal planning basics, and gut health. You can learn more about the education series by clicking here.  Learn it once and apply it for the rest of your life.  If this is something that you still have not learned I encourage you to invest this small amount of time each week to your health. 

Beyond the basics of the nutrition there can be many ways to really try and uncover the best foods for you.  One of the best ways to start paying attention to the foods you eat is to keep a food journal.  Not only will you probably eat healthier (because you don’t want to write down bad foods), but you will also begin to learn about your eating habits and how you feel when you eat certain things.  There are many apps that can help you track this and make your life easier.  Two of the best ones are MyFitnessPal and Chronometer.  They can help you get a better understanding of how many calories you are eating and what ratios or protein, fat, and carbohydrates you consume.  Many people will notice that they feel better when they eat a specific way or in specific amounts, but would never otherwise know this unless they were keeping a journal.  It is not something that you do forever, but just long enough to help you understand more about what things you are eating and why.  Of course, it is always best to have a professional help make suggestions and improvements in your dietary journal, but if not you can still learn quite a bit just from the process.

Another thing that can be very helpful is figuring out if you are sensitive to any foods.  Basically this means that your body negatively responds to foods.  There are two main ways to do this.  One is called the elimination and provocation protocol.  In simple terms, this means removing a food from your diet for a particular time and then reintroducing it later to see if you react negatively.  Removing a food for 4 weeks is typically a good period of time.  You would then want to reintroduce that food daily (ideally twice per day) for the next 3-5 days to see if you have any reactions such as upset stomach, diarrhea, lethargy, skin irritations, headaches, joint pain, or any other noticeable effect.  If this occurs it may be due to a food sensitivity.  While this testing method is not 100% accurate, it can help you figure out how your body responds to certain foods.  The only tricky part is that you must keep everything else in your diet consistent while you are testing specific foods.  This way you can really know if a certain food is in fact what is causing you problems.  A very common instance where people notice this is with dairy.   Removing dairy for a period of time and then reintroducing it will often time give people upset stomach, diarrhea, sinus congestion, and/or headaches.

Food Sensitivity Testing

The other, and more reliable, method to look for food sensitivities is lab testing.  There are specific tests that can assess whether or not your immune system is responding (attacking) to various foods.  This leaves less guesswork as you can see exactly how your immune system is responding to various foods.  The best lab for this (by far) is Cyrex labs.  Many people have had versions of food sensitivity testing done, but by different labs and methods of testing that are just not very accurate.  Cyrex labs testing methods and purity make them the leader in the field and give people results that can be trusted.  One special thing to note is that food sensitivity testing and food allergy testing are completely different.  Food allergy testing is done many times by medical doctors and is looking for severe reactions to foods that can cause dangerous, sometimes life threatening, symptoms.  Food sensitivity testing is looking for similar reactions in the body, but at a lower severity. This doesn’t mean that they are not of consequence, it just means that the reactions are not as blatantly obvious.  However, if you are having a small, inflammatory reaction to a food and eat that food many times each day, over the long term you could be causing low level inflammation of the gut that will eventually lead to massive problems.  So my suggestions is that if your gut health is not ideal and has been like that for a long time, you need to take the time to figure out why that is happening so that you can restore your gut health.  Numerous studies now show that gut health is crucial to overall health and its importance has led to the creation of its new nickname, ‘the second brain’.  Start with a basic food journal or professional nutrition analysis, and if that doesn’t suffice you can order some labs from Cyrex to get a detailed picture and roadmap.

Nutrition is by far one of the most important pillars of health, because it effects every single thing that occurs in your body.  Giving your body the proper ingredients to run efficiently should be a priority.  Many people underestimate how much food affects their overall health.  I have seem numerous conditions resolve just by helping someone figure out the best ways to eat.  While this seems over-simplistic, it proves to be true every time.  If we just would have listened to Hippocrates we probably wouldn’t have so many prevalent, chronic health conditions in our society.  Start treating your food as medicine and watch your health soar!