The most important element creating a healthy, balanced body is the food we use to nourish it. What living in a modern society has taught us, is that not all food is created equal. The apples eaten by your great grandmother are NOT the same apples your children eat today. The nutritional content is different, the genetics are different, the chemicals sprayed on them are different and more numerous. Also, the information we have been fed about food and nutrition has changed over time, with often contradicting opinions. Let’s re-evaluate a few nutrition tips that are being called into question after decades of increasing rates of allergies, diabetes, and heart disease.
- Cholesterol and saturated fat are BAD—FALSE
The fat free movement started when a hypothesis about the cause of heart disease pointed the finger at cholesterol. This hypothesis came about because cholesterol was found inside the plaques of patients with heart disease. However, after decades of cholesterol lowering medications being used to aggressively lower people’s blood cholesterol levels, what have we found? Decreasing blood cholesterol has minimal impact on a person risk of death from heart disease. We have also discovered that dietary cholesterol has very little to do with circulating levels of blood cholesterol. Hmm…
TRUE– cholesterol and saturated fats that come from healthy animals that are fed a natural grazers diet free from hormones and antibiotics are not bad for you. Cholesterol is actually what your body uses to repair itself. Nature’s band-aid. It is also necessary for hormone production, protection from stress, and brain health. Saturated fats are extremely stable under high levels of heat. This makes things like butter, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil the least likely to become damaged when frying or baking at high heat.
- Vegetable oils are good for you—FALSE
The advent of corn, canola, and soybean oil as the alternative to grandma’s butter and lard was potentially one of the worst health decisions that the food industry promoted in the past few decades. They started hydrogenating (making these liquid oils more like solid fats at room temperature) to have a better shelf life for packaged products. Oops. This created trans fats, which we now widely recognize as culprits in the worsening heart disease picture. What is not often mentioned is that these oils are from a Genetically Modified source unless they are marked as organic. Both corn and soybean oils are considered inflammatory, or promoters of inflammation in the body. What do we now consider to be an underlying cause of heart disease? Inflammation.
TRUE— Nut and seed oils like almond, walnut, sesame, etc are healthy and a nice alternative to vegetable based oils. These oils have less tolerance for high heat and should only be used at low heat, or unheated as salad oils or added to food after cooking. Olive oil has long been recognized as health promoting and anti-inflammatory. Consider blending olive oil and butter to protect the more delicate olive oil from heat during the cooking process.
- Sugar is safe to eat, fructose is even better —FALSE
We are finally passing over cholesterol as the culprit and bring the blame around to rest on sugar. Refined table sugar in the form of sucrose, as well as high fructose corn syrup are now being considered major contributors to climbing rates of chronic inflammatory diseases, Type II Diabetes, and obesity in children and adults. Skipping over the packet of sugar in your coffee is easy, but the hidden sugar that is added to most packaged foods is harder. Products that you would not consider “sweet” often have some form of liquid glucose, fructose, or corn syrup added to enhance the flavour add to the addictive quality of that food item: ie.. You are more likely to buy that product again.
TRUE-Natural sweeteners with minimal processing are considered the best options if you need something sweet. Consider reaching for honey, maple syrup, or coconut sugar as your primary alternatives. Cane juice and fruit juice sweetened items can be equally as sweet and damaging to the system. The take home message is that anything sweet stresses your body systems. Reach for natural alternatives, but continue to use them in moderation. Eating fruit fresh with all its natural fibre is your best option!
These are just a few elements in the changing paradigm of nutrition in the modern world. As Naturopathic Physicians, we believe that food and nutrition are the foundation of health, and appropriate digestion and nutrient absorption are the important next steps in that process.
Ask yourself the following:
- Is your digestion healthy?
- Do you have food allergies or intolerances?
- Are you getting the most out of your food?
- Is your body utilizing this nutrition to its maximum potential?
Consider that as not every food is created equal, not every diet plan is appropriate for every person. As an individual you may have different needs and certain foods may not be in your best interest to consume regularly. Your ND can help you create a personalized nutritional program, screen you for food reactions and work with you to optimize digestion and nutrient absorption. Now you are on the path to wellness!