Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Final Word (At Least For Now) On Eating Healthy

As I get ready to hang up my stethoscope again, and ponder the over one-thousand conversations I've had with patients and others over the past three years about eating for health, one theme repeatedly comes to mind: despite their belief to the contrary, most people don't truly understand what it means to eat healthy. They are also confused about the value of eating healthy when the diet still includes plenty of unhealthy foods. Healthy foods, no matter how much you eat, do not neutralize the ill effects of unhealthy foods.

As a service to all, here is a brief synopsis of the elements of a healthy diet. It's little technical at first, but I get down to a basic list at the end.

First, let's take a quick look at what are called the essential nutrients, of which there are six categories, that all humans basically need to survive. By essential, we mean that the human body cannot produce these on its own without outside help.

There are:
13 essential vitamins
Vitamins are grouped into two categories:
  • Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body's fatty tissue. The four fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • There are nine water-soluble vitamins. The body must use water-soluble vitamins right away. Any left over water-soluble vitamins leave the body through the urine. Vitamin B12 is the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored in the liver for many years.
There are 15 give or take essential minerals. There are also trace minerals not listed here.
There are 9 essential amino acids
  • histidine, 
  • isoleucine, 
  • leucine, 
  • lysine, 
  • methionine, 
  • phenylalanine, 
  • threonine,  
  • tryptophan
  • valine.
2 essential fatty acids
  • alpha linolenic acid
  • linoleic acid


Some also think that choline, once thought a vitamin, is also an essential nutrient.

There are also other amino acids and fatty acids, and many other compounds in foods, such as antioxidants, enzymes, etc. that are metabolically active but are not essential to the diet as the human body can function without them.

Okay, so what are you supposed to do with all this detail. Nothing really other than eat foods that contain them.

For example, 11 of the vitamins can be obtained from eating fruits and vegetables.

One, vitamin D, can be made by sun exposure or found in foods like unsweetened almond milk.

The other Vitamin, B12, can be found in fish, chicken and meat. I'll come back to these later.

The minerals can be found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans whole grains, and seeds.

The amino acids and choline can be found in nuts, whole grains, beans, eggs, fish, chicken and meat.

The fatty acids, or their derivatives, can be found in seeds like chia and flax, as well as healthy wild fish like Alaskan Salmon.

So what does a healthy diet look like?

It contains daily raw fruits and vegetables, fresh or frozen. Fruits must include berries, banana, citrus, apples, and melons. Other fruits are optional. Vegetables must contain leafy green vegetables, collards, onions, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and mushrooms.
It contains raw whole nuts (includes pecans, almonds, pistachio, Brazil nuts, and macadamia- at least twenty a day except for Brazil nuts-limit to two a day), cooked beans (limit soybean but some okay), raw seeds (chia and flax best, but limit), and minimally processed whole grains like steel cut oatmeal with no preservatives nor genetically modified grains (non-GMO).
It contains wild fatty fish like wild salmon, herring, sardines, cod, halibut, etc. (3-4 times a week)
It contains free range chicken once a week, free range eggs twice a week, and lean antibiotic meat every other week as a side dish.
It includes dark chocolate(for the polyphenols) of at least 70% cacao with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving with a serving size equal to at least a third of the bar.
It contains unsweetened almond milk.
A very little olive or safflower oil.
It contains sun exposure and at least 50 ounces of fluids a day.
Of course, even a good thing in excess is harmful. So eat these foods in moderation, eat mindfully, and remember what the Okinawans say before every meal: Hora Hachi Bu (eat until your 80% full)

A healthy diet does not contain dairy of any kind (after infancy), yogurt included, and definitely not dairy that contains added hormones such as Bovine Recombinant Growth Hormone (which is part of all non-organic dairy), artificial sweeteners or added sugars, processed breads with added sugar, pastas whole grain or otherwise, ketchup with high fructose corn syrup (most), chips, processed snacks, pretzels, crackers, cold cut meats, processed meats, processed cereals like Cheerios and Kashi made from genetically modified grains (also don't be fooled by the label Organic: read the label and watch for added sugar greater than 4 grams per serving-if so, avoid), sweetened drinks or bottled fruit juices, health bars, protein touring products -- including bars, drinks, shakes or any other product touting protein, any supplements (unless prescribed by a knowledgeable physician), any multivitamins (unless pregnant), fried foods, burnt or charred foods, any food with partially hydrogenated on its ingredient list (even if label states no trans-fats), non-sun dried fruit (even if sun-dried eat in moderation), no foods or drinks whatsoever with preservatives added including nitrates and sulfites in particular, too many smoothies even if all raw ingredients--too many calories involved, farm-raised fish, especially tilapia and salmon, more than once a week tuna, non-organic apples, corn or potatoes, movie theater and microwave popcorn, too many oils including coconut, olive, sunflower, and safflower oils, too many starchy vegetables, candies with sugar and chemicals, foods with added dyes, non-organic soy-based products, and more food than you need to live-which is not really all that much after you meet the essential requirements. 

I hope this information has been helpful and I wish you all Bon Appetite. If you have any questions, please feel free to write me at for at least the next six months.