01.02.2010 Nutrition

Eat to Live Well

Everything we eat will either accelerate the ageing process or slow it down and maintain our health and vitality. It's all a question of choice, says Dr Peter Dingle PhD

What we eat now will determine the disease patterns in our future. Most of the chronic illnesses from which we suffer today were either rare or unheard of just 100 years ago - and still don't exist in many countries where traditional diets are widely followed. The scientific literature about this is abundant and clear. This information shows how changes in lifestyle and diet can not only reduce the chance of these chronic diseases, but also, in many cases, reverse these conditions without the use of prescription drugs. Yes, reverse.

Billions of dollars are made every year through the sale of processed foods high in sugars, salt and fat, yet low in nutrition. Millions of dollars are spent marketing special diet programs to reduce the obesity and weight problems caused by these foods. Unfortunately very few, if any, of these programs are based on sound nutrition and good health. They will often prescribe low calorie and low glycemic (low GI) foods and then on the same page recommend foods that are void of any nutrition. Every single one of our trillions of cells in our bodies requires nutrition for every moment that it functions. Every one of those trillions of cells needs that nutrition to provide our bodies with the best possible health potential.

The Eating for Success Formula

We developed our 6 Week Healthy Eating Planner as a formula, not as a recipe book or weight loss book to instil in people the need to get back to the right type of eating. Not just what to eat but when, how and even why we need to eat well. Unfortunately, we have lost a lot of knowledge and been bombarded by companies making billions of dollars on people eating foods that make them sick. If you want to change for the better implement some of the knowledge below to regain your health by making the right eating choices.

Start with one to two glasses of water an hour before meal times. A lot of people don't know the difference between thirst and hunger and tend to overeat when they are actually thirsty and probably 75% of Australians are chronically dehydrated.

Fish is one of our main sources of protein and essential oils. It is not only tasty, but also gives us between 10% and 50% of our daily protein content. The Omega 3 oils for which fish are so well known are crucial to protect our heart. Omega 3 oils perform several important functions: they help nutrients to move into our cells and wastes to pass out of them, minimise inflammation in the body and are essential for our brain development and ability to focus. But once you deep fry or dry the fish, you lose a lot of its beneficial qualities so only have raw, boiled or baked.

Eating a range of colours of vegetables is important, as the different colours in foods correspond to different antioxidants and nutrients that protect the body. Green leafy vegetables are rich in magnesium, a mineral essential for healthy bone and muscle function and relaxing, along with a healthy functioning nervous system. They are also rich in calcium so when people ask me where do we get our calcium from for our bones, I direct them to leafy green vegetables. I have never heard of a gorilla, which is a vegan, with osteoporosis but many of us on the Western diet have it. You just have to eat more of them.

By including a large portion of raw vegetables and fruit in your diet, you assist the body in the digestive process, providing beneficial enzymes that help to digest food. Once vegetables are cooked, these naturally occurring enzymes are denatured and the body must work harder to produce its own supply of enzymes. Digestion puts a large stress on the body. As much as 30% of the body's energy is used in digesting overcooked, processed foods. Raw foods make it easy on the digestive system because they all come with their own digestive enzymes. If you have any digestive troubles, and we all do, increase the raw component and it will make a big difference. As a general rule the more raw content, the better.

The high fibre content of many vegetables and fruits help our "good" bacteria to flourish by providing a rich food source of prebiotics, food for the good bacteria, such as inulin. Fibre also has the added benefit of being a gentle, bulk forming laxative and a water carrier which improves the digestive process and our toilet habits.

Vegetables are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, calcium (found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale and parsley) and iron (found in cabbage, beetroot, parsley and potato). This highlights the importance of eating mostly vegetables in our daily meals, as it is from the wide variety of vegetables that most of our nutrition is derived. In fact, at every meal at least half of the meal should be an assortment of vegetables and salads. I eat a lot more salad than this.

You might also be surprised to know that vegetables, even leafy green ones, can be a good source of protein. Once the water is removed, you have around 10% or more protein. Given that we are short on water, vegetables are a great way to get everything you need. It just means you have to eat lots more. Protein is a "mood food." Your body needs it every two hours in small amounts.

The different colours of fruits represent different nutrients. For example, the red in tomatoes comes from lypocene, a potent antioxidant that protects your kids (and you) from cancer. The orange in persimmons is beta-carotene, which protects you from eye problems, skin disorders, low immunity and a variety of toxins, cancer, colds, flu and infections. By eating the whole fruit, the fibre content slows down the release of natural sugars found in the fruit, and keeps the sugar intake balanced throughout the day. We get all the sugar we need from our fruit and vegetables. If you want to sweeten meals, fruit can be used as a natural sweetener.

Beans are a great food for growing "human beans." They have loads of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, calcium, iron, antioxidants and fibre and they are really filling. They are good for weight control and for maintaining a healthy gut. Beans are almost the perfect food and there are lots of different types of beans. They also provide the prebiotics to help develop healthy gut bacteria for a healthy digestive system.

Excellent sources of protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals are nuts and whole seeds. Each type of nut has its very own powerhouse of nutrients. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, an essential anti-cancer mineral; pistachio nuts are rich in potassium; and walnuts are high in Omega 3 oils (ALA). Nuts have been associated with improved health, lower body fat and reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

Despite their high fat content, a small handful of nuts a day helps you to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. As seeds and nuts come with their own enzyme inhibitors, it is always best to soak them for at least a few hours or if you're in a rush grind up the nuts and soak for 30 minutes to get the same effect. This is what I do for my fruit (and nut) smoothies, but with no milk added. Add a bit of raw chocolate (cacao - a bean) for the kids if you want.

While I have already hinted at this a few times it is definitely worth reiterating the importance of water. In fact, if I was to get people to just increase the water consumption we would see a decrease in chronic illness overnight. Water is essential to our wellbeing and makes an extraordinary difference to our clarity of mind and levels of energy. It is the means by which all our nutrients get to our cells to work in our lymphatic system, skin, liver and kidneys to dilute and eliminate toxins effectively.

A good indicator of how much water you require is this: multiply 35mls by your weight in kgs. For example, if you weigh 60kgs, then 60 x 35mls= 2,100mls a day!

When you minimise your water intake, your body restricts the loss of unnecessary water by cutting down on sweating and reabsorbing toxins with some of the water when you empty your bowels. This process places added strain on your already hard working organs of elimination, a little bit like washing dishes in 2cm of dirty water suds.

You can improve your health starting today just by drinking your daily quota of water. Start with two glasses of water or weak green tea upon rising. This dilutes your system, as you have the highest concentration of toxins throughout your body first thing in the morning.

Thirst can sometimes disguise itself as hunger, tiredness, a dry mouth or lack of focus or concentration. By sipping water throughout the day, you reduce the risk of constipation, headaches, tiredness and urinary tract infections and chronic illness such as heart attack and stroke. It is interesting to note that a number of studies including the latest, a meta analysis (where they combine many studies together) of 500,000 people have identified that the more you drink, and it doesn't matter if it is tea, coffee, decaf coffee or water, it reduces your risk of diabetes. Of course, water is best for a number of reasons.

Despite the overwhelming importance diet and nutrition have in our lives, most people show very little interest in food other than satisfying their hunger or taste buds. Perhaps this is because people are too busy doing other things; it could be that deciding what to eat is too complicated because of all the conflicting information "out there". For many people, it's simply too confusing. This confusion is brought about in part by the vested interests of companies marketing food.

If you search the scientific literature for foods that improve your health - that is, foods that reduce the risk of diseases and give long-term benefits - you'll discover that fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds (and many vitamins, mineral and other supplements) are the healthiest and most nutritious of all foods. In terms of grains, only whole grains are considered beneficial. Over-processed carbohydrates, which have so little nutritional value that the food companies are forced by government decree to add vitamins and minerals, are poor substitutes. These over-processed foods also have a high glycemic index, which means they raise blood sugar levels very quickly. If our bodies don't burn up this sugar, it's converted to fat or, even worse, acts a bit like a free radical in the blood and sticks to all the molecules like haemoglobin, making them ineffective.

Everything you eat will either accelerate your ageing and the processes that wear your body out, or will work to slow the ageing process and maintain your strength and vitality. An excess of processed, grain-based food is debilitating to your body, as are all over-processed foods. This and other dietary issues have been clouded by the focus on calories. Despite the obsession with calculating the energy units in food, the general population continues to put on weight and die of diet-related diseases. Our focus should be on the nutritional content of food, not on calories.

The occasional takeaway food or junk food will not kill you, but making a regular, lifetime habit of eating it probably will. Most people unwittingly eat and drink themselves into a slow and painful process of decay with a lifespan much shorter than it should be. There's also an alarming amount of unnecessary pain and suffering along the way in the form of preventable illnesses.

By choosing to eat nutritional foods, you'll dramatically reduce the risk of many illnesses including cancer, Alzheimer's, heart attack, diabetes, stroke and many more. You'll also maintain a healthy weight. So what is stopping you?

The 6 Week Healthy Eating Planner by Martine and Peter Dingle is available at Dymocks books stores or www.drdingle.com.

Dr Peter Dingle PhD is an environmental and nutritional toxicologist and
Associate Professor in Health and the Environment at Murdoch University .

Peter Dingle

Dr Peter Dingle (PhD) has spent the past 30 years as a researcher, educator, author and advocate for a common sense approach to health and wellbeing. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor. He is Australia’s leading motivational health speaker and has 14 books in publication.