Domains of Wellness Series: Nourishing our Bodies

I call this domain “Nourish”, as opposed to “Food” or “Diet” because of this word’s positive connotations regarding food and diet. We can, and often do, choose foods that fill us but don’t nourish us; some entire diets, although calorie rich, are nutrient poor and result in simultaneous undernourishment and obesity. In fact, one of our most confounding contemporary societal problems lies in the contradiction between the wealth of the country and malnourishment of the population – but that is a subject for another day and another post.

There are some basic nutritional rules which, if followed, will assure proper nutritional intake for most of us.

Rule 1: Eat a Varied and Balanced Diet

Introduce variety at every meal by choosing from fish and lean meats, whole-grain cereal products, low-fat dairy foods, and a wide range of vegetables and fruits.

If you have an important health reason for avoiding some foods (e.g., lactose intolerance, allergies, or other diagnosed digestive limitations) exclude those foods from your diet and learn about alternative ways for satisfying the nutritional gaps that may result. If you are vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pesco-pollo vegetarian, or any other “arian”, do the same. Whatever your limitations or choices, make every effort to maximize the variety of your food sources within the boundaries of your personal diet.

Rule 2: Process foods as little as possible

Choose fresh or frozen whenever possible and add as little processing as you can in your own kitchen. I know, some things need to be cooked. I’m not saying don’t cook them, but I am saying, don’t boil your vegetables so long that they lose all their nutrients, and then (adding insult to injury) throw the water (which I might call vegetable stock) down the drain. Fresh is wonderful, and frozen is a very good alternative, as today’s packaging methods allow for a very short interval between harvest and freezing. When it comes to fish, I prefer flash-frozen to fresh; this process is done immediately while still on the boat, whereas the term “fresh” can easily mean the fish was caught 3, 4, 5 or more days ago. And while there are a few products for which canned is a good option (legumes, good quality tuna and salmon), fresh or frozen is generally best.

And let’s talk about juicing for a minute. Juicing sounds good, but it is a process that robs you of some of the good nutrition you just spent $2.99 a pound for! Here’s how:

−         Juicing skips the first step in digestion – chewing. A major part of digestion occurs in the process of chewing. The enzymes in saliva get the process started before food reaches the stomach.

−         If you are a true “juicer” and not a smoothie maker, you are throwing all that wonderful fiber out in the garbage. You need the fiber.

−         And again with the juicing:  all that nutrition in one glass? There are limits to the amount that can be absorbed in one digestive period, and what isn’t absorbed is lost.

Rule 3: Get your nutrients from foods, not supplements.

Foods often contain mutually enhancing nutrients, as well as phytochemicals that may also enhance bio-availability. If you drink milk, for example, you get vitamin D, which will help you absorb more of the calcium and phosphorus in your diet; the milk’s sugar (lactose) will help you absorb not only calcium but also magnesium. Taking mega-doses of vitamin or mineral supplements can impair the absorption process by introducing imbalances and crowding out important nutrients.

Rule 4: Skip fad diets.

These not only fail to supply necessary nutrients, but also eliminate beneficial interactions among nutrients, and can amplify any negative interactions. They aren’t sustainable, and won’t satisfy you for long. Feeling deprived, you are quite likely to respond to your body’s signals of nutrient deprivation, by lapsing into over-indulgent ricochet eating behaviors.

Rule 5: Respect and honor your personal needs.

Many of us have special dietary needs – foods to avoid or nutrients to seek out. Our needs change with age and condition. Food can be medicine, so if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, osteoporotic, obese, have high cholesterol or other condition, seek support from a qualified professional.

Do’s and Don’ts of How We Eat

So, rules 1-5 pretty much cover what we do. We still need to talk about how we do it as the impact of how we eat is often underestimated. The power of the Mediterranean diet is thought to be only partly due to its nutritional make-up. The cultural practices that honor mealtime as a time for family, for sharing, for relationships, for taking time together serve to aid digestion and nourish the spirit, as well as the body.

The do’s and don’ts are common sense.

Do eat mindfully – take your time, pay attention to what you are eating, not your phone or the TV, to really enjoy your food.  Share your meals with family and friends to enrich the experience further. Cook together and learn about food together. Laugh, experiment with new things, make memories, to celebrate and enjoy for years to come.

Avoid behaviors that interfere with digestion or rob you of the pleasures of food. Don’t eat on the run, sleep on a full stomach, overindulge or under-indulge in unhealthy ways. I have clients who report that when they concentrate on the Do’s, the Don’ts take care of themselves.

That’s pretty much it. We can go into a lot more detail and nuance on specific aspects of any or all these points. I’d love to hear about your experiences with truly effective strategies in this first domain of nourishment for the body.  Leave a response below, and thanks!

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