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earth2 (Copy)When I talk about health, I generally like to focus on universals–that is, what is true for everybody across the board, and not just the nuances of one diet or another. For example, drinking the juice of an açaía berry is not universal. It may be rich in antioxidants (although there is no scientific evidence to support this marketing claim), but it is not an essential food consumed by people all over the world. Having a diet rich in antioxidants, however, is a universal. Drinking water from a hole in Costa Rica is also not a universal, although maintaining sufficient hydration most certainly is. To pound the point home, there isn’t one person reading this that wouldn’t suffer the same fate were he or she to swan dive off a ten-story building. That’s because everybody is subject to the law of gravity–it’s universal, get it?

Okay so when it comes to dietary health, then, only four universals exist. The human diet must fulfill all four of the following:

  • Act as an energy source—food provides us with energy, measured in calories; energy not immediately used is stored as fat.
  • Act as a nutrient source—in the form of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for metabolism, regulation and tissue repair.
  • bigstock-close-up-view-of-bacteria-12354305 (Copy)Provide water for proper hydration—some “experts” believe that we get all the fluids we need from our food, but I am not one of them; no doubt, though, that diets high in plant-based sources get a good portion of their daily water replenishment from food.
  • Maintain a beneficial gut environment—we now know that the foods we eat directly influence our gut microbiota: the organisms that inhabit our intestines and, among other things, help the digestive process.

That’s it. A healthy diet should fulfill these four universal requirements in the most efficient way. This is a point worth elaborating: While many diets (and I’m speaking of a way of eating here, not a fad diet, per se) may fulfill all four universals, they may not do so efficiently. This is likely the case for the majority of people on the typical western diet (some whole foods, lots of processed foods), which is high in calories and low in nutrients. These people often get their necessary nutrients, but at the expense of having to eat more food to do so. They are not malnourished, but instead over-nourished. Think about it, a diet low in essential nutrients will cause the body to communicate, “More nutrients, please!” in the only way it knows how: By increasing the appetite.

malnourished (Copy)Other diets, like those based on junk food, candy, and/or near-starvation (anorexia) lead to none of the universal being fulfilled, which causes malnutrition, and eventually the breakdown of the body.

So, again, the healthiest diets fulfill the four universals most efficiently. But what’s the best diet for you?  The one that fulfills all four universals with the least amount of food.

Now to say there is one diet that can fulfill this requirement for all people would be lie…because everybody is different. My body type is such that I need lots of protein. When I eat carbohydrate-rich meals, regardless of the source, I get weak and shaky within an hour. Thus, I need protein in every meal. Because of this personal nuance, I find that concentrated sources (meat, eggs, dairy) work best for me. This is NOT a universal; it is a nuance of my dietary needs. Believe me, I know plenty of people that thrive on a predominantly plant-based diet. Physiological variability I tell you.

That’s why I say stick to the universals. If veganism gets you there, then groovy, man. If it’s raw foodism—rock out. All that matters is that the four universals are most efficiently met.

Don’t get caught up into dietary nuances. Eat the widest variety of whole, natural foods that your body likes and craves, and try to get everything you need nutritionally with the least amount of food possible. I promise that you’ll get closer to achieving optimal nutrition by following these principles. It’s the human variability that throws the monkey-wrench into most popular diets, but universal is universal, so keep that in mind every time you eat. And if your way of eating already fulfills all four dietary universals, then you’re doing just fine.

Beware labels that market some foods as healthier than others.  That’s my advice regarding superfoods, a term used to ascribe nutritional potency to certain foods in the same way the term ‘natural’ is used to sell anything from chickens to cereal.

A few of the foods touted as ‘super’ include blueberries and green tea, but the latest to make the grade is maple syrup.  According to recent research, funded by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (hello!), chemists have identified 54 beneficial compounds in maple syrup that “possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses.”

Initial studies also suggest that polyphenols in the syrup may help keep blood sugar levels in check, important for diabetics, by inhibiting enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar.

Now that’s nice, as are the findings on the phytochemical makeup of maple syrup.  But what we do with that information is also important.  For instance, creating a label such as superfood denotes a connotation that somehow it is at the top of a nutritional pyramid.  At the very least, it tells unsuspecting consumers that they’ll be healthier if they eat this food.  But healthier than what?

I appreciate this news, however, because I think we can gain a few insights from it.  First, I love maple syrup; so, naturally, I embrace the information because I know that unprocessed natural sugar is better than processed white sugar.  And corn syrup?  Forget about it–I encourage everybody to throw theirs away.  Nothing, in my opinion, is worse for the health than high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  Not lost on me is the significance of its advent into the western diet and the increases in obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  Am I calling HFCS a direct cause?  Nooooo….just noting the coincidental timing.  If I have pancakes, it’s nothing other than maple syrup for me, no exceptions.

But this is the only practical application I would extract from these latest findings.  OK, okay…if you want to put maple syrup in your green tea, or use it as a sugar substitute–fine!  Just don’t think that now syrup shots are going to be some great health practice (I know, but you’d be surprised).

Without a doubt, marketers will use these findings to their advantage; but my role is to act as a ‘snap-out-of-it’ eye opener for zombie-like behavior some people exhibit when it comes to health.  Just because a company uses the term ‘natural’ to sell their over-priced product, doesn’t mean it’s any healthier for you.  If it makes you somehow feel better to buy it anyhow, then be my guest: I’m just pointing out some realities, that’s all.

Now the term organic is a different story.  Organic denotes a way of growing produce (sorry people, not chicken), and it is tightly regulated.  A company using the term organic is subjected to fines and closure for using the term inappropriately (check this video post on just this happening in Los Angeles Farmers Markets).  But natural or superfoods?  Puh-leeze…buyer beware.*

Second principle: There ain’t no food more important than any other.  Despite what some snake-oil salesmen may push on you promising super-health, you must eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients necessary for good health.  No yet-to-be-discovered food, juice or herb will give you better nutrition than a variety of whole natural foods.  No recently or yet-to-be-discovered tropical fruit will ever be the solitary answer to cancer, gout or skunk-gum since these diseases are mutifactorial (okay, maybe not skunk-gum).  Although I will admit that blueberries will probably give you more anti-oxidants than blackberries, raspberries or strawberries, they won’t give you that much more.

So again, take these findings on maple syrup with a grain of salt: It may be rich in phytonutrients–thus prompting its hailing as a superfood–but it doesn’t mean you now need to go out and purchase the latest drinks, juices and supplements that will surely follow.

*Since 1 July 2007, the marketing of products as “superfoods” is prohibited in the European Union unless accompanied by a specific medical claim supported by credible scientific research. ~ Wikipedia

Bad, bad, bad adults.  You haven’t been eating your veggies.  How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your beets?A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report shows that most Americans are still not eating vegetables, and fruit consumption has dipped a bit, too.  According to the report taken from a telephone survey of hundreds of thousands of Americans, only one-third of U.S. adults consumed fruit or fruit juice at least twice a day. That’s down slightly from more than 34% in 2000.

And vegetable consumption is at 26%, right where it sat in 2000.  Doh!  Not good, people.  And we wonder why cancer rates continue to soar.

Although the survey did not say which fruits and vegetables were being consumed by Americans, a CDC study last year showed that orange juice was top source of fruit for most U.S. adults, while potatoes were the most consumed vegetable.  Oh God bless the french fry…

Some other interesting facts:

  • California was the fruitiest, having the highest consumption of fruits
  • Tennessee had the highest vegetable consumption
  • Oklahoma ate the least fruit
  • South Dakota was last in eating vegetable

I know lots of clients in my Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood chiropractic clinic are taking various supplements that have high-concentrations of ground fruits and vegetables in them, particularly berries and other fruits high in antioxidants.  Uh, sorry folks…vitamins don’t replace food.  And I know others that swear by exotic fruit drinks.  That’s fine, but for the price of one bottle you can probably stock up on fresh produce for the week.

Look, it ain’t rocket science.  You’ve got to eat fresh fruits and vegetables to maintain good health and prevent degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer.  When I say this to people they always shake their heads in complete agreement because, well, everybody knows that.  But these numbers show that many of the head shakers aren’t walkin’ their shake.  OK, you know…so how ’bout steppin’ it up?  It’s for your health.

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