I’ve talked about the power of food in helping me with some of my health issues, particularly chronic pain issues, some gnarly GI issues I had last year, and figuring out after my hip surgery that grains (and most dairy) and I just don’t really get along. As I’m a huge advocate of starting with food to address health concerns (when reasonable and feasible), I figured I’d share some of the research behind my thoughts and my approach to managing some health issues through diet and nutrition.
Modern Day Medicine, Modern Day Problems
The way we live today is drastically different than the way people lived just a few decades ago. With the advent of technology, long work commutes, and less physically demanding occupations, we are much more sedentary than our ancestor were (even our grandparents and great-grandparents, for most of us). And the current medical model is not well-suited to fight the most common diseases that are afflicting our sedentary population.
Biomedicine as we know it has traditionally been focused on eradicating infectious diseases (and they’ve done a great job!) but in our present day reality, most of the diseases that people suffer from can best be controlled through engaging in a healthy lifestyle. They aren’t caused by a germ or a virus that can be targeted with medicine and they aren’t the result of a pathology that can be removed via surgery. These diseases are mainly a result of poor nutrition, sitting too much, being socially isolated, and not moving enough.
Better Health Through Nutrition and Movement
But while that’s disheartening, it also means there’s something we can do about it! Consistent, habitual, healthy behaviors, such as engaging in physical activity, sitting less throughout the day, practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, getting enough sleep, spending time outside, hanging out with friends and loved ones, and eating whole and minimally processed foods put us closer to the optimal wellness end of the health continuum, helping us to live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.
Most of us know that exercise and nutrition are key health behaviors that can lead to optimal wellness as well as optimal athletic or work performance (nutrition and movement do wonders for the brain and cognition in addition to the heart and muscles!). The two go hand-in-hand, so no matter if our goal is to be healthier or to achieve peak performance in our athletic or professional pursuits, proper nutrition should be a primary part of their program.
Why I Study This Stuff
I became certified as a nutrition coach through Precision Nutrition and went back to school to get my M.S. in Human Movement for just that reason; I wanted to use movement and nutrition to help people to maximize their physical and mental performance so they could safely perform their jobs, engage in activities they enjoy, or compete at a high athletic level. Everyone can benefit from eating healthy foods and taking care of themselves!
In addition to helping the people who I worked with, I wanted to learn for myself, for my family, and for my friends who were continuously asking me for nutrition advice. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I realized nutrition was incredibly important for her recovery and after I became injured and had surgery, I prioritized nutrition to facilitate the healing process.
But not everyone realizes how powerful food and movement can be in treating and preventing some common physical and mental health problems. Cardiovascular disease is a leading killer of men and women in the United States, killing more people than the next six causes combined and risk factors can be best addressed through a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and sitting less throughout the day.
Movement is Life
Physical activity has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risks as much as quitting smoking does; that’s a pretty powerful finding that supports how important engaging in regular physical activity is for a healthy heart and healthy long-term outlook in addition to allowing for progressive motor skills development and getting more proficient in the chosen activity, whether that’s a sport, a leisure time activity, or our work.
A prospective study of 27,055 women published by the American Heart Association demonstrated reduced cardiovascular and coronary heart disease risks with increased levels of physical activity, thought to be due to reducing known risk factors such as inflammation biomarkers, blood pressure, blood lipids, and obesity. Physical activity may have its greatest effect on lowering heart disease risks through the reduction of chronic inflammation, which is discussed more and more in the research as being the underlying component for a variety of diseases and health risk factors.
Heart disease risk and inflammation biomarkers can also be reduced through a healthy, cardioprotective diet and findings are coming out regularly to support how important our food choices are to our overall health and performance. And the way we promote healthy eating is shifting, with less of a focus on macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) and more of a focus on just obtaining our nutrients through eating whole, real food rather than relying on supplements and overly processed foods.
Food Is Medicine
This boils down to paying attention to the quality of our food sources; prioritizing eating more whole, minimally processed or unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods and eating fewer processed foods which are usually loaded with poor quality carbohydrates (particularly refined grains, starches, and added sugars), preservatives, and industrial seed oils; and engaging in these types of positive eating behaviors on a consistent basis (make good choices most of the time). There is still room for treats, no one should stress about having a homemade brownie and some ice cream now and then, but they should be treats (and savored and truly enjoyed! Not scarfed and barely registered!) and not a staple of our diet.
Studies have consistently linked healthy eating behaviors, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and quality (whole fat!) dairy with lower risk of cardiometabolic disease (CHD, stroke, diabetes). Newer studies show that eating minimally processed meats (preferably grass fed) and pastured eggs are part of a healthy diet as well. Overall dietary patterns that emphasize these types of foods, such as the Mediterranean diet, also have been linked with greater cardiometabolic health.
Hippocrates said “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”, I think for some time we as a nation got away from that fundamental premise for good health in exchange for speed and convenience and therefore poor quality and nutrient-deficiency in our food choices.
Coming back to seeing whole, nutrient-dense foods as the foundation for our health and understanding how our food choices impact not only our overall health and wellness but also the ease with which we can perform the tasks of daily living or improve our ability to excel in the pursuits we enjoy is so important for our collective well-being.
To sum up my formula for health and happiness:
Eat real food.
Food is medicine. Movement is life. That’s about it! What do you think?
And as always, thanks for reading my posts!
References for my nerd friends
McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I., & Katch, V.L. (2013). Sports and exercise nutrition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins.
Mora, S., Cook, N., Buring, J.E., Ridker, P.M., & Lee, I. (2007). Physical activity and reduced risk of cardiovascular events: Potential mediating mechanisms. Circulation, 116(11), 2110-2118. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.729939
Mozaffarian, D., Appel, L.J., & Van Horn, L. (2011). Components of a cardioprotective diet: New insights. Circulation, 123(24), 2870-2891. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.968735.