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We have been led to believe that good health can be found at the pharmacy or in the supplement aisle. When we experience aches and pains, fatigue or lack of sleep, we head to our doctor who generally ends up prescribing a pill to help combat each symptom, often without searching for the root cause. Rarely do healthcare practitioners ask about the most important player in good health: the foods we choose to eat, day in and day out.
In 2008 the United Nations' World Health Organization announced that chronic conditions like heart disease and stroke are now the leading cause of death, surpassing infectious disease as the number one killer around the world. The great news is, we have control over chronic conditions, since they are diseases caused primarily by lifestyle, including what we eat and drink, how we move and exercise, how we manage stress and sleep. Foods can a panacea or poison. Every time we eat a meal or snack, we have the power to create health or disease. Good health is not just the absence of disease. It is when we feel vibrant, have a spring in our step and are brimming with energy.
When we eat food, we are supplying energy and are also delivering messages that tell cells to do this and not that; release this hormone but not that one; express this gene and turn off another one. Each molecule of food triggers a cascade of events that send signals throughout our bodies, balancing hormones, igniting immune cells and switching genes on and off, building and destroying cells. This powerful information comes in different forms including macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals, and each has dramatic effects on how we feel and think, our level of energy and disease risk.
If a nutrient is missing, the body will do all it can to compensate until the system begins to falter. The body will whisper that something is out of balance with chronic symptoms like aches and pains, rashes, muscle cramps or headaches. If the imbalance is not corrected, the body will start to scream and we end up with a disease diagnosis like arthritis, heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Macronutrients are nutrients needed in large amounts (macro) and include carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber and water. Fiber doesn't provide any calories but is essential for digestion and elimination. Drinking a half-ounce of water per pound of body weight is a great way to support the body's detoxification systems.
Micronutrients are nutrients needed in small amounts (micro) and include vitamins and minerals. These nutrients enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances vital for growth and development. Phytochemicals are the colorful nutrients in plants that have protective health effects, like antioxidants that squelch free radical damage, helping to slow the aging process and defend against chronic disease like cancer and heart disease. There are over 10,000 phytochemicals that have currently been identified with countless others yet to be discovered. Try squeezing those compounds into a single pill! (Or eat your veggies like Grandma always insisted on!)
The bottom line is if you are serious about staying healthy or reclaiming your health, the best and most important place to start is with the food at the end of your fork. Michael Pollan said it best, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." A clean whole foods diet is the cornerstone for successful aging. You have the power to choose between health and disease with each bite.
Cate Reade, MS, RD, is an ACE-certified senior fitness specialist who has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for more than 25 years. Today she is the CEO of Resistance Dynamics and inventor of the MoveMor Mobility Trainer. Contact Cate at email@example.com or visit www.MoveMor.com.
This column is hosted by the Seniors' Council of Douglas County. For more information please visit MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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