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Healthy Eating Habits


I read a lot about thetopics of health and especially diets. I have been experimenting withdiets since 1990 and keep journals about myobservations. Over time I tried several very different diets - rangingfrom the politically correct ones to highly controversial, along with dietsof my own design. My general observation is that a healthy diet plays an essentialrole in the overall scheme of well being.

Why eat healthy?

Eating the natural foods humans are well adapted at utilizing, enhancesones ability to cope with the reality of every day life. This in essenceimproves the probability of living a longer, healthier life. Quality food consumption becomesespecially important in the present world of high stress and pollution -making a healthy diet an essential aspect of modern self health care.(Although food is not the only aspect contributing to health or disease, itis significant enough to consider it's effects seriously.)

I think anybody who seriously tried living healthier through a better diet,proper physical activity, adequate rest, and by addressing mental andspiritual factors have experienced a vast range of natural health benefits.Common benefits are overall better health and a sense of well being, better sleep,improved physical endurance and strength, sharper mental abilities and lowersleep requirements. Further more, no or little time and money and energy isspend on doctors, hospitals and health insurance bills.

What is a healthy diet?

Since this article deals with healthy eating, a question remainsto be answered: what constitutes a healthy diet? Unfortunately, there aremore opinions about this than there are health experts. To further complicatethe matter, dietary concepts change over time, leaving most people confused and uncertainabout what or whom to trust. One solution to this problem is to become sufficientlyknowledgeable about the relevant subjects and rely on common sense to draw basicconclusions. Along with personal experimentation, such an approach willenable one to establish healthy eating habits. This takes time and energy, but consideringthe long lasting benefits a healthy diet can provide, the effort is more then well worth it.

In order to determine the minimal basic requirements of a healthy diet, Iconcluded that it is safe to start with the following two objectives:

  • examine human diet over time - the foods humans consumed since the arrival of our species.
  • examine diets of ethnical groups known for their good health.
  • Looking at the type of diets humans lived on through out pre-history, provides goodinsights into the kind of foods human body should be well adapted at utilizing and dealing with.Further, the diets of certain ethnical groups that are well known for good health -the people of Okinawa(Japan), traditional cultures in the Mediterranean region and many hunter-gatherersocieties - suggest certain health promoting dietary habits. Upon closer examination, two maindenominators emerged:

    • diets are based on natural, whole or minimally processed foods in accordance to heritage.
    • diets are lower in calories compared to a typical western diet.

    In the context of present time, one can therefore make two general assumptions in regard tothe question of what constitutes a healthy diet: 1) generally, the less a food is processed the better.2) eat less - eat what is adequate, do not over eat.

    Generally, the less a food is processed the better

    The reason for this is simple. For 99.9% of human existence, our specieslived on foods that were either raw or minimally processed. The technologyneeded to increase food processing did not exist until very recently.It is therefore reasonable to assume that our bodies are best adapted atutilizing and dealing with the raw or minimally processed foods which sustainedus for hundreds of thousands of years: fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts and seeds.

    Often, the more recent the food is, the more likely it is to be less beneficialor even directly harmful - possibly due to lack of full adaptation to such foods.For example, it is estimated that food cooking started about500 000 - 250 000 years ago (depending on the source, the range may vary). Duringthis time frame, it is likely that human species have at least adapted in some way to cookedanimal and vegetable foods. On the other hand, the beginnings of grain consumptionare much more recent. Evidence of earliest known, systematical collecting of grainsfor food goes back to about 23 000 years ago - giving less time foradaptation to grain based foods.

    Now, let's fast forward to recent times and consider all the new, human invented,highly processed foods so common today: fast foods, pizza, sweets, chips, conveniencefoods, canned foods, etc. along with the dramatic rise in heart attacks, high blood pressure,stroke, cancers, diabetes, kidney problems (and all the complications that arose from theseconditions) during the past 100 years or so.

    Considering the declining health of most westernnations as opposed to good health of the ethnical groups described above, it seems reasonablethat the most recent food inventions are directly harmful to human health.Further, it has been repeatedly observed that as ethnical groups around theworld adopt the modern western diet, their health dramatically declines and they developthe same diseases that are so common to westerners. Not to mention the fact thatthe above mentioned diseases were far less common among westernersthemselves barely 100 years ago.

    The more a food is processed - through excessive cooking, pasteurization,homogenization, high heat, mechanical processing, etc, - the less natural and nutritious it becomes to a pointof becoming a harmful burden to the body, rather then a useful and health promoting food. Someindustrial processing practices deprive food of their nutrients to such a high degree that the foodhas to be "enriched" by artificially adding some nutrients back into the food. This is especiallytrue of flours where vitamins are added back in after the processing is done.

    A good diet is based on natural, whole or minimally processed foods. A large portionof it should consist of foods that can be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.Fermented or cultured, unpasteurized foods such as kefir, yogurt, cheeses, miso, sauerkraut and picklesare considered highly beneficial. Cooking should be minimal and only applied to foods thatmust be cooked in order to be edible. Ancestral heritage also plays an important roleas certain foods may need to be excluded or emphasized.

    Eat less - eat what is adequate, do not over eat

    During the past several decades, food in the western and westernized nations becameincreasingly affordable and more readily available then ever before inhuman history. This very fact combined with the enjoyment food consumption brings,results in all too frequent over eating. Which again leads to the above mentioned healthproblems.

    In the past, as in the traditional way of living among the ethnical groups mentionedearlier, food consumption has always been significantly lower. Food quality, on the otherhand, has always been higher. Resulting in a lower food intake, but of nutrient dense foods.

    Finally, as an interesting note, it has been repeatedly confirmed through laboratory experiments on animals,including monkeys, that cutting down calories considerably lowers their susceptibilityto diseases and prolongs their life up to 50%. It is believed by many,that life long caloric restriction can have similar effects on humans.

    Health promoting eating habits

    Over time, through reading and experimenting, I gradually arrived at severalbasic health promoting habits that in my experience are the most important:


      Avoid or minimize:

    • Avoid all junk, sweets, canned and convenience foods - includingall foods with added sugar: most commercial yogurts, kefirs and juices, fruit and soft drinks.
    • Avoid all refined or overly heated fats: margarine, any oil that is not coldpressed, leftover fat from cooking, all foods that contain hydrogenated orpartially hydrogenated fats and trans fatty acids (read the labels). Suchfats are considered to be among the most health damaging foods.
    • Avoid consumption of fish and water animals unless certain they came from unpolluted waters.Especially predators should be avoided as the toxins accumulate in them infar greater quantities.
    • Keep the intake of foods high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) low - mainlynuts and seeds and any products made from them (mostly oils). PUFAs are unstable,they oxidize readily resulting in harmful free radicals. High PUFA intake havebeen repeatedly linked with cancer, heart and inflammatory diseases.
    • Do not cook meat or fat at high temperatures while exposed to air. Such practicewill avoid fat and cholesterol oxidation - believed to be responsible for build upof arterial plaque and injury to arterial cells. Grilling and frying is especiallyharmful. Boiling is probably the safest way of cooking meat.
    • Minimize or eliminate consumption of foods frequently contaminated with mycotoxins: alcoholic beverages,wheat, rye, barley, corn and peanuts. Mycotoxins are poisonous substances producedby certain molds and fungi which cause a wide range of health problems including cancer,asthma, multiple sclerosis and diabetes.

    • Emphasize and do:

    • The more natural and less processed the food the better. Emphasize whole, fresh foods.Replace white rice with brown rice; white bread with whole grain bread; sugar withsmall amounts of raw honey or dry fruit; pasta with millet or whole grain pasta; cannedfoods with fresh; candy and other sweets with dry or sweet fruit;etc. Organic foods are best as they are higher in nutrients and do not containharmful pesticides, hormones or antibiotics found in conventional foods.Always choose fresh over frozen, dried or canned foods. Fresh foods taste better,have more nutrients in them, have no added salt, sugar or unhealthy additives.
    • Enjoy simple meals. Generally, thesimpler the food preparation the more nutrients are preserved and the easier it is todigest. Simple meals are easy and quick to prepare and use fewerresources like electricity and water - thus are more environmentally friendly and less costly.
    • Only cook foods that need to be cooked in order to be edible (beans, grains and some vegetables).Foods that are edible in a raw state (fruits, most vegetables, sprouts, nuts and seeds)should be consumed on a daily basis and preferably with every meal. Raw foods are higher in nutrients,which to some degree get lost during cooking, and are easier to digest. At least 50% ofthe diet, by volume, should consist of raw foods.
    • Steam vegetables that need to be cooked - steaming preserves more nutrients whichwhen boiled leech into the water. Do not overcook. Cooked vegetables should be crunchywhen you eat them, not soft.
    • Chew food well (simply chew it longer) and eat at a comfortable pace. This improvesdigestion which already starts in the mouth while saliva gets mixed with the food.
    • Variety in diet is very important - to prevent allergies, malnutrition and to lowerexposure to natural and man-made toxins found in many natural foods.

    • Always properly wash fruits and vegetables before consumption. This lowers theexposure to agricultural chemicals (used to cultivate conventional plants) and harmful microorganisms.Peel the skin if washing is not sufficient.

    • Nuts and seeds should be soaked before consumption - to lower or eliminate naturalanti nutrients like enzyme inhibitors. Soaking makes them much easier to digest.Do not eat more then a few handfuls a week as they are high in PUFAs and difficultto digest.
    • Grains (except amaranth, millet and rice) and beans must be soaked beforeconsumption. This lowers or eliminates anti nutrients like phytic acid which inhibitsmineral absorption that can lead to mineral deficiency.
    • Fruits are best eaten alone as a snack between meals. To improve digestion only eatone type of fruit at a time.
    • Regularly consume unpasteurized fermented/cultured foods like sauerkraut, miso,pickles, kefir, yogurt, etc. These are pre-digested foods that are high inprobiotics (friendly bacteria) and enzymes which provide numerous health benefits.Start with what your ancestors consumed and later experiment with other foodsas well.
    • Regularly consume enzyme rich foods: sprouts, raw honey, grapes, figs, avocados,bananas, papayas, pineapple, kiwi, mango and fermented/culturedfoods (see above). Enzymes obtained from raw foods ease the digestion by reducingthe body's need to produce digestive enzymes.
    • Consider the diet your ancestors ate for thousands of years - you will most likelydo very well on such a diet due to the long period of adaptation to it.For example, the traditional Chinese diet is high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein;Europeans, on the other hand, have been eating less carbs and more protein and fat;North American Indians did not eat grains.
    • Drink adequate amounts of liquid through out the day. Water is best. Under normal conditions,most people need 2-3 liters of liquid/day.
    • Unless very hungry, do not eat for 3-4 hours before bedtime. That way the nightly fastcan be prolonged considerably. This gives the body more/adequate time and energy to perform thecountless nightly tasks that are so essential to good health. (Rather then digesting thejust eaten meal)
    • Eat only when hungry and do not overeat regardless of food. I found this to be among themost important of all health promoting habits.

    Good sources of protein:

    • any meat that comes from organic, free range animals that are fed their natural diet (hard to find)
    • when not organic: lean poultry meat (high fat cuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids which oxidize readily during cooking and in the body; toxins accumulate in the fat)
    • beans
    • fresh, soaked or sprouted nuts and seeds
    • raw fermented milk products: sour milk, kefir, cheeses, etc (hard to find)
    • wild game
    • eggs
    Most commercial meats including pork and beef, unless organic and not fed corn/grains/beans,contain antibiotics, hormones and too many polyunsaturated fats - thus should be avoided.

    Good sources of carbohydrates:

    • vegetables
    • fruits
    • whole or minimally processed fresh and mold free grains: rice, oat, amaranth, millet, barley, wheat, etc.
    • beans
    • potatoes

    Good sources of fats:

    • avocados
    • butter
    • fresh, soaked or sprouted nuts and seeds (mostly source of omega 6)
    • coconuts or coconut oil
    • full fat raw milk products (cheese, milk, cream, etc) from pasture fed cattle
    • olives or first cold pressed (extra virgin) olive oil

    Shopping

    I always try to find organic foods to avoid harmful substances like hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, etc.The most contaminated fruits are: raisins, cherries, peaches, strawberries, mexican(winter) cantaloupe, apples, apricots, Chilean (winter) grapes. And the mostcontaminated vegetables are: spinach, celery, green beans, bell peppers, cucumbers,cultivated button mushrooms, potatoes and wheat. Lean poultry is probably the safest meatto eat if not organic.

    Meal examples

    What follows are weekly meals that closely resemble my diet at the time of thiswriting. When planning meals, the key idea is to have variety in diet and to rely onfood combinations that agree with ones digestion.

    TBS = table spoon
    tsp = tea spoon
    / = or

    • any fruit eaten alone
    • 0.5L sour milk, 300g potatoes, fennel
    • 0.5L kefir, 50-100g oatmeal, 25g raisins
    • 0.5L plain yogurt, 300g grapes/2-3 bananas
    • 50-100g oatmeal, 1-2TBS honey, cinammon
    • salad head, 1-2 tomatoes/pepper fruit, cucumber/squash, 1-2TBS olive oil
    • medium avocado, 1-2 bananas, cinammon
    • 50-100g brown rice, 1-2 hardboiled eggs, 2-4 radishes, 25-50g leeks, 1-2TBS ground flax seeds, 50g sprouts
    • 50-100g amaranth, 1-2 steamed parsnips, 1 steamed onion, 1-2 steamed carrots, celery stick, 1tsp freshly grated raw ginger, parsley, 1TBS olive oil
    • 200g mung bean sprouts, 1-2 carrots, 25-50g leeks, 25g soaked pumpkin seeds/almonds/sesame seeds
    • steamed broccoli/cauliflower, 1-2 tomatoes/pepper fruit, squash/cucumber, 150g turkey/chicken breast, 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, 1TBS olive oil
    • 100g buckwheat sprouts, 2 carrots, florence fennel stick, 25g sprouted sunflower seeds, 25g raisins
    • 50-100g amaranth, steamed onion, steamed asparagus, florence fennel stick, 1tsp freshly grated raw ginger, parsley, 1TBS coconut oil
    • 50-100g millet, celery stick, 2-4 radishes, 25-50g leeks, 25g pumpkin seeds

    I plan meals loosely, 1-2 days ahead. The meal preparation is very simple: meat andeggs are boiled in water, vegetables that need cooking are steamed. Since certain food vitaminsbecome more bioavailable once exposed to low heat cooking, it is a good idea to alternatebetween cooked and raw vegetables. For example,Bio-carotene found in carrots becomes more absorbable after light steaming.I adjust the quantity of food according to how physically active I am during the day.

    In addition to the above foods I also take vitamin and mineral supplements anddrink bottled water. I use spices and salt. Kefir and sour milk are made at homefrom organic full-fat, unhomogenised pasteurized milk. Sprouts are home grown as wellfor maximum freshness. Both are very easy to make and require only few minutes ofdaily attention.

    Final thoughts

    Although a healthy diet can enormously improve ones health, it is only one essential partof healthy living. The other parts are proper and adeqaute physical activity,mental and spiritual well being, and adequate rest. All need to be addressed in order toachieve better health.

    An important thing I learned while experimenting with diets and other healthrelated approaches is to always pay attention to the signals from the body. It is essential todo this - in order to maintain good health - and adjust accordingly. As one getsbetter at reading the body, it becomes natural to self diagnose a lot of minor problems (which canbecome major if not paid attention to) and remedy them by simply adjusting the diet or other aspects of life.Finally, we are all different - what works for one person may not work for another - thus it'simportant to experiment with ones diet to find out what works and what doesn't.

    Disclaimer: This article represents personal views and shouldbe treated as such. Implementation of any ideas containedherein can only be done at own risk.

    (If you found this article helpful, you may return the favor by buying a poster of one of my images at www.art.eonworks.com/gallery/gallery.html.)

    Copyright 2005 Dawid Michalczyk. All Rights Reserved. This contentmay be copied in full, with copyright, contact, creation, information and links intact, without specific permission, when used only in a not-for-profitformat. Author's email: dm@eonworks.com

    Dawid Michalczyk is a freelance illustrator and an artist. He enjoys learningabout health, anthropology and computers. He loves to ride a bicycleand does it almost every day. To see examples of his work and other writingsvisit his website at http://www.art.eonworks.com. He can be reached at dm@eonworks.com


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