Eat Healthy, Be Healthy

Recommendations to Improve Your Health by Eating More Naturally

By Katherine Erlich, M.D.

Why do we get sick?  Why does one child catch colds all the time, while another may go an entire season without even a runny nose?  Why does children develop chronic illnesses, like diabetes, asthma, autism, a peanut allergy, MS or cancer?  The underlying cause of chronic illness is often multifactorial, partly due to genetics, partly due to deficiencies or imbalances, partly due to toxic overload, and partly due to reasons we do not understand.

How do we maximize our health, minimize our risk of chronic illness, and become the healthiest that we can be?

A simple way to start is to focus on increasing those things that will be good for our bodies while simultaneously removing those things that are toxic.

Eating healthier is a great way to start.

Eating healthy means eating “whole foods.”

Whole foods are as close to nature as possible. The less processed the foods, the better they are for us.  FRESH fruits and vegetables are the healthiest foods. Other examples of whole foods are nuts, seeds, eggs, meats, fish and whole grains.  Look for a variety of colors in your foods.  Most healthy foods are not white: whole wheat bread, brown rice, and sweet potatoes are much healthier than white bread, polished white rice, and white potatoes without their skin.

Organic foods are truly healthier than non-organic foods.

Organic produce are grown on farms that use natural methods to reduce insect damage, rather than spraying chemical pesticides.  Furthermore, organic farms rotate their crops to increase the nutrient value in the soil, rather than add synthetic fertilizers.  One study done by Rutgers University compared the trace minerals in their organically grown fruits and vegetables as compared to conventionally grown produce bought at a grocery store.  Rutgers found that their organic produce had dramatically higher levels of trace minerals.  Organic meats are often, but not always, grass fed.  Meat from grass fed animals have higher nutrients and a higher omega-3 fatty acid content.  Furthermore cows raised on organic farms are healthier and are not exposed to antibiotics, growth hormone or other hormones typically used on conventional farms to accelerate their growth.  Such hormones, found in many conventional milks and meat, can increase rates of cancer and can have effects on growing children such as earlier puberty. Many European nations and Canada have banned the used of growth hormone (rBGH).

Eating healthy whole foods means significantly decreasing all fast food and fried foods.

Fast food and fried foods are high in trans fats and poor quality omega 6 fatty acids.  Trans fats are known to cause inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease and other inflammatory illnesses. The meats found at fast food restaraunts are often made from unhealthy animals and the foods are highly processed. Think of fast food as a back up plan only and prepare ahead.  Start by cutting your monthly fast food intake in half, with your ultimate goal being to truly only use fast food as a last resort.  Shocking to some, school lunches are usually quite unhealthy, much closer to fast food than being a nutritious boost for children’s brains. The guidelines for school lunches were created in the 1940’s, after WWII when much of the country was underfed and malnourished, and these guidelines have NEVER been updated.  Furthermore, much of school food is commodity food, meaning it is provided free from the government, allowing the lower prices.  The companies that provide the school lunches are dependant on profit and consequently offer highly processed “kid friendly” foods to boost profits. Hence, the quantity of low quality saturated fat and calories in a school lunch is far too high, and the quantity of whole foods is minimal. Pack your child’s lunch on most days.  Limit school lunches to once a week if necessary.  Be aware of what your child is purchasing at school.  Often, they have a snack line full of unhealthy snacks, which can be purchased instead of the main meal. Please note that those Fruit Snacks sold at school are not healthy snacks, but rather one of the worst candies for your teeth.

What are Whole Grains?

Whole grains are grains that have not been processed, grains that retain all their 3 layers – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.  Refined flour contains only the endosperm, with the bran and germ having been removed, making enriched flour far less nutritious than whole grain flou.  Examples of whole grains include brown rice, quinoi, barley, rye, whole wheat, oats, amarynth, kamut, and spelt.  My family has found spelt pasta to be the tastiest and have the best texture.  For breads, sprouted bread is the most nutritious.

Unfortunately, companies can label food as containing “whole grains” while only containing a small portion of actual whole grains.  Again I advise looking at the ingredient list or looking for the label to say “100% whole grain.”

Read labels to limit the toxins.

The best foods are made of simple foods.  Usually, foods with less ingredients are better.  It is shocking to see what foods are full of unhealthy additives, even some baby foods! Until we are aware of what our families are eating, we can’t improve it.   Chocolate milk often is made with high fructose corn syrup.  While sugar is not good for us, high fructose corn syrup is worse. Apart from increasing risk of obesity and diabetes, it is man-made, from genetically modified, high pesticide exposed corn, creates a large carbon footprint, and worst of all, high fructose corn syrup contains trace amounts of mercury which is obtained during processing.  Many flavored waters, marketed toward kids and not indicated as diet drinks, contain Nutrasweet or Sucralose (“Raging Waters” by Capri Sun is one example that I happened to become aware of only after tasting my son’s drink at a birthday party.)  Sucralose is chlorinated sugar, bearing more chemical similarity to DDT than to sugar.  Chlorine decreases iodine absorption, increasing risk of thyroid disorders, breast and prostate cancer.  Nutrasweet (Aspartame) breaks down into formaldehyde and DKP (diketopiperazine), a potentially tumor forming agent.  Saccharin is a documented carcinogenic. If you must use a sweetner, Stevia (or Truvia, made from Stevia) is your best choice. Zylitol is a also good sweetener for chewing gum as it decreases dental plaque.  However it is still a sugar alcohol and should be limited.

Avoid partially hydrogenated oils, as these are trans fats and are known to increase our risk of  heart disease and stroke.  Specifically, these fake oils act like plastic for our cell membranes, damaging their function and increasing inflammation.   While a package might be labeled as “Zero Trans Fats,”  this is misleading as it can still contain up to 0.5mg of trans fat per serving and still be considered “free” of trans fats.  Often companies decrease their serving size to get around this limitation.

Avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate) as it is neurotoxic.  Surprisingly, MSG is found in both Campbells and Lipton’s soup, and in many other salty “kid friendly” foods as well.  Lunch meats and hot dogs frequently contain sodium nitrate, which is carcinogenic.  It is usually the last ingredient listed, so it is easy to find.  There are nitrite free alternatives if you look for them.

Water is the healthiest drink.

All living things need water and plenty of it.  Water helps to hydrate and cleanse our bodies.  Filtered and alkaline water are the healthiest.  Strangely, somehow many parents feel that their children must drink sweet things, like juice.  While juice may have some vitamin C, for the most part, even 100% fruit juice is full of sugars and devoid of most nutrients. Diluted juice is better, but even diluted juice is bad for teeth and fills kids up so they are not hungry for their meals.   The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of 4 oz of juice a day – that is the size of one small juice box.  The AAP does not provide a recommended minimum.  This is because we need water, but we do not need to drink juice.  Further confirming this, WIC finally removed juice from their supplies offered.  If you must have your juice, try drinking an 8 oz glass of water first, and then see if you really want the juice.    Many children, teens and even parents have the misunderstanding that Gatorade is the best drink for athletes.  Granted Gatorade is appropriate for marathon runners and reasonable for people with the stomach flu at risk of dehydration.  But for the average athlete, Gatorade contains lots of high fructose corn syrup – the equivalent of 10 1/2 sugar packets in one 24oz bottle!  Water is a much better sports drink for athletes who respect their bodies.

Breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day.

“Break” “fast” provides us nourishment after being asleep for 8 hours or more.  When we eat, we wake our bodies up.  Our metabolism speeds up and starts to burn calories.  When we fast, we remain in slow motion, almost hibernating, saving up calories in case the food doesn’t come.  Breakfast also helps improve mood and concentration during the day.  It helps people loose weight and maintain a healthy weight. If you are not hungry so early in the morning or don’t have time, take something with you for the ride to school or work.  Breakfast can be a bowl of soup or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Whatever works for you, as long as it is healthy, not filled with sugar, and ideally something with protein.

Dairy is a slightly stickier subject.

Dairy is typically considered to be healthy in that it provides calcium and vitamin D that strengthen our bones and teeth.  Dairy also contains protein and good fat that helps us feel full.  There are however many problems with our current dairy products that make them far less healthy than they used to be.  Milk is homogenized and pasturized, both processes which destroy the enzymes and fatty acids in the milk.  Furthermore, many people are intolerant to milk, either due to lactose intolerance or due to casein intolerance.  For these people, milk consumption is irritating to their GI system and thus damaging to their bodies.

While calcium is an important nutrient, vitamin D is actually more important for bone strength.  People with higher vitamin D levels, absorb calcium more easily and therefore have a lower calcium requirement.  The three servings of milk per day recommended by your pediatrician really are not needed if your child’s vitamin D level is maximized. Calcium is found in green leafy vegetables and in milk substitutes such as coconut milk products, rice milk, and almond milk.  If you noticed, I did not include soy milk in this list. While some soy products are o.k., like miso and tempeh, caution should be taken with consuming soy milk.   Soy increases estrogen and is genetically modified unless specifically stated to be non-GMO.  Additionally, soy is used as a filler in incredibly many foods and hence this makes soy intolerance the third most common food intolerance.

Detox your home

Fill your home with foods that would have been found in your grandparents and great grandparents homes.  Go through your cupboards and remove all the foods that contain toxic ingredients, or at least when these foods are gone, don’t buy them again. Don’t have them in your home.  That way they won’t be in your home and you will avoid all the begging and pleading.  You are your child’s best role model and if you want them to do something, you must do it too.

Remember that every time you purchase something, you are essentially voting for it, giving money to the companies that make it and asking them to make more of it.  Choose your foods wisely and make your vote count.

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