Food is the Foundation for Heightened Health
~ Cate Reade, MS, RD ~
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ~ Hippocrates
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 health care 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, 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.
For years we have been taught that food is merely “fuel” or simply just calories whose chemical bonds are broken to create the energy of life, ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Our bodies have been likened to basic machines with the equation of calories in = calories out to maintain a healthy weight. This is incredibly simplistic since the human body is a complex, dynamic and ever-changing system where food provides complex information to the body that determines how well you feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
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, phytochemicals and zoochemicals, and each have dramatic effects on how we feel and think, our level of energy and disease risk.
These nutrients work in tandem like a beautiful symphony to produce the energy, structure and function for each of our 30 trillion cells. They each play a starring role to support the proper functioning of each cell within the intricate systems of the body including the cardiovascular, nervous, musculoskeletal, respiratory, lymphatic and immune systems to name a few.
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!) Zoochemicals are the animal-based cousins of phytochemicals. These substances also offer health protection and reduce the risk of disease.
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 or disease with each bite.
Cate Reade, MS, RD, is an ACE-certified Senior Fitness Specialist, and a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Nutrition and Physical Fitness from NYU. She has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for over 25 years. She is delighted to be helping seniors regain strength and mobility as the CEO of Resistance Dynamics and inventor of the MoveMorª Lower Body Trainer. Contact Cate at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.MoveMor.com.