One of life’s great pleasures is food. It has the power to bring us together, the power to nourish and comfort. What, and how, we eat is integral to our health and wellbeing. The food we eat affects us on every level influencing every cell, tissue and physiological function in our body. Food provides us with the building blocks for growth, cell renewal and repair, for energy and vitality and the nutritional cofactors for every single body function. Food is essential for life and for creating a healthy mind, body and heart.
"Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food"
Eating healthily is one of the four principles, along with move, breathe and love. Eating with awareness is fundamental for taking control of your health and wellbeing. Eating healthily is essential for the prevention of chronic illness as well as a powerful tool in restoring health. When we eat well we provide our bodies and minds with a variety of nutrient-dense, wholefoods composed of a diverse range of vegetables, herbs and fruits; moderate levels of protein-rich foods such as fish, poultry, lean meats, and pulses like lentils and chickpeas; some whole grains like rye, barley, quinoa; and, healthy fat-rich foods such as olive oil, nuts and seeds.
Some of the healthiest people on the planet cook their meals from scratch, using fresh and seasonal produce grown locally. Food is cooked in simple ways and eaten at home with the family. The Mediterranean diet, which has been extensively researched and encompasses, at its heart, traditions passed down from generation to generation, is considered one of the best for our health. It comprises a predominantly plant-based diet with modest amounts of fish, eggs, dairy and meat and also includes fermented foods such as cheese, yoghurt and red wine.
This way of eating not only nourishes the body but also encourages connection with each other, with the land and where our food comes from. It also benefits another community – the gut microbiome, an amazing ecosystem that lives within us. The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of tiny bacteria and other microscopic organisms that live within our digestive tract. These ‘friendly’ bacteria play an extremely important role in keeping us healthy so we need to keep them in good shape and well-fed. Our gut microbes flourish on a diverse diet of plant foods. They munch on fibres and special plant compounds that we can’t digest and, in turn, provide fuel for the cells of our digestive tract, produce vitamins for our body’s cells and prevent infectious bacteria invading and making us sick. Our gut microbes also help to keep our immune systems working at their best, helping to promote a healthy gut lining and even influencing our weight and mood.
"The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison"
A key driver of chronic illness is inflammation. Inflammation is part of the normal immune response to infection or injury, enhancing blood flow and immune cells to get to the site of infection or trauma and also signalling pain to increase awareness to take care and take steps to support us. When this inflammatory response is not resolved or ‘turned off’ then the scene is set for many chronic illnesses, such as Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, to depression and dementia, to develop.
Diet, and our gut microbiome, plays a huge role in managing inflammation. Many foods are pro-inflammatory such as sugary foods and drinks, refined grains, processed meat, fried food, fast-foods and many packaged foods. On the other hand, the Mediterranean-style diet, filled with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, as well as healthy fats, is anti-inflammatory. Eating patterns can also be inflammatory, with frequent snacking and late-night eating being key factors to making us more susceptible to weight gain and developing obesity and type II diabetes.
A healthy gut microbiome helps to control inflammation by keeping the immune system working in balance and by keeping the number of unhelpful bacteria in check. Our friendly gut bacteria also make chemicals that can positively influence mood by manufacturing neurotransmitters which affect our feelings and emotions. Our gut and brain are connected by a communication network known as the gut-brain axis. The vagus nerve is like a super-highway allowing direct communication to and from the brain and our gut and we know that stress can have a huge impact on vagus nerve function in turn influencing our digestive health. What we eat, in turn, not only provides the building blocks and nutrients to support brain and nervous system function but feeds the gut bacteria who make so many compounds that can affect brain health.
One of the problems with our modern approach to eating food includes a disconnect between where our food comes from and what we eat. We typically rely on convenience foods, which bear little resemblance to fresh, unprocessed produce. Our busy lives seemingly leave us with little time for cooking. We often eat in front of the TV not really aware of what we are eating and may have lost the connection created by eating as a family, or with friends, with the ever-increasing demands of modern life.
"Diet is the essential key to all successful healing"
Joseph Raynauld Raymond
Food manufacturers, with profit in mind, have created highly-palatable but nutritionally-deficient options that leave us craving more and can lead to over-eating. Our relationship with food also has an enormous impact on our wellbeing and in our modern, busy lives with confusing and conflicting advice from the media it is no surprise many of us feel lost.
However, it is easier than we think to make a few changes in the way we eat that can have a marked impact on our wellbeing. Just swapping white bread, pasta and rice for the wholegrain varieties, adding an extra portion or two of vegetables to each main meal or reducing our intake of ultra-processed foods can have a huge effect. For example, instead of reaching for sugary or salty snacks try swapping to a piece of fruit or a handful of fresh nuts. We could make a commitment to eat as a family or with a friend on a regular basis and enjoy the benefits of connection and conversation. Some simple changes can easily become habitual.
Find out more about the EAT principle and how some easy, simple changes can help…
If you’re not very confident about cooking from scratch come to one of Jo’s nutrition drop in’s or talk to your health coach about cooking courses available locally to you.
"There is no love sincerer than the love of food"