Getting healthy can be confusing because so much of the health information out there is trying to sell you something. In fact, much of this information focuses on our bodies vulnerability to disease so that, in fear, we are more likely to open our wallets. In reality, optimum health is as simple as following these 12 steps.
- Stop smoking - If we are a smoker or someone who receives significant secondary smoke, stopping the inhalation of this deadly concoction of carcinogens is the most important single thing that we can do to increase your well-being. Smoking damages the immune system more than any other activity and is the chief cause of cancer and heart disease. In the light of current public awareness on the dangers of smoking, smoking is nothing more than slow suicide.
- Reduce stress - When we are stressed, the body is awash with adrenal hormones such as cortisol which have a devastating effect on the immune system. For this reason, it is important that we live lifestyles that do not chronically trigger the fight and flight response. This means that we have to take responsibility for our emotional states and the activities which affect them. Strategies might include daily relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation, country walks, time away form (or with!) the children, marriage counseling and a change in career. These are priorities and not luxuries.
- Cut out diary products - Milk and cheese are two of the most unhealthy and unhelpful foods available and should be avoided. Most people erroneously believe that dairy products are a great source of calcium; although they contain calcium, there is evidence that there is actually a calcium net-loss in those who drink milk or eat cheese because the calcium used up in processing the proteins. Taking a calcium supplement balanced with magnesium is much healthier, as is limiting protein to slow or prevent calcium being released from the bones to buffer the increased acidity from our standard high protein diets. Diary products also contain high amounts of growth hormones which can accelaterate the proliferation of cancer cells. (And if human babies cannot be breatfed, then mothers might consider goats milk as an alternative, which has a kinder nutritional profile.)
- Take food supplements - Despite what "experts" tell you, a balanced diet CANNOT give you all the nutrients you need to maintain optimum health. This is a dangerous fallacy and one that is dangerously repeated ad nauseam by many doctors and old-school nutritionists. The world we live in now is vastly different from the one in which the human species evolved: we face huge amounts of pollution which requires more nutrients to neutralize, and our food is mass produced which means that it is invariably grown in depleted soils, picked unripe and/or grown with pesticides/hormones. Coupled with modern eating habits, and you have a deadly concoction of a high-calorie low-nutrient diet and an unhealthy toxic overload. This is why nutrients are vital for optimum health. A good multivitamin and mineral supplement is a good thing to take as is a good antioxidant complex. However, unless it is for short-term therapeutic use, avoid mega doses of nutrients. It is far better to supplement in small doses once the above lifestyle changes are implemented.
- Cut out sugar and reduce carbohydrates - Sugar and other carbohydrates make up a huge proportion of our modern diets. The problem with this is that it means that we tend to have chronically high levels of insulin in our blood in order to cope with this. This can lead to insulin-resistance and a whole host of symptoms such as excess weight, tiredness, mental fuzziness, diabetes, heart disease, strokes and eye problems. In fact, the latest research indicates that sugar is worse for you than fat. It is important to remember that some savoury carbohydrates such as potatoes, white rice and bread can trigger the same problematic response in the body. We should focus on moderate amounts wholefood carbohydrates that have a low glycaemic index such as whole grains and vegetables.
- Take flax seed oil or an EFA supplement daily - Essential fatty acids are very important to include in the diet, and flax seed oil is a pleasant tasting non-fish source. Take at least a tablespoon a day with meals. This is one of the most essential nutrients missing from the modern diet. It is also the switch that turns off hunger and so can help to reduce cravings and appetite. Make sure you buy refrigerated oils contained in opaque or dark glass bottles as these oils degrade very quickly in light and air. Alternatively, increase the amount of fresh fish in the diet.
- Exercise regularly - A sedentary life is extremely bad for your body, leading to a whole list of problems which tend to accumulate as we age. It is important that we get to move all the fluids around inside of us by simple stretching, weight resistance and cardiovascular exercise. Exercise helps the body to be a lot more efficient and is a great tonic for depression and other low mental states. Remember that exercise MUST include all three exercise elements of cardiovascular work, muscle strengthening (especially as a person gets older) and comprehensive stretching (for example, simple yoga - very important but often discarded).
- Drink more water - Water comprises 85% of our body's weight, a figure that decreases as we get older. Try not to drink too much tap water as this contains chlorides, fluorides, and other pollutants. It is important to either filter water or drink bottled water. If you are going to drink bottled water, pick one with a neutral or alkaline pH. Most nutritionists would recommend drinking at least a couple of litres of water a day… at least! If you receive your fluids from tea and coffee, remember that this doesn't count as they are diuretics — they encourage your body to expel water.
- Avoid processed fats - Processed fats are very bad for the body… eating them over a prolonged period of time greatly increases the chance of heart disease and cancer. Vegetable fats tend to be worse than animal fats because more processing is usually involved in their production. In fact, butter is a lot better for you than margarine. The homogenisation of fat, as in milk, can also increase the likelihood of heart disease. The best fats are unprocessed vegetable oils (such as olive and flax seed) and raw butter.
- Take enzyme supplements with meals - If you are eating a large meal, it is advised that you included an enzyme supplement with the meal to aid the digestion of the food. Our bodies of course can produce all the enzymes needed, but the modern diet is so heavy that the enzyme production can be exhausted as we become older. This means that the whole metabolic system works less efficiently and we do not receive the nutrients from our food that we need.
- Eat a predominately alkaline diet - Make sure that a large proportion of your diet consists of green leafy vegetables (spinach is fantastic) and fruit (provided it is not too sweet). Seaweed is also very alkalising as are green foods such as edible algae. Avoid acid forming foods like meat, hard cheeses, excess grains, sugar and alcohol. The body does not work very efficiently when the pH drops and many serious diseases actually flourish in acid environments. Acid forming foods also leach calcium from the bones leading to brittle bones.
- Buy Organic and GMO-free - Although this is the last on the list it could well turn out to be the most important. Organic food is often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity, but the truth is that nobody really knows what the accumulative long-term effects of pesticide residues and genetically modified ingredients is on our health. The evidence just isn't there. But what we do know is that the body has this annoying habit of accumulating poisons, and we know that many of these chemicals are virulent carcinogens. So it is just a matter of time before we realize just how damaging these are on human health and the health of the planet.
Copyright © 2003 Jenny Marsh