You’ve heard the expression “the whole is better than the sum of its parts,’ but how often do you associate it with your diet?
Well, a major study published last year might help you connect the dots. Analyzing mortality trends across the globe over a 27-year period, the study found that in 2017, a sub-optimal diet led to 22% of all adult deaths globally and 15% of “disability-adjusted life-years” caused by cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. In particular, the study singled out diets “high in sodium” and “low in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds” as contributing to these diseases.
This might seem like old news to you; but my biggest takeaway was this:
What you don’t eat is just as important as what you do eat.
Or as CNN so eloquently put it: “What we aren’t eating is killing us.” So, while you might avoid junk, trans-fats, refined carbs or sugar, my question (and I ask this with love) is: What do you eat instead?
Your body is designed to be a well-oiled machine, running with the help of a balanced and diverse diet, water, exercise and sleep (physiologically speaking) – and every piece of the puzzle is as critical as the next.
Think of your body like your car. You might pump premium gas into it so it runs smoothly, but if you stopped filling it up with coolant, you’d see the warning lights come on pretty quick. And if you don’t fix it, your car will eventually overheat, suffer permanent engine damage, and break down.
Similarly, here are the types of warning signs your body might send if it’s missing something critical:
- High blood pressure – a sign you may be low in potassium (found in leafy greens and most veggies).
- Excess cholesterol – a sign of low fiber (found in whole grains, beans and vegetables). It could also mean your liver needs more TLC with antioxidant-rich colorful foods, bitter greens and anti-inflammatory spices.
- Anxiety, irritability or depression – possible signs of insufficient protein or an amino acid imbalance.
- Being prone to allergies or illness – could mean an imbalance of gut flora, or in particular, having insufficient good gut bacteria to ward off pathogens.
- Joint pain – may highlight insufficient anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and in walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds).
One missing link can affect everything from how your body digests food, to how it absorbs nutrients, to how it produces energy, gets rid of toxins and regulates inflammation.
So the first step to address this is to ask yourself:
“What am I missing out on?”
That’s right, put your FOMO hat on. Because I guarantee – regardless of how well we think we’re eating, we could all do better. It’s easy to get stuck in the same patterns – eat the same breakfast – reach for the same cups of coffee or herbal tea – buy the same vegetables – I get it.
Here are 6 simple questions to help you identify potential gaps:
1. Am I eating all major food groups?
Does your diet include a balance of high-quality protein sources (meat/fish/eggs/lentils/beans), healthy fats, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and herbs & spices?
For vegans or vegetarians, this could mean – am I getting the right amount of protein and fats (anti-inflammatory omega-3s) that are typically more accessible in animal protein?
For those on low/no-carb, high-protein or high-fat diets, this could translate to – am I getting enough fiber, antioxidants and enzymes to keep my motor running, pooper clean and liver happy?
If you’re new to veggies (or partial to a select few…cough cough fries), you could ask – am I getting a good mix of the crunchy, dark leafy and starchy?
A diverse range of colorful fruits, vegetables, herbs & spices = different antioxidants = broader protective mechanisms = stronger immune system = more excitement in your life!
3. Am I getting a good mix of raw and cooked foods?
Raw fruits and veggies provide enzymes and antioxidants needed for various metabolic actions in your body, including energy production and minimizing oxidative stress. Similarly, cooking certain foods can make their nutrients more available (for example the lycopene and beta-carotene in tomatoes becomes more potent when they’re cooked in olive oil).
4. Am I eating fermented foods?
Foods like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kombucha and kefir are not some new-agey fad but have been around for centuries! Fermenting is how raw foods, along with their vitamins, minerals and enzymes were preserved back in the day. As they ferment, these foods become more digestible and in turn help your body absorb other nutrients more efficiently. Did I mention they’re also fantastic for gut health?
5. Am I reaching for real whole foods 90% of the time?
This is opposed to processed foods which includes anything from bread and pasta to salami, burgers, meat substitutes, muffins, chips and crackers, and yes – even supplements. Real foods are the real deal and your body knows this too. See my post on real food for more.
6. Am I drinking enough water?
That’s right – water is a major blind spot when it comes to diet. Since 70% of your body is made up of water, your cellular health depends on it! Drinking water helps your body absorb nutrients, process and eliminate waste, relieve stress, regulate your body temps and more.
How much water to drink? A good rule of thumb is to divide your weight (lbs) in half and drink that many fluid ounces of water (so if you weigh 150 lbs, you’d be guzzling roughly 75 fluid oz/day) – and more if you’re physically active. Does that sound like too much? Well, the good news is: you could drink less if you eat lots of fresh fruits and crunchy veggies! Even better, drinking your greens (smoothies and juices) and herbal teas totally count.
So, how did it go?
If you answered “Yes” to all the questions above, BOOM. You’re doing great – toss that FOMO hat aside.
But if you answered “No,” to any, it’s time to take inventory. Don’t over-analyze. Remember, it’s never too late to introduce diversity and balance into your daily routine. Start slow with one food group, one new colorful fruit or vegetable, or one type of fermented food. If you’re missing any, just add it to your grocery list for next week.
You’ve got this.
And if you’ve got questions or need my help, send me a note!
Bosely, S. (2019, April 3). Bad diets killing more people globally than tobacco, study finds. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/apr/03/bad-diets-killing-more-people-globally-than-tobacco-study-finds?
LaMotte, S. (2019, April 3). What we aren’t eating is killing us, global study finds. CNN. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/03/health/diet-global-deaths-study/index.html
Gallagher, J. (2019, April 4). The diets cutting one in five lives short every year. BBC. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47734296