With July being National Culinary Arts Month, now seems an opportune time to highlight the many benefits of healthy eating – which happens to be one of the central tenets of the Wright Center for Lifestyle Medicine program. Community Health.
For those unfamiliar with the term, lifestyle medicine addresses long-term lifestyle choices that lead to chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes type 2, obesity and several types of cancer. When implemented, lifestyle medicine can prevent, treat, and even reverse these serious, yet preventable, conditions.
Along with increasing physical activity, reducing stress and improving sleep, adjusting our eating habits is a fundamental pillar of lifestyle medicine. By doing this, we can greatly improve our overall health.
A good place to start is to address our gastrointestinal (GI) health, since research shows that a healthy gut is associated with improved overall health and reduced chronic disease.
For example, take probiotics, which are foods or supplements containing live microorganisms intended to maintain or enhance the body’s normal microflora. One of the functions of probiotics is to keep us healthy by supporting our immune function and controlling inflammation. They can also help our bodies digest food, keep bad bacteria from spiraling out of control, create vitamins, help support the cells that line our gut to prevent bad bacteria from entering our bloodstream, and break down and absorb medications. .
Starting your day with a cup of low-fat, low-sugar yogurt is a great way to consume active bacterial cultures to boost your gut health. Add a prebiotic (indigestible food that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines), such as a fiber-rich crushed cereal instead of granola to your yogurt. And don’t forget that berries – blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries – not only add sweetness, but are loaded with antioxidants.
Since our hearts are always beating and never have a day, an hour or even a minute or a second of rest, we also need to focus on optimal heart nutrition. One way to do this is to increase our intake of omega 3 fatty acids, especially ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which have been shown to that they reduce serum triglyceride levels, non-HDL cholesterol levels, platelet activation and inflammatory markers.
Although our body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA, the conversion rate is low, so we also need to eat foods rich in EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are found in fish like salmon and shrimp, as well as seaweed and seaweed, for those looking for vegan-friendly sources. Just a handful of nuts for an afternoon snack can boost your ALA intake. Meanwhile, adding flax and chia seeds to salads is a great way to get a few extra grams of ALA, while seaweed chips are loaded with EPA and DHA.
While omega 3 fatty acids have a protective effect on our heart, many foods have the opposite effect and often lead to heart disease or heart failure. For example, too much sodium can lead to hypertension, which puts significant pressure on the heart. And diets high in animal products increase saturated fat and cholesterol intake, while improving markers of inflammation that can lead to chronic disease.
With that in mind, reducing sodium and animal foods should be a high priority. Instead, choose plant-based meals a few times a week. Want options? Try stir-fry recipes, which are nutritious, colorful and full of anti-inflammatory compounds and prebiotics. Want a little more protein? Add tofu, which is also an excellent probiotic.
I hope these tips give you an idea that a healthy diet doesn’t have to be a boring diet. Eating better will allow you to live better, and that’s a fact. Need more information on lifestyle medicine? You can schedule an appointment with a primary care provider at one of our nine regional community practices in Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne counties by visiting TheWrightCenter.org or calling 570-230-0019.
Walter Wanas, RDN, LDN, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, is Director of Lifestyle Modification and Preventive Medicine for the Lifestyle Medicine Program at the Wright Center for Community Health.