What is a healthy lifestyle? This is a common question that leads to many different conversations and conclusions. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what a healthy lifestyle means. We live in a society that hypes the best exercise and the newest diet. Despite this, Americans are getting sicker and much larger. More than 20 million people have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), over 29 million people have diabetes and the number of obese people in American exceeds 36 million. These serious health conditions are characterized by chronic inflammation. While we have more health information available to us, we are not utilizing it to become healthier.
Information about how different foods impact our body is coming from many more sources compared to few years ago. Gut health and probiotics are words we hear constantly. We are flooded with numerous TV ads, internet success stories and the promise of life changing programs via infomercials. More now than ever, living a healthy lifestyle requires a holistic understanding of health and wellness to separate fact from fiction and make better choices for our wellbeing.
In healthy eating trends, it seems that every day something new pops up, contradicting or at least challenging the previous mindset. In the last half century, we’ve experienced conflicting information about many foods including the following:
- fats are terrible, now fats are great
- whole grains are great, but now gluten is terrible
- vegetable oils are good, to vegetable oils make you sick
- animal meat and protein are good for you, versus plant based protein only
- everything in moderation, now elimination diets
The list goes on and on and we wonder why people are confused?
The biggest threat to good nutrition is sugar and highly processed carbohydrates. Even though they are very, very low in nutritional benefits, they are very prevalent in the American diet. Shelf stable processed foods made of highly refined carbohydrates have taken over most of the space where people shop, making it very difficult for people to make healthy choices.
Sugar is found in many foods and even if you scan the nutritional label looking for it, you may still be baffled. Sugar comes in many different names. Some packaged products contain five or more kinds of sugar, but unless you know all the chemical names, you may be unaware of the total amount of sugars. Consuming large amounts of sugar and very high glycemic carbohydrates on a regular basis will increase insulin levels in the blood. This produces strong blood sugar fluctuations in the body. These blood sugar fluctuations lead to chronic inflammation, a condition that has the potential to result in a wide number of serious diseases that only a few decades ago were very rare.
In the US we have gone from about 5 lbs. of sugar per capita (inhabitant) per year in the early 1800’s, to over 100 lbs. today, according to the CDC. If you compound that with all the other highly refined carbohydrates that turn into sugar very rapidly in your body and the natural “addiction” that sugar produces, you have the perfect setting for a health epidemic. That epidemic would be seen in the form of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and an ever-growing number of auto-immune diseases.
There is hope, with proper education, along with self-discipline and common sense, to cut down on sugars, sugary foods and drinks. Steering clear of artificial sweeteners and replacing bad, highly refined carbs with nutrient dense slow digesting carbs, will bring your body back to a healthy balance. Leaving sugar behind is not easy and requires commitment, so here are some basic rules that will help you begin your journey:
- Drink water throughout the day, up to a gallon a day. This will help reduce cravings and remove harmful toxins from your body. Make water easy to access; take water with you and have it where you work.
- Eat clean! There are more chemicals in our food than ever before. The extensive use of pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers have contaminated our foods, plus fillers, stabilizers and various substances commonly used by the food industry. Eating organic vegetables and clean label foods will reduce the stress on your liver and kidneys. This also helps reduce inflammation.
- Reduce stress. Normal life is already stressful, try to find times and spaces to disconnect from the noise. Take a break from your cell phone for one hour a day, meditate or relax with yoga.
- Exercise on a regular basis. Include strength training to build your muscles. Work to develop strong core muscles. Lifting weights, even light weights, helps your body burn carbohydrates and sugars. This is also great resource for stress reduction.
- Start a good sleep regimen. Try to stick to a consistent routine and sleep at least 7 hours every night.
Remember that change can sometimes be difficult, it takes time and effort. Include your close friends and family in your new lifestyle. It helps to alleviate distractions or temptations and to have support all around you. Write down your goals and celebrate your victories, no matter how small they are. The accumulation of those victories will lead to a healthier YOU.
Luis Zapp Founder, Zapp’s Dancing Grains
Debi Bernish (B.S. Nutrition) Good Carb Ninja, Zapp’s Dancing Grains
Facts about IBS, www.aboutIBS.org, Nov. 24, 2016
Center for Disease Control, www.CDC.Gov, August 29, 2017
American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org, July 19, 2017
Role of “Western Diet” in Inflammatory Autoimmune Diseases
Arndt Manzel, Dominik N. Muller, David A. Hafler, Susan E. Erdman, Ralf A. Linker, and Markus Kleinewietfeld.
Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake
Nicole M. Avena, Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel*
Sugar Consumption in the US Diet between 1822 and 2005
Research conducted by: Stephan Guyenet and Jeremy Landen
Case study prepared by: Robert F. Houser and Georgette Baghdady
Effect of pesticides on cell survival in liver and brain rat tissues.
Astiz M1, de Alaniz MJ, Marra CA.