Friday, April 22, 2011

Eating for healing:Where do I start?

Have you heard the expression change begins with the first step? Well, the last post (found here) discussed several strategies relating to eating for healing.  Did you feel empowered enough to try any of them? If you did, than congratulations! You just took the first step toward a lifestyle that promotes wellness.  On the other hand, if you read the post and said, "where do I begin," or, "I can't do this," please don't throw in the towel.  I'm sure you're not alone, because I felt overwhelmed, somewhat intimidated and a little frustrated when I first contemplated the eating for healing information I received. Respect yourself for where you are right now on your path to wellness. Obviously you're on the right road, or you wouldn't be reading this. So, let's get started.

Eating for healing - Let's get started
As I mentioned before, this lifestyle isn't just for people coping with illness. It's for everyone who wants to support their body as it attempts to deal with the daily assaults of living.  All that said, where does one begin? Well, I find it's easiest if I have a meal plan and a shopping list. Here are the main things I consider when planning my menu:
Roberta Larson Duyff "Complete Food and Nutrition Guide"
  1. Get colorful - This is so important. There is no doubt that the phytonutrients, (organic chemical substances), found in plants are fundamental to the health of those that consume them (1). That's why it's imperative that we strive to eat a variety of fruits and veggies every day. By doing this you are providing your body with more of the vital phytonutrients it needs for healing.  According to Roberta Larson Duyff, American Dietetic Association, of the thousands of known phytonutrients, only a few hundred have been studied. It has been discovered that each fruit or vegetable has different amounts and types of phytonutrients. An orange, for example, has "more than 170 different phytonutrients" (1). Of the thousands of  known phytonutrients, "more than 2,000 are plant pigments"(1). It's now understood that the colors of the plants reveal a little about their health benefits. You may be familiar with the best known phytonutrients: carotenoids, flavonoids, and isoflavones. The table above outlines what they do and the foods that provide them. 
  2. Choose functional foods - Researchers are also beginning to understand that phytonutrients work in concert with other nutrients and fiber in our diets, and as a result effect changes in our health (1). The foods that are capable of doing this are called functional foods because "they may provide a health benefit [or function] beyond basic nutrition" (2). The International Food Information Council Foundation has a useful listing of the top functional foods found here.
  3. Buy or grow organic food -  Research shows that organic food contains "substantially higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals than non-organic food" (3). "For example, you would need to eat 4 conventionally grown carrots today to get the same amount of magnesium that you could get from one carrot in 1940" (3).  Organic foods are more nutritious. They also aren't exposed to conventional growing practices that utilize pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers.  These chemicals contain heavy metals, like lead and mercury, which have been found in conventionally grown produce. Granted, buying organic can be slightly more expensive than commercially grown foods, but the benefits are definitely worth it. However, if budget prohibits, the Environmental Working Group has compiled a list of what they call the "Dirty Dozen." You can find a list of these foods here. The Dirty Dozen are the top 12 most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables in America. It seems prudent to focus on purchasing these as organic. 
  4. Select whole foods - What's a whole food? These are foods that are "as close to their whole or natural state as possible" (3).  Examples of whole foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and dried beans.  Whole foods are free of additives, preservatives, dyes, flavorings and are unprocessed. In addition, because they are in their 'whole' state, whole foods "retain all of the nutrients to properly digest and metabolize themselves" (3).  As a result, we have the potential to get more nutrients when we consume these foods.
  5. Eat nutrient dense vs. energy dense foods - If you're eating whole foods, than this is really a moot point, because whole foods are typically nutrient dense foods. However, the point still bears repeating and I dedicated a prior post to this topic here. The bottom line is that eating nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains aids in weight loss.  This is because energy dense foods like fast foods, cakes, and chips not only have less nutrients and fiber, they also typically have more calories. Obviously when it comes to weight loss, less calories is the goal.  Another down side of eating  foods categorized as being more energy dense is the greater fluctuations in insulin levels. If that's not enough, another negative of energy dense foods is that they also typically lack fiber.  Whole, nutrient dense foods containing fiber provide the added benefits of increasing satiation, as well as aiding with elimination.
What to eat? One week of eating for healing -

Sample Menu
Day 1
  • Breakfast -
    • hot buckwheat cereal made with homemade almond milk, ground flax, organic mashed apple, dried cranberries, walnuts, fish oil, turmeric and cinnamon; 
    • matcha tea (Dr. Weil discusses the benefits of this tea on his website here).
  • Lunch - 
    • quinoa fiesta salad - made with chopped red, yellow and green peppers, black beans, jicama, grape tomatoes, spinach and cumin seed, with a lime cilantro dressing. I love the variety of colors in this salad and it is very satisfying. Don't let my pitiful food photography put you off. This tastes even better than it looks.
    • fruit smoothie - frozen organic cherries, peaches, mixed berries, coconut water, 2 small spoonfuls of vanilla goat yogurt
  • Dinner
    • Grilled Seared Tuna Steak on a bed of red cabbage, chopped apple, celery, and green onion  with ginger sesame dressing
Day 2
  • Breakfast
    • Homemade granola (organic oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, prunes, raisins, dried cherries and blueberries and nuts) in goat yogurt with diced pear, ground flax and fish oil.
    • matcha tea
  • Lunch
    • leftover quinoa salad on bed of lettuce, sliced apple
  • Dinner
    • Spinach Frittata
    • mixed green salad
Day 3
  • Breakfast
    • leftover spinach frittata
    • matcha tea
  • Lunch
    • Asian sunshine salad - chopped green cabbage, tangelo, navel orange, mango, cashews, green onion, bok choy, chopped carrots, mixed micro greens and black rice with Asian ginger dressing
    • fruit smoothie
  • Dinner
    • Quinoa polenta vegetable lasagna.  This is my husband's delicious and ever evolving dish. We use organic quinoa polenta found at our local grocery store, but he has made his own organic corn polenta from scratch.  The polenta is the base layer and then you put fresh basil, Mexican oregano, onion, garlic, sliced green or red peppers, heirloom tomatoes, spinach (from my friend's bountiful garden, thanks Ann), diced kalamata olives, and top it with a little goat mozzarella on top. This is a satisfying and tasty dish.
    • micro greens salad
Day 4
  • Breakfast
    • Sweet potato hash with pastured eggs over easy
    • fruit bowl
  • Lunch
    • leftover Asian salad
    • piece of fruit
  • Dinner
    • Chicken soup
    • homemade gluten free bread (the best recipe I've found so far for a tender white bread is from the back of Bob's Red Mill's Potato Starch bag, but you can view it here).  It's a bread machine recipe and it comes out consistently tasty.  I substitute powdered goat's milk and brown rice flour.
Day 5
  • Breakfast
    • Hot buckwheat cereal 
    • matcha tea
  • Lunch
    • Quinoa polenta vegetable lasagna leftovers
    • mixed greens salad
    • fruit smoothie
  • Dinner
    • Soba noodle stir fry with shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, green onions, carrots, celery, bok choy, peas and ginger in a tamari sauce topped with cashews
    • dessert of fresh blueberries over coconut macaroons
Making the change
I hope this menu gives you a bit of an idea of how to begin eating for healing.  You can find more ideas, as well as recipes from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen site here. Side note: Because I receive food from my local food coop I have found that I make meals based on what is seasonally available.  This is a good rule of thumb. Foods that are grown locally will be fresher and are less taxing to the environment because they weren't shipped from distant places. Having said that, I confess to buying foods that aren't locally grown. 

Tips -
  • Plan your menu and have a shopping list
  • Make more food at one time- It might seem like a lot of cooking, but I usually make enough to get at least two meals out of what I've prepared and then eat those on days I'm pressed for time or don't feel like cooking
  • If you make a pot of soup or a casserole, freeze some for later
  • Snacking - I didn't list snacks in my menu suggestions because you may find that you don't want a snack every day.  The foods you're eating are more nutrient dense and satisfying.  However, if you do find yourself craving a snack, one of my favorite snacks is fruit, but when I want something crunchy I pop up some popcorn or I have an organic brown rice cake, spread with almond butter, topped with sliced dates, and sprinkled with coconut on top.  Yum. 
Final thoughts
Change can be challenging, especially if you're dealing with long standing habits. I encourage you to take things slowly. Begin by looking at your pantry.  Clean out what isn't healing. Try making one new dish a week. By the end of 7 weeks you'll have a bevy of eating for healing recipes and you'll have revamped your eating habits too. It's important to note that eating for healing will require an awareness on your part of not only the foods you find nourishing, but also those that make you feel healthier and more energized.  In this case your gut will literally tell you what it prefers. It's important to listen to your body.  Follow your intuition and begin with small changes. As I said in the last post, you really have nothing to lose, except for maybe a few unwanted pounds. Go ahead. Take that first step!

(1) Duyff Roberta, Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, American Dietetic Association, 2006
(2) International Food Information Council Foundation - Functional Foods PDF
(3) Segersten, A. Malterre, T., The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook 2nd ed., Whole Life Press 2010

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