The Holistic Guide to Healthy Eating
In the world of gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, low-fat, low-sodium, anti-sugar, paleo, plant based, and raw-food its no wonder why we feel confused about the optimal food choices. There is so much conflicting information about nutrition out there that it truly requires a lot of research to find out how to eat healthy. In todays world even science can be compromised with its objectivity because of financial benefits but don’t lose your hope. There is a way to navigate through all the (mis)information. Hold my hand and I’ll guide you through it and show you the conclusions I've made about healthy eating.
Be a critical thinker
First of all - if you come across with new headlines about nutrition facts it's better to be suspicious before you digest it. A study funded by the meat industry studying the benefits of eating chicken is obviously not going to give you the whole truth. Always look who funded the study and what was actually studied: if butter is compared to margarine it probably looks like a healthy option but that doesn’t still mean it’s healthy. It’s also important to look for backup: are there any other studies with similar results? Always be critical towards any new trend that someone might financially benefit from.
What is healthy eating?
The goal of healthy eating is to prevent and reverse chronic diseases, keep you vital and energetic and optimise your wellbeing. The food should contain all the necessary nutrients to build healthy cells and should be eaten in a way that we are able to digest it as well. Food is a crucial part of our health and I have personally experienced the tremendous effect what it had in my life.
Why it took me so long to realise all this? The problem with me was that I always thought I had been eating a healthy diet due to the marketing that most of us who were born in the 90’s got and earlier grew up with. Im sure many remember hearing the misleading advice how drinking milk keeps the bones strong and the whole "low-fat" boom. I also had always mistakenly associated bad diet just with being overweight which was a huge misconception - you can look fit and still suffer from serious deficiencies.
Problem with calorie limiting diets
There is no one-size fits all diet but there is some principles that apply for everyone. I personally don’t believe in ANY diets that are designed just for few weeks limiting the calorie intake and specific foods. This makes many people fall back into the unhealthy routines right after the diet and gain the weight back. Lasting change is about changing the lifestyle - not starving yourself for few weeks. Another reason that I really don’t like about diets is that - I LOVE FOOD. I’d be so upset with small portions that I would just be grumpy all the time and I’m sure I’m not the only one. This is where the best part of healthy eating comes in:
I can eat as much as I want, completely guilt-free and not having the worry about gaining weight and feeling sluggish. What is there not to love?
The reason for obesity
This seems so obvious once you realise how the body works, but for the longest time I didn’t understand the connection between nutrition and feeling satisfied. I thought it was just about the amount - (which also plays a part) but I should have known that our bodies are so much smarter than that: Our bodies know that we haven’t received the needed nutrients therefore it keeps sending a signal to our brain to eat more even though we have already eaten a lot.
I promise you this: if you make sure you get enough nutrients for your diet and they are in the form that your body is able to digest them, you will never have to overeat and feel hungry again.
The problem with obesity is that often people blame themselves for eating too much and not exercising enough but what we should really blame is the foods that don’t have any nutritional value and are making us sick.
Now finally the answers we have been waiting for.
How to eat healthy?
Rather than a calorie limiting strict diet, eating healthy can be just removing the bad stuff and adding lots of good things and following few basic principles. It’s more about re-learning how to go shopping for food than anything else!
I am going to share with you the principles of healthy eating that I have found through a combination of holistic nutrition, plant-based whole foods diet and Ayurveda. All these methods recognise that we are all individuals and not the same routine works for everyone. These three ways of looking at eating have a lot in common, but some nuances that differentiate each other. All them have almost the same health benefits and whether you are just following one of them, you are on the right path. Here is a short overview to all of them or a way to skip right to the combination of these to the HOLISTIC GUIDE TO HEALTHY EATING where I’ve put my heart into so I can share the information that has helped me to eat healthier and feel better.
What is a holistic diet?
At its core, holistic nutrition sees one’s health is an expression of the complex interplay between the physical and chemical, mental and emotional, as well as spiritual and environmental aspects of one’s life and being. Holistic diet promotes unrefined, unprocessed, organic and locally grown whole foods and encourages everyone to focus on nutritional values instead of calories. In holistic nutrition, diet is not considered a tool, not a punishment.
What is a plant-based whole foods diet?
Just like as holistic diet, PBWF diet also relies on natural foods that are not heavily processed. That means whole, unrefined, or minimally refined ingredients and it especially encourages to cut all refined flours, sugars, processed meats and oils. PBWF diet relies in at least 90% plant based whole foods and the rest 10% or less in animal foods. This is based on the heavy amount of evidence connecting animal foods with numerous chronic diseases. There has been extensive amount of scientific evidence of the benefits of this method, one of them being the famous China Study that showed that plant based diet can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and other major illnesses.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda provides an integrated approach to preventing and treating illness through lifestyle interventions and natural therapies such as diet, herbal remedies, exercise, meditation, breathing, massage and more. Ayurveda is an ancient medicine system originated from India and it literally means AYR=LIFE & VEDA=KNOWLEDGE.
According to Ayurveda, all things in the universe, both living and nonliving, are actually of the same five natural elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth which combine to three doshas: Vata, Pitta & Kapha. Ayurvedic Diet is based on these elements and how they relate to the cycle of nature (different seasons require different diets). Ayurvedic Diet is such a huge topic itself so therefore I will dedicate a whole post just for that later and now just focus mostly in the Ayurvedic tips to improve digestion.
Digestion is one of the most important things I have learned from Ayurveda. Before I used to think Raw-food diet must be the healthiest one because raw vegetables contain the most nutrients but now I understand that cooking the meals is important for many of us to be able to digest these nutrients. It doesn’t matter if you eat 12 ounces of raw broccoli every day if you are not able to digest any of it.
“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” —Ayurvedic proverb
Why to eat healthy?
There is a large amount of evidence that whole foods plant based diet reduces and reverses many chronic diseases and increases your longevity. All “blue zones”, areas which have the longest-lived populations in the world, have something in common: they all eat a variation of whole food plant-based diet and have low rates of chronic disease. The benefits of healthy eating are tremendous and eating healthy can change your whole life.
THE HOLISTIC GUIDE TO HEALTHY EATING
1. Eat whole, unprocessed foods 90% of your diet
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts should make up the majority of what you eat so you should spend the most of your time in the produce aisle at the supermarket. Unprocessed means that non of the nutrients have been lost and nothing bad has been added in.
2. Limit or avoid animal foods and make them max. 10% of your diet
If you do eat animal products, choose grass-fed, organic, antibiotic-free meat and dairy products, and pasture-raised chickens and eggs. Choose wild-caught fish and seafood when possible, and avoid those more likely to contain toxins such as mercury including tuna, swordfish, and king mackerel. Completely avoid processed meats such as sausages, hot dogs, deli meats, salami, ham, cured bacon, dried & canned meat as these are categorized as a group 1 carcinogen, along with cigarettes and asbestos.
Just to make sure you don't get too overwhelmed with the too many changes, you can get pretty far with just following these first two and get significant health benefits just form them.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all diet so try to take in just the things that resonate and work for you.
3. Go organic
Avoid pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones in your food by selecting organic options whenever possible, but never to use it as a reason not to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. The toxic residue is not as much as many think but other reason to go organic is that pesticides kill the microbes that make the enzymes to help us digest foods. Here is a list made by EWG on pesticide residue data gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dirty 12 have most pesticide residue and Clean 15 the least to help you make decisions when to go organic.
4. Lose refined sugar & carbs and replace them with healthy carbs
This is already a part of number 1 but worth mentioning again. Don’t be afraid of the starch or carbs - be afraid of processed carbs! Carbohydrates coming from real food sources do not make us sick or fat- they actually do the opposite. Carbohydrates are an optimal source of energy for humans, and have been for thousands of years.
5. Drink your water
There's nothing new here – around 2 liters a day (depending of your bodyweight) is an important part of healthy diet and digestion. Drinking a lot of water right before or during the meal can actually dilute the stomach acid, and therefore isn’t recommended. Water should never be too cold or have ice in it. Ayurveda recommends sipping hot water throughout the whole day to reduce Ama, which means “anything undigested” which can anything from harmful substances to undigested foods. Accumulation of Ama is believed to cause a variety of health problems.
6. Reduce your sodium intake
Sodium is one of the key factors in developing high blood pressure. Reduce your salt intake by avoiding processed food and by limiting the amount of added salt in your food.
7. Buy local produce
It’s often better to eat local, fresh produce that's not certified organic than it is to buy certified organic food that was shipped a long distance. Grow some of your own herbs and veggies, or visit your farmer's market for local produce to know where and what conditions your food came from.
8. Instead of a no-fat diet, eat a healthy fat diet
Healthy fats are important for good health, so be sure to incorporate avocado, nuts & seeds in your meal preparation. For high-heat cooking, select oils that can stand up to the heat such as coconut oil, ghee butter or cook without oil. Avoid trans-fats from hydrogenated oils, and saturated animal fats from red meat and dairy products.
9. Everything in moderation
Food is one of life's greatest pleasures. Don’t become too serious and rigid with your diet and occasionally and give yourself permission to enjoy your favourite, not-so-healthy meal once in a while. Healthy eating shouldn't be about deprivation – it's about being aware of the impact that foods have in our health and making better choices as much as we can.
10. Nutrient dense, not calorie scarce
A healthy meal consists of more than the right balance of macronutrients or correct number of calories eaten. Instead of minimizing the number of calories, focus on filling your plate with colourful whole foods filled with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that are not a source of calories but necessary for the human body to function properly and build healthy cells.
11. Eat LOTS of fiber
Fiber has an important function with aiding our digestion. It escorts bile, which is loaded with toxins and helps it get out of our body. If we don’t eat enough fiber, up to 94% of the toxic bile could be reabsorbed back into the liver and blood. Fiber also feeds our healthy microbiome to keep our gut healthy. Try to get at least 50 grams fiber a day.
12. Move your lymph to aid digestion
Functioning lymphatic system is essential for healthy digestion. Lymphatic system is mainly focused on removing toxins and cellular waste from your body and responsible of your immune system. Best way to aid your lymphatic system is to move, drink plenty of water and eat foods high in antioxidants.
13. Eat Probiotics and Probiotics Feed to keep your gut healthy
Probiotics are often called "good" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy and are therefore important for our diet. Good sources are for probiotics are Kefir, Sauerkraut, Kombucha, Kimchi and Miso.
Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. Especially onions, oats, asparagus and flax seeds are good sources for probiotics.
14. Avoid bad food combinations
According to Ayurveda, there are various foods that we should not be eating together.
Don’t mix fruits with other foods - always eat them separate
Don’t mix dairy with foods such as bananas, cherries, melons, sour fruits; bread containing yeast, fish, or meat
Don’t mix beans with any animal products
15. Aid your digestion by cooking most of your foods
Cook your foods to make them more digestible, but leave some space fore raw fruits and vegetables as well. Try to avoid using high heat and unhealthy methods such as deep-frying which destroys the nutritional value. Did you know that some foods like carrots have actually MORE nutrition after being cooked than eaten raw?
16. Eat fewer but larger meals
It’s better to have fewer and larger meals during the day than constantly keep snacking so you can give a proper break to your digestive system. You can also try intermittent fasting, which is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.
When you fast, several things happen in your body on the cellular and molecular level: your body adjusts hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible, your cells also initiate important repair processes and change the expression of genes.
I follow the 16:8 technique, where I eat my meals within 8 hours so my digestive system can have a break for 16 hours. According to Ayurveda it's best to make lunch your biggest meal between 11am-2pm with the highest protein and go to sleep with empty stomach.
19. Practise eating mindfully
Be mindful what you eat and put awareness and gratitude into your eating.
Blessing your food and water and showing gratitude has a big impact. I can almost hear some people rolling their eyes while reading this one but don’t be a sceptic until you try it! ;)
20. Eat in season
Seasonal foods carry specific seasonal microbes that amp up immunity, increase or decrease digestive strength, and create the perfect seasonal microbiome to thrive in each season.
21. Turn on your digestive fire before you eat
Drink a glass of water half an hour before your meal to send a signal to your body to start making hydrochloric acid, which will aid with breaking down the hard-to-digest nutrients, toxins and proteins.
To aid your digestion you can also buy certain enzymes to help you digest the food but I recommend trying the natural remedies first.
Why should I go through all the trouble?
Sounds like a lot of work - is it really worth it? YES IT IS, and actually - it isn't more work. Just being more aware and changing your habits! The benefits of healthy diet are tremendous and there are many people who would give anything to go back in time and choose differently to avoid their heart disease or diabetes.
The question you should be asking yourself instead - is eating unhealthy really worth getting a chronic disease?
Many diseases that we might think are genetic have actually 90% out lifestyle and just 10% to do with the genetics. Tremendous amount of chronic disease can be stopped or even reversed just by changing your diet.
Take responsibility of your wellbeing and start a journey towards healthier and happier life today. Don’t worry if you are not ready to make all the changes right away. Just do your best and start small! Just adding more unprocessed real foods into your diet is a good start. Any step towards healthier life is better than no step at all.
Disclaimer: I am not a Medical Professional and you should always consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet if you are suffering from a medical condition. If you do decide to use the diet as an ease to your disease its a great idea but needs to be done together with MD who can check on your progress on the way and change your medication as needed.
Resources and Recipes for eating a Plant based Whole Foods diet