The Meaning of Diet

Eating is our most intimate contact with our environment. Each day, we put pounds of food inside of our bodies and turn it into us, a truly amazing process. But how much attention do we really pay to what goes into our mouths? And how much do we really understand about nutrition?

I often find that my clients have many misunderstandings and confusion about nutrition and food. The word diet comes from Greek and means “a manner of living” or “way of life.” The Latin root means “a day’s journey.” The key is to make real changes—ones you can live with successfully on a long-term basis—in the way you approach food, fitness, and the challenges and opportunities of living.

In next articles, I will outline a plan that can help you take charge of your health and feel good on every level. Because I don’t know you and your specific needs, you will have to modify these general recommendations.

If you have a specific digestive condition— candidiasis, chronic fatigue, migraines, or ulcers—look at the reference material for that condition and incorporate those ideas into this plan. For instance, if you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you’ll probably want to avoid grain and dairy products totally.

If you have arthritis, you may find that tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes aggravate your condition. Integration of your specific needs with a general life plan will give you the best results. There are many healthful ways to eat. You need to find one that works for you and your lifestyle.

Healthful eating relies on natural, home-cooked, genuine-food meals; they are devoid of artificial colors and flavors, trans fatty acids, and sugar; and they are loaded with phytonutrients (plant nutrients), fiber, and goodquality fats. Today the marketplace is buzzing with lowcarbohydrate foods.

A few years ago, it was low-fat foods. Many of these so-called foods are fancy packages of food technology and profits for the companies. The temptation to use them is high because they are abundant and heavily marketed. Stick to real foods and ultimately you’ll do much better. The world of nutrition is certainly confusing, but it is important to find what works best for you.

Go into your cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer and toss out any foods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. If you read labels, you’ll find them in margarine, cookies, crackers, cereals, frozen foods, packaged foods, breads, snack foods, salad dressings, mayonnaise, and so on.

Why am I asking you to throw out food? Hydrogenated oils are used in foods because they are cheap, have a long shelf life, and give a buttery texture to foods. While this enables manufacturers to use inexpensive materials to reap high profits, these oils are extremely unhealthy for your body.

Liquid oils are turned into solid vegetable shortenings by the hydrogenation process. Hydrogenation converts the naturally occurring cis form of fat molecules into a trans form. When our body tries to use trans fats, they block normal biochemistry, inhibiting the function of enzymes that are involved in the synthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids.

In an analogy, trans fats are like using the wrong key to open a lock and then having the key break in the lock. The trans fats jam the position so the cis fats don’t fit. Trans fatty acids are found nowhere in nature and have been associated with hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), some types of cancer, and all inflammatory illnesses—like arthritis, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.

Recent research indicates that these fats play at least as large a role in heart disease as do saturated fats. Trans fatty acids also affect our body’s electrical circuitry. European research has shown that essential fatty acids found in the cis formation are necessary for electrical and energy exchanges that involve sulfur-containing proteins, oxygen, and light.

Trans fatty acids are not suitable in these processes and jam the “plug” for the cis fats. These electrical currents are responsible for all body functions, from the way our minds work to heartbeat, cell division, muscle coordination, and energy levels.

Says Udo Erasmus, Ph.D., expert on fatty acids and author of Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill, trans fats are stickier than cis fats, “increasing the likelihood of a clot in a small blood vessel causing strokes, heart attacks, or circulatory occlusions in other organs, such as lungs, extremities, and sense organs.”

Our hearts use fatty acids as their main fuel. Trans fats are less easily broken down by enzymes and have slower use as an energy source, which could have serious consequences in a high-stress situation. Trans fatty acids also interfere with our liver detoxification pathways.

Each cell in our bodies has a fatty membrane around it. Cell membranes that incorporate hydrogenated fats lose their flexibility and become more rigid because trans fats are fairly solid at body temperature. This interferes with normal cellular function.

Trans fats also change the permeability of the cell membranes, which allows substances to enter where they don’t belong. If we eat hydrogenated oils, and the average American consumes 6 to 8 percent of his or her total daily calories in them, then our body fat is comprised of these fatty acids.

While you’re cleaning out your kitchen, toss out the following foods: high-sugar foods, highly processed foods including white flour products and enriched foods, foods that contain a lot of food additives and colorings, and foods that have an expiration date of more than a few years from now.

If you feel guilty about tossing out these foods, donate them to a soup kitchen. Now you’re ready to go shopping. It’s important to read food labels carefully. It will take you longer the first few times you go shopping, but soon you’ll be zipping through the store with your new food recognition.

The foods that you bring into your home need to provide excellent nourishment. If you’re careful about what you eat at home, the treats you eat at parties and restaurants will be indulgences you can feel good about. The idea isn’t to be perfect, but to make progress and build good health habits slowly. Great treasures that add flavor, fun, and variety are waiting to be uncovered in your local market and health-food store.