Given the Right Tools, Your Body Can Thrive
The human body is self-preserving and self-healing. There are thousands of mechanisms at work in your body, protecting you against dangerous bacteria, viruses and toxins. There are also several mechanisms at work to ensure that all of your systems are operating as they should. If they are not, there are processes that take place to manage and repair whatever has gone wrong. Given the right tools, your body will heal itself.
Your body requires several things in order to function properly. For example, your body requires clean air, water, food and movement in order to survive. When striving for optimum health, I would emphasize that the types of food you feed your body every day can mean the difference between falling ill, or being healthy and full of vitality. If your body does not have the right fuel it cannot do what it was designed to do- function and thrive. If you or your child suffer from a chronic disease, it is essential that you give the body the building blocks that it needs to make repairs.
There are numerous diets that claim to heal the body. Often you will come across several different diets claiming to treat the same particular disease, but surprisingly share very few similarities. But yet, somehow each diet will have people to attest to its effectiveness. There are juicing diets that claim to treat various types of cancers and elimination diets that claim to reverse food intolerances. Does that mean that juicing is the cure to cancer or that elimination diets are the cure to digestive distress? Or is there more going on? I want you to consider the possibility that there is not one “cure” to a disease, but rather various ways to give our bodies the tools they need to return to proper function.
You may be wondering what types of food your body needs, and how to find out. The answer is not as simple as you may think. The US government offers us a guide of what to consume on a daily basis, popularly depicted with the “My Plate” diagram (left). “My Plate” provides a visual representation of what a typical healthy meal should look like. I would argue that although it is somewhat helpful and well intentioned, this diagram is slightly flawed. It disregards essential components of health such as drinking water and consuming healthy fats. It depicts dairy and grains as
essential food groups, but for some people these unfortunately are not a dietary option. The main issue I have with “My Plate” is that it alludes to the types of foods we should eat rather than providing a guide to the necessary nutrient categories that all humans need for survival.
I recently took a course in child nutrition provided by Stanford University through coursera.org, “Child Nutrition and Cooking 2.0”. This course gave a very straightforward description of what the body needs in order to function properly. In this course I learned that when considering your diet, you must account for four essential nutrient categories to achieve normal body function. The first category is water. Water is crucial because it facilitates all of our bodily functions. In fact, 50% of our body weight is water. The second category is macronutrients. Macronutrients are components of our diet that we need in relatively large amounts to make us feel healthy. They consist of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The third requirement for our body is micronutrients. Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that we need, in much smaller amounts than macronutrients, but are essential to all basic functions of the body. Fourth, our bodies require dietary fiber, which helps promote the health of the digestive track and therefore rid the body of waste and harmful substances. These four elements are the building blocks that are common to all humans. When we incorporate these four elements in the proper amounts tailored to the individual needs of our bodies, health can be maintained.
Due to the recent changes in our world, it might be wise to add a fifth category- probiotics. In the past, probiotics were not necessary to add to the diet because they were an inherent part of our development and our environment. However, our way of life- namely, the way that are children are born and fed, the drugs that we take, the products that we apply to our skin, and other factors, has caused the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the body to be far different than it was for people who lived before us. Probiotics assist in many functions of the body, manufacturing essential nutrients, strengthening the immune system and playing a crucial role in digestive function. For this reason, I would argue that probiotics should be considered an essential nutrient for the body.
The way that people break down, absorb and assimilate foods is very different from individual to individual. People vary in their dietary styles. When we take into consideration the five nutrient categories that were described above, we can begin to understand how people can thrive on diets that appear to be vastly different from one another, I believe that the key to optimum health is discovering the form of building blocks that are best fit for you personally. For example, the human body requires protein. In the past, people believed that the best source of protein came from animal products; however, it is evident in society that many people thrive without eating any animal protein. Vegan, vegetarian and plant-based, raw foods diets have become increasingly recognized and practiced in recent years. How can one person do well eating animal protein while another can eliminate it from their diet completely? The answer is this: the difference in food choice does not affect the individual’s health because each diet provides the essential building block for human health- protein. Because protein comes in many forms, our food choices can vary without damaging the functions of the body. Animal protein is one source of protein, but it is not the only source. It is important for people to choose the foods within the essential categories that are right for them.
Don’t be confused by suggestions commonly made for types of food that “should” be universally eaten. Dairy is not an essential building block of life (aside from a mother’s milk provided during infancy.) There are an increasing number of people who are allergic or intolerant to dairy products. These people are still able to find ways to remain in good health. You may wonder, “Where would a person get their required amount of calcium?” The truth is there are many natural sources of calcium that don’t require ingesting any form of dairy product. One example is leafy green vegetables. Likewise, grains are also not an essential building block of life. To many people the idea of a grain free diet is insane. But if a person’s diet contains the building block of carbohydrates, then the health of the body should remain intact. With the growing number of gluten and grain intolerance, the anxiety of removing what is thought to be an essential food group turns out to be unwarranted. It is not the grains that we require, but the carbohydrates.
One final consideration when deciding what to eat is variety. We know that each fruit and vegetable has a unique assortment of micronutrients. There are thousands of micronutrients that currently exist, and new ones are being discovered all the time. By eating a variety of foods we increase the types of micronutrients that our bodies are exposed to. As a result we increase our body’s ability to stay strong and ward off illness. Variety in our diets also protects us from potentially overloading our bodies with the toxins that exist in foods. As we know, our bodies are designed to be able to rid itself of toxins. However, this function will not be as efficient if you are overloading your body with the toxins from a limited amount of foods. Often nutritionists will suggest making your plate as colorful as possible, which I think is great advice. A variety of colors will help to ensure a diversity of nutrients that will provide the body with protection and support it needs for good health.
Our bodies are awesome. We are beautifully designed to feel wonderful and stay healthy. Help your body do what it is designed to do. You deserve to be healthy, happy and illness-free. Don’t be persuaded to follow rigid diets or listen to organizations that tell the world that all people should eat the same types of foods for good health. We know that there are many differences that exist among people which make a universal diet impossible. Your job is not to follow the prescriptions of others but to find the foods (within the five essential categories) that help you to feel energized, clear headed, and content. Eat a variety of foods, so that you provide your body with a variety of nutrients that will fuel your body without burdening it with toxins.
You are in control of your health. Listen to your body. Experiment with new foods. Pay attention to the foods that make you feel more alive, and then fill your diet with them. Your body was designed for greatness. Give it the tools it needs to thrive!