What’s a healthy food? It’s ironic because as I write this I sit in a Whole Foods with my girlfriend as she struggles to rekindle the connection between herself and her body. After years of medications coming between her and her body’s needs she’s lost touch of how to communicate with it. She is not the only one; I’ve struggled with this, as do many of my clients. My mission today is to help rekindle the connection between what’s truly healthy and how we can simplify this whole mess of diet and nutrition. Most of us understand that food has an impact on how we feel; this is a rather basic concept. However, how many of us truly know how our food choices are affecting our energy? Does a salad provide the same physiological experience as a steak? Of course not, and learning to differentiate between the function of food can dramatically improve our wellness.
What if you knew how to choose the right types of food throughout the day? Wouldn’t it make life so much easier if you knew not only what to eat, but when to eat it too? Surely, one could survive on almost any type of food and eating it at any time. But this article isn’t for those trying to merely survive. I write this to help those interesting in thriving.
The What, How and Why Of Healthy Eating
What is considered healthy is one the most controversial topics in the world. There have been long-going disputes as to what’s healthy and what’s toxic, and this will likely continue until we start to expand our views. Can we be wise enough to look beyond dietary dogmas, personal opinions and into the collective picture? The “what” is only relevant to the “how” and “what.” In other words, a food is only as healthy as its function.
Without question, most would agree that eating a salad with some wild-caught fish is an overall healthy choice, but what about at 4 a.m.? Does it make much sense for someone who is sleep deprived to use the last legs of their energy attempting to digest heavy animal protein?
What about personal allergies? Almonds are incredible sources of nutrition, but a nut allergy can quickly turn a harmless nut into a potential threat to life. For the sake of opening your minds, let’s consider some other safe foods – let’s take, for example, wild dandelion. Seems pretty safe, it’s on both the Paleo and Vegan menu; therefore, it’s surely a wise food choice. That’s until someone chokes on a chunk of dandelion root in their tea and dies. Sorry for being extreme, but hopefully I’ve made my point clear. Food is only as healthy as its function. The poison and the cure are both in the same dose.
If we can keep our minds open we might be able to gather a more balanced view of what is healthy. Consider the concept of how and why to eat in a simple metaphor. Though both whole food diets, would a lion survive on a giraffe’s diet? The short answer is no. That’s because both animals have different functions for food. One is a much more active animal where the other is more sedentary in motion, this of course has a direct correlation to their metabolic and digestive systems.
Know Your Function: Bio-Individuality
We all have functions for food, whether we are aware of them or not. The more we can understand how our unique daily function is affecting our body, the more appropriately we can choose ideal foods. In short, knowing the function of your life would be wise to consider, as one man’s fuel could be your poison. Are you a lion or a giraffe? Considering the bigger picture of your life and the purpose that food serves will better help balance your mood, energy levels and overall physiology.
Understanding this concept in general, a more active person will feel best eating more calories, as you will be burning more off. More sedentary people require less food as they use less energy. There are other factors as well, such as how fast you oxidize food, the state of your digestive system and your current state of health. A simple metabolic typing test will help you refine ideal food types for your unique individuality.
Moving on, we face the collection of different opinions on when to eat. There are many conflicting views – some advocate eating small meals frequently, Ayurveda suggests three consistent meals according to the biological rhythms of hormones, some suggest fasting while others say its kryptonite. What’s true?
The truth is, each person is different. In a moment I’ll discuss in more detail the unique bio-individuality of each person more thoroughly, but first, let’s talk about some of these concepts.
To fast or not to fast?
This one is easy to break down so I will start here. Calorie restriction and fasting are some of the only time-tested facts of reversing biological age. Everything else is still in theory. However, there is one problem with fasting – it’s not for everyone. A common fasting protocol – known as intermittent fasting – requires you to skip breakfast and not eat lunch until after 2:00 p.m. This is great for anyone living in a cave, far removed from modern society, where you can sleep and lounge until just about that time. However, most people have jobs or do some sort of work that requires some energy by at least midday. For many, this is the ideal time to be most active and alert – not still just waking up. Another issue with fasting is that many people have adrenal weakness, thyroid and blood sugar problems. Unless your HPA axis is in top-notch shape and your blood sugar levels are in check, fasting will run your body right into the ground if you start skipping meals. Therefore, fasting should only be left to those who’ve earned it through incredible sleep habits, a balanced diet and staying in Zen mode 24/7.
Small, frequent meals
Eating smaller meals in general is a great idea, as this is the beginning to really achieving metabolic efficiency. However, many people use this in a way of unhealthy restriction – eating small meals that are not nutritionally balanced and poorly meet their metabolic needs. Even worse, is eating small sugary meals and meal replacement drinks and bars that zap the blood sugar and leave you crashing soon after. This concept just doesn’t work as it turns your life into a search for food, with no ability to focus on other areas of your life. Not to mention, digestion requires a lot of energy. Rather than having to search for scrap paper to toss on the fire, only to produce a quick flame, then you reaching for more. It’s far more effective to lay a slow-burning log one time that provides long-lasting energy. You do the work once and it goes all day. This brings me to the Ayurvedic approach.
Three square meals
Ayurveda has a pretty good concept here – eat only three times a day so you’re not spending your entire day searching for food. This also keeps your digestive system from constantly having to stay active. Actually, eating frequently throughout the day can accelerate aging as it puts a constant demand on the digestive system without a break. You can expand on the Ayurvedic approach by knowing your metabolic type or what Vedic science calls your doshas. This will help you choose foods that best balance your hormones and digest best in your body. I’ve personally tried Ayurveda’s approach and found it limiting in that it didn’t consider my personal function as much. For example, I found that Ayurveda recommended too many carbohydrates without first looking at things such as digestion and gut bacteria. Vedic science helped point me in the direction of individuality in diet with the study of my unique doshas; however, the journey didn’t stop there. What I took from here, and suggest to others is – eating less frequently is ideal and to consider your unique body. From here, I suggest discovering your metabolic type to determine optimal ratios of macro nutrients, as well as utilizing some of the benefits modern science has to offer such as a few really good supplements like MCT oil, minerals, digestive enzymes, and probiotics.
What Are Your Cravings Telling You?
Cravings serve a purpose, though many of them seem like evil ones; sugar cravings, junk food cravings and so on. Overall, they give us amazing clues into what our bodies need by showing us where we stand. Here are a few basic cravings and what they tell us about our body’s needs:
This is a sign of an emotional craving; the limbic brain is in survival mode telling the body to eat something before you die. Sugar provides a quick fix of energy, which tells you that your blood sugar is likely unstable. This could be a result of imbalanced hormones from stress, poor diet, medications or even simple lack of sleep. Ever notice how a day after drinking and bad sleep all you want is coffee and carbs the next day? Sugar cravings all imply gut bacteria imbalances. Bad bugs live off sugar and will send signals to your brain to feed them. It doesn’t take more than a few bad lifestyle choices to throw off your gut flora. If you’re craving sugar, then try these things first – hydrate with quality mineral water, liquid probiotics, fermented foods, sour foods such as lemon water or berries. Pairing these foods with healthy fats such as grass-fed butter, avocados, coconut or dark, sugar-free chocolate are also smart ways to cut sugar cravings as they balance blood sugar and provide fuel for the brain.
This is another emotional trigger by the limbic brain. Chocolate provides a stimulating effect for the brain as it increases dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters. Again, the body is thinking it’s in starvation mode, likely due to a lack of healthy fat in the diet. This could also be due to a general lack of love and fun in your life. Remember, it’s all connected – mind, body, and spirit. If you’re craving something sweet, you probably need more sweetness in your life. Considering chocolate is a source of oxytocin (the love chemical) I find that only ironic that this craving might be a signal for more love in life. Perhaps you need to rekindle an old passion, find romance or, best of all, just give love to others unconditionally.
Chips, crackers and popcorn tickle your fancy? This is a god indicator of a mineral deficiency. Women more so than men have this craving as their hormones function different. Salt is a very necessary nutrient that has many functions. One of the most important roles salt has is aiding the function of the adrenals and thyroid. These glands, which regulate our hormones, need minerals to function. If this is a craving for you, you may find a simple fix in adding REAL sea salt to your meals. Redmond’s is one of my favorites, but pink sea salt works too. These sea salts are unrefined and come with additional trace minerals (over 60), all which aid the adrenals and thyroid to help balance hormones. You can also try humic and fulvic mineral supplements.
Tips For Timing For Foods
Eat fats for breakfast, proteins for lunch and carbs for dessert.
Eating carbs in the morning (bagels, muffins, fruit) will set you up for an energy spike and crash. What we eat first determines a lot about how we will feel throughout the day. Breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day. Try having a breakfast higher in fat and moderate in protein to stabilize your energy levels. If you must have a pick-me-up and can’t sleep more, first try light exercise and nature. Then try something like Bulletproof coffee, a sugar-free Matcha latte with coconut oil and added adaptogenic herbs such as ashwaganda and gynostemma. You’ll likely be stable for a few hours before you get really hungry and when you do, you’ll make wiser choices, as you won’t be in starvation mode. Carbs for breakfast not only make you hungry later and unstable, they get you out of fat-burning mode, which keeps your brain from working at full speed. This is why so many diets recommend hardly any carbs. However, instead of going to those extremes, just simply time your carbs to have them for dinner. This is wise because carbs trigger the release of tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin, which makes you sleepy.
Light to Heavy
Ideally, we would eat our heaviest meal during midday (12-2 p.m.) because this is typically when our digestive systems are strongest. However, this will be slightly individualistic as it depends when you wake up. If your lifestyle is on point, you are in bed by 10 and waking up naturally, which would put your biggest meal at around midday.
As a rule of thumb:
- Make breakfast light. Think Bulletproof coffee, a green smoothie with avocado, or even vegetable soup with added coconut oil. Keep some fat in there to keep energy stable.
- Make lunch (mid-day) your largest meal.
- Make dinner heavier than breakfast in terms of quantity, but lighter in that there is less protein and fat.
Decisions about what, how and why you eat should be based not only on what works and what doesn’t, but also based on what allows you to achieve the ideal balance of both performance and health. Don’t limit your choices to fragmented views and opinions. Man doesn’t live on bread alone and health is more than just the body game. Without considering what’s good for your overall life, your spirits will be drained no matter how meticulous your dieting is.
Unfortunately, most nutrition recommendations only take into account the former (performance and at all cost) without considering the latter, which are long-term effects on your gut, heart, and brain – not to mention your overall happiness and life purpose.
Consider these call-to-actions for applying this new broader view of healthy eating to your life:
- Determine your metabolic type
- Figure out your basic daily function for life (athlete, entrepreneur, mother, etc.) and how it effects your dietary demands
- Plan to win- planning is the best way to increase our luck. Once you know which foods are ideal for you, plan ahead. Make sure you stay stocked up with meals. You might even want to learn to cook and spend a day prepping a few staples to have with you.
- Communicate with your body: ask your body before each meal what it needs. Do not let meal prepping pre-determine each moment fully. Though planning helps increase the odds, we can’t always be sure they will go 100% as planned. If you don’t make it to the gym, or have a change of plans, you might not need that salmon steak. Stay present by communicating with your body for each meal.