A healthy diet is essential to physical and emotional health. For most people it is recommended that they have a diet that consists of fruits and veggies, omega 3, fish oils, whole grains, healthy meats, and a decreased amount of pasta & carbs, red meat and dairy, refined & processed foods (especially sugars), no trans fat (hydrogenated oils), and an increase in mono-unsaturated fats (olive oil, coconut, avocado). Everyone is different and there are thousands of different opinions on what people should and shouldn't eat. I find the best two rules are these:
1. If it's not food, don't eat it. This means, mostly, don't eat processed foods and chemically modified foods. Processed foods have been stripped apart, sanitized, boiled, cooled, bleached, colored, artificially flavored, flavor enhanced (msg added) and bolstered again with added vitamin strands that your body can't even absorb. This is not food.
Do you know why the amount of vegetable and fruit servings keep going up on that food chart? It's not because we've discovered we need more of those, it's because the nutritional value of those foods have decreased over the years. Those foods are becoming emptier so we need more of them to get the same amount of nutrition. If you actually ate the recommended daily servings of fruit, you would be so full there wouldn't be room for anything else. If you want more nutrition out of your food eat organically and gmo free.
2. Listen to your body. Everyone is different. Some people need red meat. Some people need dairy. Some people need grains. Most everyone needs more vegetables. Other's don't. If you listen to your body it will tell you through cravings, nausea, headaches, emotions, aches, energy fluctuations, etc. what sort of foods you need to eat and what you need to stay away from. Experiment for yourself and trust your instincts. Keep a food journal if you are having trouble figuring out how your food is effecting you physically and emotionally. This will help you identify patterns, allergies, and deficiencies.
Water Dehydration has been linked to several health problems including most visceral problems, joint pain, stiffness, muscular and nerve pain, stress, energy deficiencies, mood disorders, memory loss, etc. Experts recommend that, at rest, you should consume half your body weight in fluid ounces per day. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs than you should consume 75 liquid ounces of water per day. This is at rest. The more active you are the more water you need to consume. You do get water through your food as well, but drinking water straight up is, by far, best. Remember that other drinks such as soda, coffee, beer, and tea are all diuretic (dehydrating). They do not count as water consumption, and in fact, you should drink one glass of water for each glass of "other" that you consume in order to maintain adequate hydration. Get a water bottle with ounce marks on the side so you can keep track.
Carbohydrates Carbs (sugars) supply the body with energy. They are found almost exclusively in plant foods- fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Eating natural unrefined sugars provide the body with nutrients. Refined sugars like white sugar and corn syrup are empty of nutrients and cannot be used efficiently in the body. They generally get stored as fat. They also cause the blood glucose levels to spike and cause energy and mood swings.
Fats Fats are used for brain development, cell structures, and provide energy. There are three types of Fats. Saturated Fatty Acids are found primarily in animal products and dairy. The liver uses SFAs to produce cholesterol needed to repair damaged body tissues. Mono-unsaturated Fatty Acids are found mostly in vegetable and nut oils, coconut and avocados. Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids are found primarily in corn, soy, sunflower, safflower and other vegetable oils. Your cells are made up (90%) of SFA and MUFAs. So it stands to reason, that 90% of our fat intake should be SFA and MUFAs. PUFAs are rarely found in the body (10%). Your body doesn't know what to do with most PUFAs so they just get stored as fat. Trans-fats are fat molecules that have been bio-chemically transformed into MUFAs. These unnatural molecules interfere with normal cell function and may cause cell disease, thus they should be avoided.
Amino Acids When you consume proteins, your body breaks it down it Amino Acids which are then used to build muscle, brain matter, and other body tissues. Amino Acids also have a lot to do with your emotions and feelings of well being. A deficiency in Amino Acids can be linked to depression, anxiety, stress, etc. The majority of Amino Acids your body makes. Nine Amino Acids you must get through food. All nine can be gotten from a combination of beans and rice. You can also take Amino Acid supplements. These are particularly helpful when you are feeling stressed or depressed.
Vitamins and Minerals (Micro-nutrients) Getting these naturally through foods are best, because in food, vitamins and minerals are in complexes that are more beneficial to your body. "In complex" means they are found together with other good stuff. The combinations found naturally in food make it easier to absorb, break down, and utilize them in your body. The doctor who discovered vitamin C was trying to figure out why red pepper paste cured scurvy (now known to be caused by Vit C deficiency). But, once he pulled the vitamin C strand out of the red pepper paste and used the synthetically created molecule, the cure rate dramatically decreased. The Vit C alone only cured around 10-20% of scurvy victims, where as the red pepper paste cured around 90%. Vit C found in the red pepper complex is a much more effective treatment.
You can download my list of vitamins and minerals and their natural food sources here.
That being said, the majority of us are nutritionally deficient. Our food is nutritionally deficient, so taking a whole food supplement is not a bad way to go. Not all supplements are the same. Do your research first. I have seen supplements that have the "may cause birth defects" warning on them. Obviously, those can not be good for your body whether you are pregnant or not. I once tried an organic vitamin and mineral supplement that made me severely dizzy every time I took it. If you need help sorting all this out ask a Naturopathic doctor, or your natural grocer expert.
Aspartame and Sweeteners A large portion of independently run studies (not done by the manufacturers) on aspartame consumption have shown a significant increase in brain problems including headaches, visual disturbances, mood swings, nausea, sleep disorders, memory loss, confusion, and even convulsions. Though many studies suggest that humans cannot consume enough of the product to reach toxic levels, I think it's best avoided.
Corn Syrup Another large controversy. Proponents of corn syrup claim it is used no differently in your body than regular sugar. The antagonists argue that the processing regime strips the corn of all its nutrients (which are not much to begin with) leaving it empty, unusable and void of any benefit, where as natural sugar like molasses has many beneficial micro-nutrients. The same can be said of wheat to make processed flour, soy by-products, and most other processed foods. The danger lies in the fact that almost all processed foods list corn syrup in its top ingredients. Consuming a little- no big deal. Consuming it in every food- no wonder America is the fattest nation on earth!
Genetically Modified Foods These are foods that have been grafted together with other foods and plants to make them easier to grow, bigger, and more resistant to pests and diseases. The idea is to have a bigger healthy crop yield. However, some studies show that these foods are less nutritious and can cause other serious internal and digestive problems.
Nutrition For Disorders Bulking up or decreasing certain foods in your diet can have a dramatic effect on pathologies of all sorts. If you are suffering from inflammation, for example, it is best to decrease grains, especially wheat, which is inflammatory causing, and bulk up on curry and ginger which are anti-inflammatory. I recommend the books "If It's Not Food, Don't Eat It", by Kelly Hayford, and "Prescription for Nutritional Healing", by Phyllis Balch. The Nutritional Healing book lists hundreds of pathologies and recommended dietary suggestions to help with each. Feel free to ask me to look something up for you.