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Good health starts with the right food choices, deciding what to eat and more importantly what not to eat.
Fad diets come and go but a whole food diet and active lifestyle never go out of fashion. Yes –you have heard all this before but somehow the message gets lost in translation. Too often I see patients with too much stress and too little time to make the right food choices. Instead, they turn to packaged foods high in processed sugars (high-fructose corn syrup) and fats (trans-fats), and filled with chemical preservatives and artificial colours and flavours to curb their cravings.
The price they pay for the convenience of their ready-to-eat, shelf-stable food is in the quality of their health and well-being. The advent of the industrialized food industry has mapped closely with the emergence of many chronic auto-immune, inflammatory and neuropsychiatric diseases in the developed world. Myriad problems including diabetes, obesity, and thyroid disease have been linked to the toxic effects of the industrialization of our food supply.
But we can choose to be pro-active in shaping our health through our lifestyle and life choices. Good health, vitality, a sharp mind and strong body all start with our "fork." I tell patients to use their fork to guide them to a diet that is CLEAN, LEAN, and MEAN.
Here is how it goes: CLEAN refers to a plant-based whole food diet focused on locally-grown organic produce. Typically, if your food is grown on a plant, it is probably good for you – but if it's made in a plant, it most probably is not. And choose organic. Organic produce is grown without the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides; many of which are chemicals that act as hormone disruptors and neuro-toxins. The spraying of our crops, industrialization and genetic-modification of our food supply has rendered the food we eat barely recognizable from the food of our grandparents. Their food did not require labels. What you see is what you got. So keep it simple. Better than reading foods labels– pick whole foods that don't require any. Fork over the kale, carrots, and berries (no label reading required – except to ensure they are organically grown) to turn your dinner plate into a phyto-nutrient colour wheel.
LEAN refers to upping consumption of lean protein to reach a daily intake of 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Protein derived from non-animal sources such as fish, nuts, seeds and grains like quinoa may be preferred to protein derived from red meat. Adequate dietary protein is essential to preserve your lean body mass and ideal body shape. The drifting midlife mid-waist is often accompanied by a loss in muscle and bone. And while belly fat is a common complaint, the fix must be as much about keeping the good as it is about losing the bad.
Lastly, MEAN refers to upping your intake of healthy fat for a sharp brain and fierce libido. Healthy omega-3 fats such as the DHA found in salmon and other fish improve cognitive function, memory, and mood. Essential fat is also required to produce our sex steroid hormones such as testosterone. Eating a diet devoid of healthy fat or too high in unhealthy fats, such as saturated or trans fats, can lead to hormone imbalance and a languishing libido. So forget the fat-free fad diets and fork over the sardines and avocados and sprinkle on some walnuts and hemp seeds.
Dr. Jennifer Pearlman is a physician focused on women's health and wellness, a staff physician at the Menopause Clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Medical Director of PearlMDRejuvenation, a women's health and wellness facility.