by: Yaakov Levine, NTP
The information provided in this article is intended to give a general overview of the topic and is not intended as medical advice. For information specific to your situation, or health concerns, please consult with your medical doctor.
Nutritionally Speaking: Article #5, Five Pillars of Optimum Health – Keep it Simple!
As a nutritionist, researcher and avid learner, I am on a few internet discussion lists. On these lists practitioners post questions to their peers when they struggle to support their clients or patients with complicated health challenges. I often offer a reminder to stick to the basics, making sure those bases are covered before looking for a more exotic, sexier solution.
As nutritionist we learn that all humans are different and demonstrate what is called biochemical individuality. We all have different nutritional needs. It is usually prudent that before we look at the various diet or treatment so called panaceas, we should look at how to support the five basic foundational pillars of health which when combined with a nutrient dense diet result in improved health.
These pillars are digestion, blood sugar balance, mineral balance, fatty acid balance and hydration.
Let’s start with digestion, which is what our bodies do chemically and mechanically to break our food down into molecules that our cells can use. Digestion is fundamental to nutritional therapy because our cells depend on proper digestion to have what they need to function. Digestion is a north to south process. The sight and smell of foods triggers our salivary glands to produce enzymes that start the digestive process. The mechanical breakdown of foods begins in our mouths. Both mechanical and chemical breakdown occurs in our stomachs, and with the addition of enzymes and other chemicals, our food is next ready to pass into the small intestine. The small intestine works as both a digestive organ and a gland that secretes important hormones needed for digestion. It also absorbs nutrients into the blood stream to be carried throughout our bodies.
The process continues south to the large intestines where some lost nutrients are reclaimed with the help of bowel flora, water is recycled back into our bodies and the feces are formed and then transported out of the body.
When I look for dysfunction in the digestive system, I use the north to south roadmap to determine what area of digestion is not functioning optimally. My first question is: “Are you chewing your food?”
Next, let’s look at the role blood sugar balance plays as a foundational pillar for our health. Carbohydrates are the part of our diets that most affect our blood sugar balance because they are converted directly into glucose (blood sugar).
When looking at blood sugar balance we find that the primary organs that need to be functioning properly are the pancreas, liver and adrenal glands. These organs produce various components critical for using the sugars in our diet.
An important component that supports our bones and tissues are minerals, which make up four percent of our bodies. Minerals are classified as macro (large) minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, and micro (small) minerals, including iron and chromium.
These and other minerals act as cofactors for enzyme reaction, help maintain our pH and support healthy nerve conduction. Because our bodies cannot produce these important minerals, we must have them in our foods.
Unfortunately, much of the soil used to grow our vegetables on an industrial level is depleted of minerals and, if the minerals are not in the soil, they will not be in our food. Organic farmers are committed to the health of the soil they grow on, and will deliver to your table mineral-dense vegetables.
Fatty acids, which make up about 15 percent of our bodies, are essential to good health. Contrary to popular belief, a fairly high percent of “good” fats are required for excellent health. These fats are needed as a source of energy, are required for absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and protect the lining of our bodies’ organs.
Other roles healthy fats play include slowing down our body’s absorption of food to allow for energy regulation and, one of my favorite roles for the fats in my diet, they make food taste better. When looking for fats to include in our diets, it is important to look at how these fats are processed, even more than their source. It is best to avoid fats that are processed with chemicals; instead look for “cold” pressed oils in opaque bottles.
As you are reading this, you may be dehydrated. Our last pillar for optimal health, water, is the most important nutrient in our bodies. Did you know that you could go as much as eight weeks without food, but only a few days without water? Water plays many important roles in our bodies, including oxygen delivery to cells, nutrient transport, cushioning our bones and joints and regulating body temperature.
Do you feel fatigued, irritable and headachy? These are all early signs of dehydration.
Did you know that many of the beverages you drink daily are diuretics? Coffee, tea bottled fruit juices, and soft drinks act as diuretics and can deplete our bodies of needed water. It is suggested that for every eight ounces we imbibe of the above beverages we should all consume 12 to16 ounces of pure fresh water to replenish what we lose.
I have barely touched the tip of the iceberg about these pillars crucial to having a foundation for optimum health. Over and over again in my work as a nutritionist I am reminded to look at the basics first…look at what we are eating, making sure the food choices are nutrient dense, and we are able to use the nutrients.
At Natural Grocers in Eugene, where I am the stores’ Nutritional Health Coach, we offer free classes and free one-on-one health coaching sessions (541) 345-3300. Please “like” our Natural Grocers-Eugene Facebook page. Here is the link to our store’s (free!) class schedule: http://www.naturalgrocers.com/store-locations/eugene/OR/events Note; starting last fall, we now offer at least three opportunities most weeks to catch a (free) class at the store, Sunday’s at 1pm, Monday’s at 1pm, and Wednesdays @ 6pm. See you then!