Written by Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC
Diet is a prevalent concern for most North Americans. If you watch television, you will see just how prevalent it is, and you may even see why. Two-thirds of us are obese. Forty-one percent of us get cancer. Over eight percent of us are diabetic. Five to eight percent of us have an autoimmune disorder. Most of us are interested in diet because it is a major factor in our health. I am also professionally interested in it because I believe that there is a strong correlation between diet and mental health. Anything that could affect my Clients is of interest to me.
I make it a habit to ask my Clients about their diets, and I don’t mean only those who suffer from Eating Disorders. For most depressed Clients, for example, there seems to be a “Depressive Diet” characterized by irregular meal times, skipping meals altogether, and eating predominantly low-nutrient foods – including highly processed foods made of white flour, excess sugar, many mysterious chemicals, and hydrogenated fats. People who eat in this way might also eat too many fried foods and drink too much caffeine and too many carbonated soft drinks. This diet seems to produce immediate (but brief) contented moods followed by protracted low moods. It also seems to be addictive.
Although there are other factors in health besides diet, what we eat is the material with which our bodies continually regenerate themselves – including bone, muscle, organs, skin… and brain cells and the biochemicals that influence cognition and mood. This is why my mother always told me, “You are what you eat.” I think about that a lot.
Some people want to lose weight. I am not against dieting for weight loss, but I think that the human body on a healthful diet will find its own best weight. I do become concerned when anyone goes on a weight loss diet that has the words “fast”, or “quick” in its name. I am worried that sudden, severe dietary restrictions can alter body (including brain) chemistry in such a way as to stress, further, a Client who is experiencing other stressors as well.
A number of my Clients have endured such stress – and many health researchers write that stress is the basis for all disease – that they are already physically ill. Diet becomes crucial when we need for it to be both nourishing and medicinal.
There are many well known diets for many conditions. They have been created by physicians, naturopaths, nutritionists, and athletes alike. They are recommended by various experts in many different fields. Here are some commercial diets suggested by nutritionists that I know or that I have worked with:
- Weight Watchers (for those interested in losing weight safely)
- DASH (for weight loss, hypertension, cholesterol reduction, and diabetes)
- TLC (to prevent heart disease)
- Mayo Clinic (also to prevent heart disease)
- Dean Ornish Diet (to prevent and even reverse heart disease)
- Flexitarian Diet (a general diet to improve health that is not as restrictive as a vegetarian diet)
- Mediterranean diet (also a general diet to improve health)
Writing in the United Kingdom for The Independent, Holly Williams examines research indicating that a Mediterranean diet could protect against depression. I believe that any of those diets could help depression.
I do not recommend diets for my Clients because I am not a nutritionist. It is not a secret, however, that for many years I have been on a diet called Eat Right for Your Blood Type. It was created by the father of a naturopath named Peter D’Adamo and is based on extensive research showing that each of the four blood types (O, A, B, and AB) thrives on specific nutrients. As a young woman I had health issues, and my naturopath and chiropractor both suggested this diet. It seemed, and seems, sensible to me since there is no part of the physical body that the blood does not touch. I have been very healthy on this diet, and the hematologist and nurses at the Atlanta Blood Bank where I donate blood and platelets say that my blood is extraordinary. You might investigate this diet if you have health concerns.
Rather than focus on recipes and exact food counts, some of us find it easier to observe guidelines – general ideas about what and what not to eat. Here are some guidelines from the daily newsletter of Andrew Weil, MD:
Preventing Cancer via Your Diet
A healthy diet can help the body in its efforts to heal itself, and in some cases, particular foods can reduce the risks of serious illness. The following may be particularly effective in lowering cancer risk:
Avoid polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, all partially hydrogenated oils and all foods that might contain trans-fatty acids (such as deep-fried foods).
Minimize or eliminate consumption of foods with added sugar.
Increase omega-3 fatty acid intake by eating more cold-water oily fish, freshly ground flaxseed and walnuts.
Reduce consumption of animal foods and try replacing them with plant-based proteins such as whole soy products.
Use hormone-free, organically produced products whenever possible.
Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Eat shiitake, enokidake, maitake and oyster mushrooms frequently.
Drink green tea daily.
Find out which vitamins are right for you.
Sugar is often abused in the American diet. According to CDC, too much sugar can contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, gallbladder and liver diseases, osteoarthritis, infertility, colon cancer, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer. Many nutritionists say that we should have no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day of added sugar – that is 24g or 100 calories worth. The average American is said to consume 22 to 26 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
Be aware that there are many forms of sugar. Look for hidden sugar in commercial foods. Sugar is called many things. Here is an incomplete list from the Harvard School of Public Health: agave nectar, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, and syrup. Sugar is sugar no matter what it is called. Don’t eat too much of it.
All soy is not healthful. Over half the soy in the United States is genetically modified (GM, GMO). For this reason, it might be better to buy organic soy products. If you are not sure whether or not a product has been genetically altered, buying the organic equivalent is the safe thing to do. On all fruits and vegetables, check the small labels.
If there are five numbers in the PLU code, and the number starts with “8″, this tells you that the item is a genetically modified fruit or vegetable.
Naturally, Dr. Weil would like for you to take his brand of vitamins which are expensive. There are other good brands available commercially. Choose one for your age and sex so that you will get the nutrients that you need. I use Alive! vitamins for women over 50. At my doctor’s suggestion, I also take extra Vitamin C, 500 mg of calcium, and 1000 IU of Vitamin E. Do your own research, or ask your doctor what supplements would be best for you.
There are many questionable chemicals that you probably should not eat, so make sure they are not in your food. This (incomplete) list comes from www.saveourbones.com:
- textured soy protein concentrate
- disodium inosinate
- disodium guanylate
- modified cornstarch
- enriched flour
- soybean oil(again, more than half of all soybeans crops grown in the US are genetically modified)
- propylene glycol alginate (this food thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier has many industrial uses including automotive antifreezes and airport runway de-icers.)
- Polysorbate 60 (it is made of corn, palm oil and petroleum; it cannot spoil, so it often replaces dairy products in baked goods and other liquid products. If it cannot spoil, think how hard it will be for your body to digest.)
- BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) (this common additive used to prevent oxidation in a wide variety of foods and cosmetics is listed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in 2005 as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” on the basis of experimental findings in animals. It is also used in jet fuels, rubber petroleum products, transformer oil, and embalming fluid. As if this were not enough, the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) warns that BHT should not be allowed to enter the environment, can cause liver damage, and is harmful to aquatic organisms.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) (Loaded with “unbound” fructose and glucose molecules, studies have shown that it can cause tissue damage that may lead to obesity, diabetes, and also heart disease. HFCS is made from genetically modified corn and processed with genetically modified enzymes. To make matters worse, studies have recently revealed that nearly half of tested samples of HFCS contained mercury.
- Yellow #5 and almost all food colorants are derived from coal tar and may contain both lead and arsenic. Also, and not surprisingly, most coal tar colors could potentially cause cancer.
As I said, look at ingredients. If you don’t know what it is, perhaps you should find out before you eat it.
Naturally, a diet should be joyful because food is among life’s great pleasures; but we must be responsible for what we put into our bodies. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to learn about and to like healthful food, and there are many chefs and nutrition experts in this country and other countries who spend a great deal of time trying to make eating both pleasurable and healthful.
When I talk about diet, my godchildren say, Oh no… another one of Aunt Lane’s health lectures. Actually, I am not as fanatical as they say. I am not asking anyone to give up their favorite foods. If you cannot live without Taco Bell or Wendy’s, then, please, go there… but try to eat other things as well. In fact, a positive approach to diet might be to eat what one loves but also to include additional food elements that could make a difference in your health.
If you have questions about diet, I cannot promise to know the answer; but I know many specialists who might be able to help us.