Eating for Lifetime Health and Weight Loss

Have you ever stopped to consider what makes food healthy or unhealthy? Why do green vegetables help the body prevent and reverse disease, while a candy bar causes cell damage? Why does a diet relying primarily on fruits and vegetables promote health, while a diet of fast food or food from boxes, bags, and cans does not?

Life is supported and maintained by macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates and fats. But lasting health is found in the micronutrients. Consider your daily diet of approximately 2,000 calories. You could meet your caloric needs by eating a diet of pure sugar, meat, cereal, French fries, or candy bars. This will keep you alive initially, but disease and system failure will occur at a future date because the cells are not receiving the materials they need to functional optimally. If your goal is health, however, you should strive to fill each calorie with as many micronutrients as possible. You need nutrient-packed calories that are found naturally in a plant-based diet of fruits and vegetables.

For example, consider all of the processed foods in the center aisles of your supermarket. Do they contain high levels of antioxidants, phytochemicals, minerals and naturally occurring vitamins per calorie? Now compare these foods to a cup of spinach or broccoli. Which food has more nutrients per calorie? Which foods are more likely to support and enhance your health? And which foods should make up the majority of your daily caloric intake?

Let's compare two diets. Both contain 2,000 calories but obtain their total caloric intake from very different sources. If you are a typical person eating "modern" foods, breakfast might include a bagel or bowl of cereal and coffee. Before lunch you might indulge in a donut, candy bar or soda to get by because you are feeling tired or suffer from "low blood sugar.” Lunch on the go includes a soda, chips and a sandwich with a cookie for dessert. About 3pm you are again feeling faint, so you eat another snack—perhaps crackers or another coffee. Dinner includes a large piece of meat, bread, potato and a cooked vegetable. Before bed, a bowl of ice cream or the leftover cake from the birthday party tops off the day’s food consumption. How many true nutrients were contained in this day's 2,000-calorie diet? By my count, not very many.

Contrast this with the following highly nutrient-dense diet. Your healthy breakfast begins with a banana berry smoothie containing broccoli, kale and spinach, and a handful of raw almonds. Mid-morning snack includes an apple and water. Lunch is comprised of a large fresh salad, carrot, piece of fruit, and leftover vegetable soup. Before dinner a kiwi is consumed, followed by a nutritious dinner of salad, raw vegetable plate, sprouted grain bread, and vegetable minestrone soup. How do the nutrients per-calorie compare with the first diet? Who do you think will likely suffer the ravages of disease? And who is more likely to suffer from obesity?

Food supplies us with energy and with the nutrients needed to maintain cell function, the necessary raw materials for maintenance and repair of our body. The energy from food is supplied in the form of calories from carbohydrates first and then fats and proteins. The majority of people make daily food decisions based only on this basic level of understanding. This leads to diets that are high protein, low carbohydrate, low fat, and complicated by hours of impossible calorie counting.

Micronutrients are relatively neglected and become only an afterthought, often delivered in the form of a supplement. However, micronutrients (including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants) are also supplied by the food we eat. They do not, however, add to total caloric content. These micronutrients are the key building blocks that are essential for optimal cell function. They are critically important to your future health.

Nutrition counselors will tell you that every day your body requires more than 90 nutrients for optimal function, including 60 different minerals, 16 vitamins, 12 amino acids, and 3 essential fatty acids. This does not include the more than 5,000 different phytochemicals and as yet unstudied compounds in raw fruits and vegetables that maximize cell function and support disease resistance and healing. If you are not obtaining these from your daily diet, your body will beg, borrow, and steal as long as possible until the systems can no longer meet the demands. It is at this point that disease begins to take hold and life suddenly changes.

If your goal is to live a long, healthy life, then a nutrient-dense diet consisting of fruits and vegetables should be the foundation of your daily food consumption. Begin each day with the goal of eating as many nutrient-dense foods as possible. Spend your calories on a plant-based diet of fruits and vegetables with lasting value and benefit. Remember it is not about succeeding or failing with your daily diet, but rather doing your best each day to promote health—one bite at a time.