Tag Archives: balance

Food Systems

Food does not come out of thin air — foodstuffs generally need dirt, water, sunlight, and some kind of seed. Food does not magically appear in supermarkets — food is generally processed, stored and transported. Much of the time, food doesn’t even appear on your plate without substantial further storage, processing and cooking at home or out and about. Food doesn’t become nutrition until your digestive system profoundly processes whatever food goes into your mouth. Food originates within systems both natural and man-made. Human agricultural, food processing, food marketing, and consumer practices deeply shape the nature of our food, the ultimate nutrition it may provide, local economies and the ecology of our planet.

Food Systems for health

PRINCIPLES OF A HEALTHY, SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEM

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Nurses Association, American Planning Association, and American Public Health Association initiated a collaborative process to develop a set of shared food system principles. The following principles are a result of this process and have been collectively endorsed by these organizations:

We support socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable food systems that promote health – the current and future health of individuals, communities, and the natural environment.

A healthy, sustainable food system is:

HEALTH-PROMOTING

• Supports the physical and mental health of all farmers, workers and eaters
• Accounts for the public health impacts across the entire lifecycle of how food is produced, processed, packaged, labeled, distributed, marketed, consumed and disposed

SUSTAINABLE

• Conserves, protects, and regenerates natural resources, landscapes and biodiversity
• Meets our current food and nutrition needs without compromising the ability of the system to meet the needs of future generations

RESILIENT

• Thrives in the face of challenges, such as unpredictable climate, increased pest resistance, and declining, increasingly expensive water and energy supplies

DIVERSE IN

• Size and scale—includes a diverse range of food production, transformation, distribution, marketing, consumption, and disposal practices, occurring at diverse scales, from local and regional, to national and global
• Geography—considers geographic differences in natural resources, climate, customs, and heritage
• Culture—appreciates and supports a diversity of cultures, socio-demographics, and lifestyles
• Choice—provides a variety of health-promoting food choices for all

FAIR

• Supports fair and just communities and conditions for all farmers, workers and eaters
• Provides equitable physical access to affordable food that is health promoting and culturally appropriate

ECONOMICALLY BALANCED

• Provides economic opportunities that are balanced across geographic regions of the country and at different scales of activity, from local to global, for a diverse range of food system stakeholders
• Affords farmers and workers in all sectors of the system a living wage

TRANSPARENT

• Provides opportunities for farmers, workers and eaters to gain the knowledge necessary to understand how food is produced, transformed, distributed, marketed, consumed and disposed
• Empowers farmers, workers and eaters to actively participate in decision-making in all sectors of the system

A healthy, sustainable food system emphasizes, strengthens, and makes visible the interdependent and inseparable relationships between individual sectors (from production to waste disposal) and characteristics (health-promoting, sustainable, resilient, diverse, fair, economically balanced, and transparent)
of the system.

from: http://www.planning.org/nationalcenters/health/foodprinciples.htm

You can download a PDF version of these principles here: https://planning-org-uploaded-media.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy_resources/nationalcenters/health/pdf/HealthySustainableFoodSystemsPrinciples_2012May.pdf

MAKING BETTER FOOD CHOICES: Behavior Change Basics

MAKING BETTER FOOD CHOICES

Behavior Change Basics
To begin changing your behavior and habits, it helps to know where you are starting from. You need to pay attention to your current dietary habits and preferences. What are your dietary strengths to build on? What are your dietary weaknesses to shore up? Next, you need to familiarize yourself with what may be the best dietary practices suited to you. This needs to be a personalized blending of self-knowledge and credible dietary information. Sorting through and prioritizing potential changes is key, since you can’t change everything at once! In the end, to achieve a sustainable set of changes over the long haul, you need to maintain focus and rewards. Writing down your goals and celebrating your successes can carry you a long way in making better food choices. One thing successful people have in common is that they are very focused and strongly goal oriented. 

Behavior Change Basics

Practice Self-Awareness/Mindfulness — focus and attention is required for optimal behavior change. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to yourself and your surroundings. If you want to make realistic changes, it helps to be aware the actual realities within yourself and your environment. You can greatly facilitate the long process of behavior change by gaining ongoing, accurate assessment and feedback on your progress. The most direct way to sustain focus and attention is to write your goals down, put them up where they will be visible to you, and make note of your progress. Also, sharing your plans and getting feedback from a trusted friend can be another source of grounding yourself in reality and getting support.

Get Credible Information — There is a lot of different and conflicting information about diet and nutrition. When sorting through information, consider the source’s expertise, perspective, and bias. Here are some questions to consider:

What is the author’s relevant education, training, or experience?
What types of sources does the author cite?
Is the information current, state-of-the-art?
Is the author affiliated with a reputable organization or group?
What is the purpose, philosophy, or ideology associated with the information?
Is there a commercial or financial interest tied into the information?
Are all sides of an issue presented fairly?
Are appeals made on emotions (such as fear)?
Are unrealistic claims made?

Set Effective Goals — effective goals are only the one’s that you get accomplished. Here are some tips for setting goals that work for you:

Keep It Meaningful — the most meaningful goals are the one’s that will get you the biggest dietary payoff for the least effort. Of course, your goals should address the values that are most relevant to you: what aspects of diet and nutrition are most important to you?
Focus on the Positive — begin by building on your strengths. Do more of something you are already pretty good at. Focus on adding good foods and dietary practices rather than eliminating or depriving yourself.
Set Challenging But Attainable Goals — Avoid setting too many goals or too large goals, which may set yourself up for failures. Break large goals into smaller steps. Challenge yourself when your motivation is high. However, recognize that motivation will have its ups and downs in the long term, and plan accordingly.
Write Your Goals Down — writing down goals crystallizes your commitments and provides a tangible tool to most effectively guide your efforts.
Put Your Goals Up — place your written goals in places where you will see them regularly. Planting reminders in places nearby when you buy food, prepare food, or eat food can be particularly helpful for keeping on track.
Make Your Goals Specific & Measurable — your goals should be specific enough so that you know if you have reached them.
Include Time-Frames in Your Goals — adding time-frames to your goals gives you a more robust framework to measure your goals and serves as a tool to break larger goals into smaller, realistic steps. Deadlines may boost motivation as well.
Build in Rewards for Success — celebrate successes along the way. Identify what rewards will help you celebrate your success and motivate you even more. Set specific times to review your progress. Put it on your calendar and/or tie your progress review to regular events such as before grocery shopping, Monday’s lunch, or any other at least weekly routine.
Keep It Simple — Don’t get bogged down with too many goals. If you have too many goals, start with a few simple ones. If you start with goals with shorter time-frames, you can build early successes and perhaps move on more quickly to your other goals.
Prioritize — You can’t do everything at once. Not everything is of equal importance or effectiveness. What dietary practices will improve your quality of life the most for the least time and effort? Make your short list and focus your efforts on that.
Keep It Flexible — Things change. Adjust to changing circumstances and follow emerging motivations or new information. After all, they are your goals and they should serve you, not the other way around.

Landmarks in Food Choices

Ultimately, the goal of addressing your food choices is to better align your own values, thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors with one another. Hopefully, by leveraging the positive attributes in your life, you can build on your assets and shore up weak spots, to live a balanced and healthy life — for yourself, the people around you, and the planet which feeds us. One way to help navigate such an enterprise is to reflect on the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of food-related choices. Consider these questions:

WHO?

Who grows my food?
Who processes/prepares my food?
Who do I buy, cook, and/or eat food with?
Who influences my eating habits the most?
Who profits from the food I eat?
Who may be harmed in the process of me getting my food?

WHAT?

What foods do I eat regularly?
What are the nutrient densities of the foods I eat regularly?
What eating habits can I change that will offer the biggest benefit?
What plans do I have to help me make positive food changes?

WHEN?

When do I eat typically eat my meals/snacks?
When do I find my eating choices are most compromised?

WHERE?

Where does my food originate from:
Geographically?
Ecologically/Biologically?
Politically/Economically?

WHY?

Why is nutrition and/or food justice important to me?

HOW?

How is my food grown and harvested?
How is the nutritional value of my food changed from farm to table? What is added/removed/modified?
How much variety do I get in my diet?
How often do I try new recipes or new foods?
How much do I enjoy each bite of food I eat?
How ecologically-sustainable are the foods I eat?
How much food do I waste?
How much waste results from packaging and eating of my foods?
How much time am I willing to invest to improve my eating habits?
How much nutritional value do I get for my food dollar?
How accurate, balanced, and unbiased is the food and nutrition information that I use?
How balanced are my food and nutrition practices relative to my other health practices and values in life?

Chemicals and Obesity

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that obesity has been rising, even though Americans are consuming fewer calories.  This seems puzzling to many.  Changes in physical activity, the amount of calories burned, doesn’t appear to explain this discrepancy.  As stated by the co-author of the study, Dr. William Dietz, former CDC director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, “It’s hard to reconcile what these data show, and what is happening with the prevalence of obesity.”

However, evidence is growing that chemicals in our food, water, and environment may be changing our bodies’ hormonal balances and metabolism.  Such chemicals are called endocrine disruptors.  When linked to hormonal disorders linked to obesity they are called obesogens (literally, “causer of obesity”) — see here for more on the obesogen hypothesis.

A recent scientific review summarizes data from experimental animals and humans which support an association of endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as diethylstilbestrol, bisphenol A, phytoestrogens, phthalates, and organotins, with the development of obesity.  The reviewers state, “The reasons for this sharp increase in overweight/obesity are not well understood but factors such as high fructose diets, genetics/epigenetics, increased maternal age, sleep debt, use of certain pharmaceuticals, and the built environment have all been proposed as playing a role.”  They conclude:

“The data included in this review support the notion that brief exposure early in development to environmental chemicals with estrogenic activity increases body weight gain with age and alters markers predictive of obesity in experimental animals. Furthermore, epidemiologic studies support the findings in experimental animals and show a link between exposure to environmental chemicals (such as estrogenic chemicals, BPA, PCBs, DDE, and persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals) and the development of obesity.Importantly, the use of soy-based infant formula containing the estrogenic component genistein has been positively associated with obesity later in life. Using the DES animal model as an important research tool to study “obesogens”, the mechanisms involved in altered weight homeostasis (direct and/or through endocrine feedback loops, i.e., ghrelin, leptin, etc.) by environmental estrogens can be elucidated. In addition, this animal model may shed light on areas of prevention. Public health risks can no longer be based on the assumption that overweight and obesity are just personal choices involving the quantity and kind of foods we eat combined with inactivity. It is quite possible that complex events, including exposure to environmental chemicals during development, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.”

For more on how our corporate economy is contributing to our living in a chemical soup which can alter our physiology and metabolism, check out: Obesogens & Canned Tales: Lessons in Corporate Social Responsibility.

Nutrient Basics

Nutrient Basics

Nutrition is about getting essential elements and compounds from our environment and transforming them into the metabolic building blocks of optimal health.

Moving from Staying Alive to Optimal Nutrition

Nutritional status exists on a continuum from simply staying alive to optimal health. Humans can stay alive with a few dozen essential nutrients. Optimal health involves thousands of compounds, many lumped into the category of “phytonutrients”, where “phyto” refers to plants. Phytonutrients are often referred to in terms of their antioxidant properties, which play a key role in a whole host of metabolic processes. This is the central reason for the importance of a plant based diet in optimal health.

In the short term, oxygen is the most essential element. Without oxygen, we would die within minutes. Breathe! The most fundamental metabolic process is oxidation, coupled with reduction. Oxidation is the chemical process where atoms and molecules gain electrons, whereas reduction is the loss of electrons. This oxidation-reduction process is how energy is transferred to power the thousands of different chemical reactions in your body. Maintaining the balance of oxidation and reduction is the most fundamental metabolic balance in your body. This is why antioxidants (reductants) are so important and play a central role in overall nutrition and health.

Without water, we would die within days. Water is a miraculous molecule with unique physical and chemical characteristics which make human life possible. Water comprises the majority of our body weight (in a healthy body). Not surprisingly, hydration is important for our health. Drink up!

Provided we have oxygen and water, it is possible to live for months on foods of very poor nutritional quality, that provide mostly energy/calories. The caloric nutrients are carbohydrates (starches and sugars), fat, protein, and alcohol. Carbohydrates are the most easily converted to energy in the body, and produce water right along with their metabolism (that’s why they are called carbo-hydrates). Fats are the most energy dense of the caloric nutrients and the primary way we store energy over the long haul. Protein functions primarily as a building block for muscle and enzymes in the body, but excess protein is converted to energy or stored as fat. During caloric restriction, protein may be broken down for energy. Alcohol is calorie dense, may impair the metabolism of other nutrients, and can dehydrate the body. Fats have 9 calories per gram; carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram; and alcohol has 7 calories per gram.

To survive over the years, your body requires vitamins and minerals. Most vitamins are essential enzymes that cannot be manufactured by the body, so you must get them from your diet. Most minerals are involved as cofactors of enzymes, hundreds of enzymes! Enzymes make complex chemical reactions work in your body. Think of enzymes as workers on an assembly line. You need many workers to work together to produce a complex product. With so many enzymes in action, this is why supplementing or fortifying with a small number of vitamins and minerals often doesn’t promote balanced nutrition. It’s like having one, or a few, kick-ass assembly line workers, but instead of assisting the assembly process, they just end up diverting energy elsewhere. An assembly line is only as fast as it’s slowest worker! So, vitamin and mineral supplementation/fortification is good for preventing a limited number of deficiency states, but it cannot address the whole range of metabolic processes that need to be coordinated and boosted across the board for optimal health. This is why a good diet must be based on whole foods. We need foods that will infuse our bodies with a robust range of nutrients — that, like a tide, will rise the boats of all of the assembly workers (to mix in another generous portion of metaphor).

To live a long, healthy life, we need thousands of nutrients — not merely the few dozen “essential” nutrients identified in the last century. There are estimated to be tens of thousands of different phytochemicals. Only a few percent of these have been isolated; and only a small fraction of these have been analyzed and tested. Nonetheless, while the nutritional science of phytochemicals is young, phytonutrients are not some mystical concept. Research thus far shows that:

• Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity that protect our cells against oxidative damage; this antioxidant activity reduces inflammation, the root cause of much degenerative/chronic diseases
• Some phytochemicals stimulate enzymes, promoting healthy metabolism and detoxification
• Some phytochemicals help regulate healthy hormonal action
• Some phytochemicals regulate and protect DNA, affecting cancer prevention and healthy aging
• Some phytochemicals have anti-microbial properties, fighting against pathogenic infections and stimulating a health gut flora

One common nutrient is found only in plants: fiber. Fiber is often considered “non-nutritive”, but this is a big mistake. There are two basic types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Most fiber is insoluble and provides the bulk or roughage in our diets. Soluble fiber is particularly adept at binding with cholesterol and toxins to carry them out of your system. Fiber slows the digestion of nutrients, spreading out the intake of caloric nutrients, allowing for a more balanced and healthy metabolism. Fiber is the single most important factor in satiety, feeling full. Fiber may not be digested by human enzymes but it is partially digested by the gut bacteria living in the most concentrated, biodiverse place on the planet. This promotes healthy gut bacteria, which are essential to optimal human nutrition. Fiber is the most basic pro-biotic.

In short, a diet rich in whole plant foods is the foundation for optimal nutrition and health.

Ten Commandments of Eating for Life

10 Commandments of Eating for Life

1. Eat whole, minimally processed foods whenever possible

Nature knows best. Eating foods in a form that resembles the state in which they were harvested is a good bet for optimizing a food’s nutritional value. “Whole” means that the food’s original nutritional potential is substantially present by the time they get in your mouth. “Whole” refers to the basic foodstuffs from nature. The nutritional value and quality of basic foodstuffs depends upon many things, including:

1) the genetics of the foodstuff (plant, animal, fungus, or variety thereof);
2) the inputs which make food grow, such as soil, water, air, sun, and fertilizer (and feed for animal foods); and
3) the larger ecology, including weather, symbiotic organisms, weeds, or pests.

“Minimally processed” means that the food is processed only as much as is necessary to:

1) enhance nutritional availability;
2) prevent the loss of nutritional value;
3) assure that the food is safe; and
4) make the food palatable.

Food processing generally encompasses:

1) removing, refining, altering food components;
2) food storage or preservation methods;
3) adding/combining ingredients; and
4) cooking methods.

2. Eat a wide variety of wholesome foods.

Your body requires a wide variety of nutrients. Meeting your body’s nutrient requirements is best achieved by eating a wide variety of wholesome foods. Mix it up! Many compounds in our diets interact with one another, often with great synergy. Mixing it up can make the sum greater than the parts. Be wary of fad diets that greatly restrict your food variety or focus on a small number of foods or nutrients. Your body is awesome at maintaining “homeostasis” — a fancy word for balance — it just needs a sensible input of wholesome foods.

3. Eat mostly plant foods.

Plant foods offer a wider variety and better mix of health-forming nutrients than animal foods. Much of this is due to a large number and quantity of positively bioactive phytonutrients present in plants. However, animal foods also contain substantial components which are disease-forming. Also, foods higher up the food chain, i.e., all animal foods, tend to bioaccumulate toxins such as heavy metals and fat-soluble chemicals. In modern, industrialized diets, higher animal food consumption is associated with poorer health.

4. Eat and drink in moderation.

Moderation is a close relative of variety. Moderation and variety are practices that support balance. For most people, balance means eating more good foods and less “bad” foods. If indulging in “bad” foods, do so in moderation. Eliminating your favorite foods may do more harm than good, if it does not allow you to make sustainable changes to your diet. Small changes over time add up! And, even with the best foods, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. As they say, “The dose makes the poison.”

5. Eat regular meals.

Your body functions better when your food intake is spread out across three meals a day. Breakfast is key to priming your metabolism and getting an energetic start to your day. Snacking between meals probably adds little additional benefit, and may be detrimental to oral health. Drinking water between meals may be a good habit to stay hydrated (unsweetened, plain coffee/tea can be a healthy source of antioxidants — though you may want to avoid caffeine 10 hours before bedtime).

6. Eat ecologically-sustainable foods.

All life is interdependent. What we eat not only affects our nutritional status, it affects our planet and all life that depends on it. Ecologically-sustainable foods are part of a healthy, sustainable food system. A healthy, sustainable food system emphasizes, strengthens, and makes visible the interdependent and inseparable relationships between individual sectors (from production to waste disposal) and system characteristics (health-promoting, sustainable, resilient, diverse, fair, economically balanced, and transparent). This benefits all farmers, workers and eaters involved, as well as the planet and its other inhabitants.  Explore more at Eating Ecologically.

7. Pay attention to what you eat.

Paying attention, or mindfulness, is key to actively participating as a just eater on an interdependent planet. Mindfulness is the foundation for accurately assessing what you actually eat. Once you know what you are eating, then you can properly evaluate what impact your food has on you and your planet.

8. Pay attention to your eating habits.

Just eating is way more than just knowing the nutritional value of what you are eating. Where does your food come from? How does it get to you? Where did you buy it? How much does it cost? Where do you eat it? How was it prepared? What are your regular eating habits? Why do you eat the way you do? Being mindful of your eating habits can give you important clues to what improvements may be made.

9. Pay attention to the feedback of your body (and mind).

Your body is amazing! Whether you are paying attention or not, your body is busy processing the food you eat and the nutrients it absorbs. Your body is orchestrating gazillions of chemical reactions every second to keep in you balance. Return the favor and pay attention to your body (and mind)! This can help you decipher signals and cues related to taste, hunger, thirst, alertness, fatigue, and emotional state that can impact your food choices. Teaming up with your body can be the beginning of a long and healthy relationship.

10. Enjoy your food!

Food is one of the great pleasures in life! If food and nutrition become a chore, then you may be missing the point. Health is for life. Life is for enjoying! Becoming enlightened about food and nutrition may “ruin” some eating habits for you. There is a certain amount effort and even distress involved in disciplines leading to enlightenment. Nonetheless, the payoff can be greater harmony within yourself and your environment. This is a cause for joy!