Functional Health Services for Your Well Being

A better guide to food – part II

CAUTION FOODS

Caution foods are all foods that are inherently fairly healthy, but for one reason or another, cannot be consumed indiscriminately. For the most part, they are relatively new to our evolutionary history…they are primarily the products of the agricultural revolution which began about 10, 000 years ago. If we were able to travel back 20, 000 years in time, very few of the caution foods would be found on the plates of our ancestors.

Caution foods should make up 10% to 30% of our daily caloric intake, depending, primarily, on our ability to digest and/or metabolize them well.

WHOLE GRAINS

There is no doubt that whole grains provide a number of beneficial nutrients for the human body. The question is really whether we can digest them or not, and, if we can, whether or not they have a negative affect on our metabolism.

Here’s the thing. As a species, we humans have been eating grains for less than 10,000 years…a drop in the evolutionary bucket. Many of us, especially those who’s ancestry is northern European, do not have the ability to digest gluten or lectins, proteins which are found to varying degrees in most grains. Gluten and lectins are the primary culprits in digestive disorders such as Celiac Disease, IBS, Chron’s, food intolerances, and many autoimmune diseases. If you are blond haired and blue eyed, it is highly likely that you do not tolerate grain digestion very well.

If you are dark haired and green eyed…don’t start gloating yet! Even if you do tolerate gluten and lectins, there are other issues with grains. Most grains contain phytates, compounds which interfere with the absorption of minerals, namely calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron.  Grains are also nutritional lightweights compared to the foods that they have replaced…high quality meats, fruits and vegetables. Sure they have some vitamins and some fibre, but compare the nutrients in a bowl of “high fibre” cereal to a big salad or to a steak from a naturally raised animal and you will find the cereal to be woefully lacking. Add to this the fact that most “whole” grains are still packaged in highly processed foods like cereals or breads full of ingredients you can’t even get your mouth around. The bottom line is simply that whole grains have a small place in our diet and we should be careful not to over-consume them.

My Top Grain Picks

Oatmeal and Brown Rice

BEANS AND LEGUMES

Beans and legumes are the fibre champions of food. In a society severely lacking in fibre, they can make up for many of the shortcomings of processed foods. They are high in carbohydrate, but because they digest so slowly, this carbohydrate does not have much of a glycemic effect and can actually help to keep blood sugar levels stable in those who are resistant to insulin. They are also packed with vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Finally, they are an excellent source of vegetarian protein.

So why not “all beans all the time”? Because of lectins and phytates. Mentioned earlier in association with grains, lectins are a protein found in most foods, but most formidably in beans, legumes, grains and dairy products. They seem to impair gut permeability, making them a major player in digestive and autoimmune disorders. Processing seems to inactivate lectins to a certain extent…for example, soaking beans for 12 hours and then cooking them eliminates much of the lectin content…but for many people bean and legume digestion remains a problem.  Also mentioned earlier, phytates impede mineral absorption, specifically calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron.  Cooking and soaking will partially inactivate phytates as well.

Once again, we should try not to over-consume beans and legumes, particularly if we suffer from difficult-to-diagnose digestive or autoimmune disorders.

My Top Bean and Legume Picks

Black Beans, Green Peas and Red Lentils

SOY PRODUCTS

Soy products are confusing. On the one hand, soy has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and is also linked to a reduction in menopausal symptoms. On the other hand, it has been associated with disturbed menstrual cycles, a higher risk of some cancers, heart irregularities, mood disorders, thyroid dysfunction, mineral mal-absorption and pancreatic problems.

What gives?

It seems that soy is good for you in small doses, and bad for you in large doses. Isoflavones in soy are estrogenic, which means they fill up estrogen receptors in cells. If you are menopausal, a little soy can help to soften out the wild fluctuations in estrogen you are undergoing. Too much can cause a build-up of estrogen, which predisposes you to certain cancers.

Protease inhibitors in soy can inhibit cancer growth. But too much exposure to these inhibitors can create a serious protein absorption issue.

Phytates in soy inhibit the absorption of certain minerals.

The best advice about soy consumption, then, is to have a little, but not too much. Whatever that means? If you eat a lot of processed food, start looking at the ingredients…almost everything has soy in it. If you don’t eat much processed food, then a serving of soy per day probably won’t hurt you, and may be beneficial. But stick to fermented soy products like miso and tempeh. The fermentation process minimizes many of the problems associated with soy consumption.   Soy milk, soy burgers, soy ice cream, soy lattes and most other processed soy products are just as bad for you as the junk they are replacing.

And whatever you do, do not feed soy formula to your babies!

My Top Soy Picks

Tempeh and Miso

WHOLE DAIRY PRODUCTS

It’s really too bad. Milk could be so good for you. It could have great fats, great proteins, great carbohydrates and great micronutrient content. It could be easily digestible for most people.

But it isn’t, it doesn’t and it can’t!

To begin, milk is generally mass produced from cows fed grains instead of the natural grasses they evolved to eat. In Canada we are lucky to have strict controls on things like growth hormones and antibiotics, so we don’t have some of the issues the Americans have with their milk. But it still carries traces of pesticides, and its nutrient content gets all messed up by eating the wrong food.

And then we pasteurize it. Pasteurization destroys enzymes and vitamins, denatures proteins, kills beneficial bacteria, and lowers B12 and B6 levels. If that isn’t bad enough, we then take the fat out of it to make it low fat. This disrupts the absorption of any nutrients, particularly calcium, that are still left in it.

So what we end up with is certainly an inferior product to the stuff our grandparents were drinking. No wonder it is associated with so many diseases.

Personally, I do not subscribe to the notion that modern Canadian milk is poison incarnate. I think it retains some beneficial qualities…it just isn’t the wonder food that the milk marketing board makes it out to be. A glass or two isn’t going to kill you…just please don’t waste your time with the low fat stuff.

I do believe, however, that unpasteurized milk from grass fed cows is a wonder food…at least for those who are able to digest milk. Unfortunately, raw milk is such a political hot potato that it is almost impossible to get in Ontario, so we won’t even go there.

I also believe in the nutritive value of butter and yoghurt. Although both these will be better if they come from grass fed cows and are unpasteurized, the commercial version is still acceptable. As mentioned above, butter is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and helps with digestion and immunity

Likewise, yogurt has a number of excellent nutritional qualities. Most importantly, it helps to balance the bacteria in your gut which are responsible for immunity and proper nutrient assimilation. Yogurt is made by fermenting milk, and this fermentation process is what provides it with the enzymes and microorganisms which make it so healthful. It also makes yoghurt a much more digestible dairy product for those who do not digest dairy very well. When buying yoghurt, make sure it contains “living yogurt cultures” or ‘active cultures”. These cultures provide the probiotics which are responsible for many of yogurt’s nutritional benefits. Also, the fewer ingredients the better. The list of additives and sweeteners in some yogurts make them “junk food” masquerading as health food. Ideally, there should only be milk and live cultures in it.

Which brings us, finally, to cheese? Cheese is difficult to classify, since there are such a variety of products that claim to be cheese. Let me just say that there are all kinds of “cheese products” out there that don’t deserve to be called food. Like milk, the source is very important. Raw cheese from grass fed cows is a wonder food. Cheese Wiz is an abomination. The middle ground will be left to your discretion

My Top Dairy Picks

Full Fat Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese

RAW HONEY AND MAPLE SYRUP

From an evolutionary perspective, we are hard wired to like sweet stuff. If it was sweet, it was easy energy. It was also very rare. So having a sweet tooth was never a health hazard for a caveman.

In our processed food world, sweet food is incredibly abundant. For the most part, the things which make our food sweet are just plain bad for us. They make us fat. They make us diabetic. They give us heart disease. They are the bane of Western health care. More on these foods below.

There are a few exceptions…foods which sweeten but which also provide nutritional benefits. Honey and maple syrup are the two most readily available for Canadians, although things like stevia powder, agave nectar, and blackstrap molasses deserve honourable mention.

Raw honey and maple syrup have a high vitamin, mineral and anti-oxidant count. They do not “rob” your body of nutrients every time you consume them. And they add a rich flavour to any foods you combine them with.

Still, the temptation to consume a few cups of maple syrup a day must be avoided. As I’ve already mentioned a few times, we were never designed to eat high levels of easily digestible carbohydrate. It’s simply not good for us.

My Top Sweetener Picks

Raw Honey and Pure maple Syrup

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