How Should I Eat to be Healthy?
This is the question that people ask when wanting to embrace a healthy lifestyle. There are so many experts and opinions about what eating healthy entails. How do I really know what eating healthy means? How do I make the right choices? But also, when trying to prevent many common medical diagnoses, the so called “diseases”, the choices seem even more important and difficult. Especially when talking about chronic (lifestyle) diseases, such as many cancers (only about 5% of cancers can be related to inherited gene mutations), type II diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Why is it that we need to ask this type of question?
Unlike other animals in nature, we have lost our intuition on how to eat.
And quite simply, throughout our upbringing and education, we were never taught how to eat healthy. We are, however, constantly brainwashed by large food corporations to eat more and more of the “unhealthy foods” they produce, in order to increase their wealth.
We are never taught what is required to be and stay healthy, not just in the golden years of our lives, but all the way through old age to the almost mythical “healthy” death. We are taught many things in school – math, history, and science. We are even wrongly led to believe that disease is inevitable, and health to the end of life is impossible.
Unfortunately, such important questions as: “How can I stay healthy?” “How should I eat to stay healthy?” And “How can I eat to prevent and reverse cancer?” Are rarely asked, studied, or answered.
Therefore, we have decided to shed some light on this topic.
But first things first: What is health and what does being healthy mean?
Certainly not just the absence of disease.
The WHO (World Health Organization) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity1.”
With this definition in mind, many believe that health is an illusion, and according to WHO’s strict standards most people are unhealthy for most of their lives. Researchers have tried to redefine health, however, doctors found the question uninteresting, since they focus on disease and not health. Medical textbooks are massive catalogues of diseases. However, some efforts to redefine health held some positive outcomes and gave rise to a proposal for a new definition focused on the ability to adapt and self-manage in the face of social, physical, and emotional challenges2,3.
For simplicity reasons, let’s then consider health as this ability to adapt and self-manage. But also aim for a state of vibrant energy and vitality, not just physically, but mentally, that would allow us to live our lives fully.
Now the question is: How can food and nutrition help us achieve this adaptability and vibrant state?
There are certainly many proposals. The list of proposed “diets” is long. The so called “diets”- most of you have probably tried some of them, whether low-fat, vegetarian, “Weight-Watchers”, “Atkins”, ketogenic, “the watermelon diet” or the most recent trend, the carnivore diet. There is even a ranking, released annually by the U.S. News & World Report, of the year’s ‘Best Diets’, with data and information on 39 diet plans. If it interests you, this year’s Best Overall Diet winner, for the fourth consecutive year, is the Mediterranean Diet, followed by the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Flexitarian Diet, tied on number two. The diets were reviewed by a panel of health experts, including nutritionists and specialists in diabetes, heart health, human behavior, and weight loss, who then rated each diet4.
The traditional Mediterranean diet emphasizes a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals5.
Continually emerging research supports the Mediterranean Diet, with many health benefits such as6-18:
- Helps with weight loss and weight management
- Improves heart and brain health
- Increases longevity
- Enhances cognitive function and mood
- Helps prevent, treat and/or reverse chronic illnesses including metabolic syndrome, cancers, liver disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and anxiety.
When giving our recommendations of what a healthy nutrition may look like, you are going to find many common points between “Living Plant Rich Nutrition”, which we advocate for, and the Mediterranean or Green Mediterranean Diet. Hence, many of the benefits and positive findings for the Mediterranean Diet can be applied to the nutrition we recommend. Indeed, both emphasize eating plenty of fresh vegetables and some fruits in season, nuts, seeds and healthy fats, believed to be the main source of the wide array of health benefits attributed to the Mediterranean Diet. However, we do not recommend eating so much animal foods (only small amounts depending on individual needs) and we also highlight the importance of avoiding ultra-processed foods, sugars and simple carbohydrates (e.g., bread, paste, cereal, crackers), unhealthy fats (e.g., vegetable oils and margarine) and alcoholic and caloric beverages (e.g., sugar sweetened beverages, soda). But you will discover more of our nutritional recommendations soon…
Going back to the Mediterranean Diet or any “diet” by the “words of it”, we believe the problem starts with the name “diet”. When you label something a “diet”, although the broadest definition of the word is “food and drink regularly provided or consumed” 19, what most people think and intuit from it is the narrowest definitions of the word, such as “a regimen of food intake planned to meet specific requirements of the individual, including or excluding certain foods20.”
What this interpretation of the term “diet” usually does is to trigger, even if unconsciously, the perception that this type of “diet” is temporary, hence you only need to follow it for a certain period, until reaching a determined goal. After that goal is met, “supposedly” you can go back to eating “normal”, meaning the same way you ate before the “diet”, which led you to needing to do the “diet” in the first place, and will probably lead you, for health related or other reasons, to have to do a new “diet” soon. A vicious, never ending and draining cycle for sure.
Interestingly enough, many of those advocating and deeply committed and convinced by the benefits of a certain “diet”, will defend it feverously, to the point of dispute, because if it worked for them or a certain group of people, it will work for you. That is simply not the truth.
Fortunately, in the example of the Mediterranean Diet, it is more of an eating pattern than a nutrient-restricted or calorie-restricted diet. Nevertheless, although this regimen is rich in anti-inflammatory foods (fresh vegetables and fruits) and built upon plant-based foods and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts and seeds), it also includes dairy, wine and animal products which are definitely not suitable or recommended for many people, especially those suffering from cancer or wanting to prevent cancer.
Even the health foods mentioned earlier might be harmful for some. One person’s superfood can be another’s poison. Therefore, any food regimen you choose to follow must be tailored for you and just for you, because you are unique. So, let’s stop calling it diet and just call it eating! How should I eat to be healthy? Or how should I eat to regain my health?
We are going to give you some healthy guidelines, but once again, bear in mind that this is about you, a unique individual, and so it is ultimately up to you to find out what really works for you or not. Consult with a specialist and get guidance if needed.
Learn to listen to your body and to the way food makes you feel!
General Recommendations for Healthy Eating
1. Fasting and TRE
– Periodic Fasting (e.g., 24h to 48h water fast each week or 1 week water of juice fast when seasons change)
– TRE or Time-Restricted Eating (e.g., eating in a 6 or 8h window, and not eating for 16 to 18h)
– Combination of both (e.g., 24h water fast one day of the week and time-restricted eating the remaining days)
2. Buy Organic Whole Foods
– Local – Buy from local farmers markets or from a local small-scale farm
– Organic – Buy organic as much as possible
– In-season – Buy products from your region, that are in season and ripe
– Unprocessed – Buy unprocessed or minimally processed foods
– Hormone Free – Eat mainly plant-based whole foods, which are inherently free of added animal hormones
3. Eat Living Plant Foods
– Make your plate diverse, colorful, seasonal and healthful
– Plenty of dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, colorful vegetables, sprouted seeds, nuts, beans (mung, adzuki, lentils) and grains (oats, buckwheat), microgreens, seaweeds, mushrooms, healthy fats like seeds, nuts, coconuts, olives and avocados, and small amounts of low sugar fruits, like berries!
– Juicing – organic freshly pressed green juice
– Nurture your body with nutritious foods rich in enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber
– Proper hydration is essential for the renewal and regeneration of all cells, tissues and organs, and to support bodily functions and systems
– Drink plenty of high-quality water (recommended average adequate daily intake for adults of 3.0 liters for men and 2.2 liters for women)
– Drink purified or distilled water (you can easily add back some minerals), or very well sourced spring water
- Preamble to the Constitution of WHO as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19 June – 22 July 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of WHO, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
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- U.S. News Reveals Best Diet Rankings for 2021. https://www.usnews.com/info/blogs/press-room/articles/2021-01-04/us-news-reveals-best-diet-rankings-for-2021, accessed 6 April 2021
- Willett WC, Sacks F, Trichopoulou A, et al. Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;61:Suppl:1402S-1406S.
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Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.