As an Emergency Medicine physician, patients frequently ask me what to eat when I am in the process of giving them instructions for discharge. Especially when I tell them to "lose weight, " stop smoking," and get maintenance check ups from their primary care provider. It's funny how often it seems I am the first person to address their health and eating habits.
They are surprised when I tell them to stop smoking because it cuts oxygen supply to their blood vessels by about 50% every time they light up. They seem sincerely amazed that I recommend exercising in a pool when they tell me that because of their chronic back/knee/hip pain they can't follow the simple walking plan I lay out for them. (And, it is very simple: 15 minutes three times a week, then increase to 30 after several weeks, then add a hill, then try to go farther faster, then the possibilities are endless.) As for seeing their primary MD; well, isn't it easier just to come into the ED when I need something? I'll save my answer as fodder for another post.
But, let's get on to the, ahem, meat of this. To eat right you just need to follow three simple rules: nothing in a bag, nothing in a box, nothing in a can.
Nothing in a bag:
Bags include fast food, snack foods, any prepackaged food. Top Ramen anyone? This goes to the ideals also set out in Michael Pollan's "Food Rules: An Eater's Manual." You should only eat things you can pronounce. Lower ingredients = healthier eating with a goal of 1 for everything. The more the food is in its natural state the better. I follow a mostly raw food diet and have never felt healthier and with more energy. On one of my allowed "cheat days" I was craving McDonald's french fries. I honestly tasted every molecule of rancid oil along with several flavors I couldn't quite identify. After about 2 or 3 fries, I threw the rest of the pack away and went to the grocery store for some kale and jicama to make into an awesome salad later that night for dinner.
Nothing in a box:
Again, think prefab foods. Now, I know it's so much easier to get a Lean Cuisine and throw it into the microwave than to take 20 or 30 minutes to prepare something healthier (one of my mixed salads can take almost an hour to prepare.) Not to mention, I had to run to grocery store about 2 - 3 times a week, because when you eat healthier, you need to maintain a large stash of fresh ingredients rather than a collection of boxes in the freezer. Also, boxes generally mean breakfast cereals. Even Special K cereal contains rice, whole grain wheat, sugar, almonds, wheat bran, then "2% or less" of other ingredients including maltodextrin and BHT "for freshness." I don't know about you, but I've never seen a maltodextrin tree, and what is BHT?
On the other hand, meusli contains a mix of rolled oats (uncooked), wheat, rye, triticale, barley, and usually nuts like almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts. Some include some fruit like dates or raisins to add a little touch of sweetness. Add some coconut or rice milk and have a healthier, low glycemic index breakfast. I usually cut up a banana for added fiber and potassium.
Nothing in a can:
Before you start jumping all over me about things like tomato paste or canned vegetables, this is a place to read the label and remember my argument about the fresher the better. How much healthier for you are green beans that come off the plant and to your grocer's display than a can of green beans that is packaged in some kind of liquid, usually with some kind of salt preservative; that have lost their crispness, broken down their fiber, and taste like the can? And, at the risk of sounding too "green," think about trash and recycling. Fresh vegetables come in their own packaging.
Cans also include sodas. Other than tasting good, sodas have no nutritional value. And, you have to think about the sugars, phosphates and caffeine that they contain. Caffeine is a diuretic (it makes you pee more.) As it is, most people don't drink the recommended gallon of water a day they should be drinking. (Eight glasses of water = 8 x 8 oz = 64oz = 1 gallon or four 16 oz bottles.) Add a diuretic and now you're at a water deficit. Your body needs water to perform many vital functions especially digestion. And, we're seeing changes in patient profiles because of it. Whereas diverticulitis used to be a disease of the elderly, I'm now seeing diverticulitis in 30 year olds. The disease comes from not having a high fiber diet and increased pressure on the colon to expel the digested food stuffs. Lots of water helps. And exercise... just saying.
So, there you have it. I can usually give this talk to my patients in about 5 minutes, answer all their questions and send them off to, hopefully, lead healthier, happier, and more flavor-filled lives. Yes, I know it costs more. Yes, I know it takes longer to do. But then, isn't anything that's worthwhile worth doing right?
**I have no financial ties to any of the companies I've mentioned. One of the best books I read on the raw food movement is "Raw Food/Real World" by Kenny and Melngailis