Many people have a love-hate relationship with food. The things they love, they can’t eat because they are not good for their health. So, as with all issues in life, it is a matter of adapting, of learning to love the things that are good for you. But first you would have to know which food is good for you.
Our brain is all about food. Although it is relatively small, it consumes up to 25% of the energy that enters our body via the food we eat. It is also responsible for what we like and what we don’t like to eat. And unfortunately, it has a tendency to let us like things that are not so good for our health.
In our ongoing development, we humans have very much changed the way we get the energy we need. Our ancestors went out hunting for food and later on started to cultivate the land to have eatables grow close to home. Nowadays, we go to the supermarket to buy all kinds of processed food and even ready-made meals. Just heat them up in the microwave oven and you can start eating.
Convenient, but not the best type of food. Firstly, because you don’t know what has gone into that meal you take of the supermarket shelves or, to be more precise, you don’t bother to read the rather illegible labels. And if you do read them, most of the times you wouldn’t know what they mean exactly.
Secondly, because producers need to put a lot of unwanted chemicals into your ready-made products to make them less perishable. Even most products that are labelled ‘healthy’ or have some kind of reference to being good for your health, turn out to contain a lot of unhealthy fats, sugars, and salt.
In recent times, we have gained a lot of knowledge about the influence of food on our body. All over the world, investigations are taking place into the effects of certain nutrients, targeted specifically towards prevention of diseases. Clever people turn this knowledge into specific diets that are being promoted as the best you can eat to stay healthy and make of lot of money of them.
Many of these diets become quite the rage but then disappear just as fast as they appeared. They turn out not to be so healthy after all, are too limited, or too difficult to implement. Some diets are here to stay, mainly because they fall back on ways of eating that have long proven to keep people healthy.
The Mediterranean diet has become very famous in this respect. It is based on dietary patterns of Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain. It consists of high amounts of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, unrefined cereals, and fish. Consumption of dairy products, mainly cheese and yoghurt, is moderate as is consumption of meat and meat products. It is completed by a regular glass of wine.
Many scientific studies have come up with health benefits thanks to a Mediterranean style diet. A recent European research project with five participating countries and over one thousand participants, concluded the diet might slow down ageing. The Mediterranean way of eating resulted in a decrease in levels of certain proteins involved in the ageing process. The scientists also noted a reduction in the rate of bone loss in people with osteoporosis.
Researchers of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago elaborated on the Mediterranean diet and came up with the MIND diet, specifically directed at keeping your brain healthy. MIND is short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. It is a heart-healthy diet with nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber and has proven to be effective in reducing blood pressure.
The MIND diet contains 15 components: 10 brain-healthy food groups and 5 unhealthy ones. The healthy ones are green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. The unhealthy ones are red meats, butter/margarine, cheese, pastries/sweets, and fried or fast food.
Generally, your MIND diet should consist of 3 servings of whole grains, salad, one more vegetable, a glass of wine, and a nut snack every day. Beans every other day. Poultry and berries twice a week and fish at least once a week. You may eat a few servings per week of red meats and pastries/sweets, but have to limit yourself to maximum 1 tablespoon of butter/margarine daily and less than 1 serving a week of cheese and fried or fast food.
In their experiment, the researchers found out that adhering rigorously to the MIND diet could lower your risk of Alzheimer disease by more than 50%, whereas adhering to it moderately well resulted in a lowered chance of 35%. The longer you stick to the MIND diet the better protection it gives.
Putting more healthy elements into your diet in stead of skipping certain types of food seems to be best for your health, according to a huge research project involving 15,000 people in 39 countries. It turned out eating normally and avoiding all unhealthy things wasn’t the best solution. Going for extra healthy food, for instance a Mediterranean style diet, and taking an unhealthy snack every now and then seems to lower chances of heart attack or stroke more.
A healthy diet not only has to provide a balanced supply of nutrients several times a day, but has to be psychologically satisfying as well. When you force yourself to eat all kinds of healthy foods that you actually don’t like it won’t produce the desired results. As pure as possible, fresh and raw are words that go with healthy eating. If you have the possibility, ‘unsprayed’ and ’free-range meat’ chip in as well.
A good criterion for a healthy diet? The time you spend in the kitchen preparing your food. You need to spend at least one hour per day to prepare your food at home to be eating healthily. If it is less you are probably eating too much fast food and going out to eat in restaurants too often.
Myths and facts
We all think we are experts where food is concerned. Stories about what you should and should not eat for your health abound. Many facts that are going around are based on conventional wisdom and not on scientific research. Registered dietician Lisa Mallonee of Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry debunked some of the myths.
- Gluten-free desserts are not healthier than normal desserts. In fact, they may contain more calories due to gluten substitutes. In general, gluten-free food is only for people diagnosed with celiac disease or with an intolerance for gluten.
- Fat-free and sugar-free does not mean foods are calorie-free. The artificial ingredients needed to make these products tasteful may even lead to more calories.
- Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. They don’t cause weight gain. It is the refined carbohydrates in processed foods that lead to more fat cells in your body.
- Healthy eating doesn’t have to be more expensive. Buy the fruits and vegetables that are in-season to make it more economical. And the long-term health impact of healthy eating may generate impressive savings.
- Fasting to cleanse your body can be dangerous. It isn’t necessary either. A fibre-rich diet moves toxins out of the body in a natural way.
Mediterranean living © Photocreo Bednarek – Fotolia.com
Mediterranean diet © Double Brain – Fotolia.com
Vegetable brain © the_lightwriter – Fotolia.com
Gluten-free © doom.ko – Fotolia.com