Monday, September 7, 2009

If You Were Given the Choice, Would You Rather Take Medication or Eat Healthy, Wholesome Foods?

I often subscribe to the fact that my own good health is simply the result of "high-quality genes," but the more I learn about diet, exercise, and attitude affecting our wellbeing, the more I understand the real differences in longevity between my family’s ancestries.

My mother’s side of the family has always held the viewpoint to steer clear of all medical doctors unless it is of the utmost emergency--using prevention over prescription as their central belief system. Whereas, my father’s side always smoked, drank, ate unhealthily, and spent countless hours in the doctor’s office trying to rectify a history of “bad living.”

Thankfully, both of my parents learned to embrace the healthier of the two lifestyles and I was taught to think positively about my own health and well being. In my recollection, it was very rare to see my parents with an illness other than the common cold--and even that was atypical. Moreover, my parents always involved my brother and I in physical activities such as swimming and sports, and our family, as a whole, continues to be quite active.

However, in today's society where millions of dollars are spent on medical bills, and prescription medication use is at an all time high, it appears that taking a pill to remedy health issues has become the norm. Yet, if more people realized that it is possible to make positive changes without the ongoing advice of a physician, they could become empowered to take charge of their own health and well-being.

Research shows it is becoming more and more evident that dietary habits are one of the most important influences regarding our health. Studies examining the health of populations routinely prove that diets based on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans live longer.

According to, "Healthy vegetarian diets support a lifetime of good health and provide protection against numerous diseases, including our country’s three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer, and strokes." What's more is that the consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products has also been strongly linked to "osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, asthma, and male impotence." Scientists have also found that “vegetarians have stronger immune systems than their meat-eating friends; this means that they are less susceptible to everyday illnesses like the flu."

Therefore, a higher intake of fruits and vegetables directly correlates to a lower risk of illness due to increased amounts of antioxidants, fibers, and essential fatty acids that directly contribute to good health.

What are Antioxidants?

Because oxidation occurs when cells interact with oxygen, this produces some type of change. The cells may either die, as seen in rotting fruit or they may be replaced over time by fresh, new ones, as when we cut ourselves. "This birth and death of cells in the body goes on continuously, 24 hours a day. It is a process that is necessary to keep the body healthy," reports researcher Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston.

However, while our body processes oxygen very efficiently, it is possible for 1 or 2 percent of cells to become damaged and turn into free radicals, which can then become problematic. "Antioxidants work to stop this damaging, disease-causing chain reaction that free radicals have started. Each type of antioxidant works either to prevent the chain reaction or stop it after it's started, Blumberg explains.

It is a proven fact that oxidation happens to all cells in nature-- including the ones in our bodies. “To help your body protect itself from the rigors of oxidation, Mother Nature provides thousands of different antioxidants in various amounts in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes” Therefore, when your body needs to put up its best defense, antioxidants are vital to your health.

Why is Fiber Important?

Eating fiber can have lots of healthy benefits. It is known that there are two different types of fiber - soluble and insoluble which serve your body in different ways.

Soluble fiber can be digested by your body, and may help to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. Cholesterol is a naturally occurring fatty substance that can clog up your arteries if you eat a diet that is too high in fat. Beans, oats and lentils are good sources of soluble fiber.

Insoluble fiber can't be digested. It passes through your gut without being broken down, and helps other foods to move through your digestive system more easily. Insoluble fiber keeps your bowels healthy and helps prevent constipation and other digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Wholemeal bread, wholegrain rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals, and fruit and vegetables, are all good sources of insoluble fiber, reports Stanford

What most people don't realize is that fiber is only found in foods that come from plants and is not found in any other types of food such as meat, fish or dairy products. This may explain why most people do not get the daily recommended amount of 18g.

Are All Fats Bad?

The truth of the matter is that we all need fats. According to, “Fats assist with nutrient absorption, nerve transmission, maintaining cell membrane integrity, etc.” However, when consumed in excessive amounts, fats can contribute to weight gain, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Yet, some fats promote health while others increase our health risks. The solution is to replace bad fats with good fats in our diet.

There are two types of Good Fats: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). Nuts such as peanuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios, avocado, canola and olive oil are high in monounsaturated fats. Also, Polyunsaturated fats lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Some examples of polyunsaturated fat food sources include soybean, sunflower, fish and corn oils.

There are also two types of Bad Fats: Saturated Fats and Trans Fats. Saturated fats are known to raise total blood cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs and seafood. Trans fats were a result of scientists beginning to "hydrogenate" liquid oils so that they can uphold better in food production process and provide for a better shelf life. Trans fatty acids are formed as a result of hydrogenation. They are found in many commercially packaged and fried foods, such as fries from some fast food chains, packaged snacks, vegetable shortening and stick margarine.

Making Healthy Choices

In order to create and maintain good health it is vital to eat a well-balanced diet that includes a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and fiber while avoiding processed foods as much as possible. After all, when it comes down to making a life long decision, would you rather take medication or choose healthy, wholesome foods?