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General Principles for Eating Well

by Catherine Kurosu, MD, Lac and Aihan Kuh, CMD, OBT, December 3, 2018

Diet in the USA

The diet in the United States is very out of balance for the majority of the population. People eat too much meat, too many sweets, too much dairy, and too-large quantities of food. Junk food is very common in many households. Row upon row of processed foods line our supermarket aisles.

It is all right to eat fast food once in a while, but too many people rely on fast food for at least one of their daily meals. If our job involves a lot of physical work, that diet might be okay, because physical work can burn off those extra calories. But in America, a majority of occupations involve sitting to do computer work or performing other desk-bound jobs. In this case, we have to change our diet. In addition, since most people do not make time to do exercise, the accumulated calories, along with the chemicals in the processed food, can cause weight problems. Poor nutrition and eating habits has been linked to many illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, diabetes, liver disease, bowel diseases, digestive disorders, and cancer. Here are some general principles of a balanced diet:

  • Eat foods with a variety of colors.
  • Eat foods with a variety of flavors.
  • Eat foods that are properly balanced for your energy.
  • Add spices to your food.
  • Eat smaller quantities and include a variety of healthy snacks.
  • Eat less meat and more vegetables and fruits: beans and rice are a good source of protein.
  • Instead of a typical North American diet, eat more ethnic foods, especially Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Reduce sweets and junk food.

Quality and Quantity

A proper diet also includes the right quantity of food and the right quality of food. The right quantity will not make your stomach too full; half full is the signal that you should think it is about time to stop eating. The right quality means you should try to eat more homemade, healthy, and delicious meals.

How we eat also affects our health. One common issue is that many workers, such as teachers, nurses, and shift workers, have only thirty minutes for a lunch break. They have enough time to shovel food into their mouths, and don't even taste it. This kind of eating habit is not good for the brain or for the body. Eating too quickly does not allow the brain to sense when the stomach is full. The biochemical signaling that occurs between the stomach and the brain is not in sync, allowing people to overeat. Then digestion becomes difficult and can cause abdominal pain and distension.

Supplements

People often ask what supplements they should take. This is a tough question, because every patient is different, with a different underlying constitution. Generally speaking, if you are active, exercise regularly, eat well, eat a variety of foods, are in good physical shape, and have a good energy level, a good mental and spiritual state, and sleep well, you may not need to take supplements. You are probably getting enough nutrients for your body to function properly.

You may benefit from supplements if you have an underlying medical condition or if your diet is extreme and causes imbalance of nutrition and energy. What kinds of supplements a person should take depends on what kinds of problems they have. For example, if you don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, you need to take a multivitamin with minerals daily. If you don't eat enough multigrain breads or cereals, you need vitamin B complex, especially B1. From an Eastern perspective, if you have an organ energy imbalance or blockage, supplements may not work because they will not be thoroughly digested and used by the body. For mild energy blockages and imbalance, simply adding appropriate exercises will help supplements work much better. For major blockages and imbalances, you may need to get treatment such as acupuncture, tui na therapy, or Chinese herbs prescribed from a practitioner.

For particular disease entities, Western research has shown that certain supplements are very beneficial. You should speak to your health-care provider about nutritional support for your condition or request a referral to a nutritionist.

Water

Many people don't drink enough water. Water is very important in maintaining bodily functions and metabolism. Many people ignore water intake, some because they are too busy, others because they are unaware of its importance. When they feel sick or not well, they don't relate these feelings to lack of water.

Water makes up most of our body, especially our brain, which is more than 80 percent water. If a body becomes dehydrated, a person may have various symptoms such as headache, dizziness, poor metabolism, fatigue, and feelings of stress or anxiety; they may experience reduced muscle tone or muscle cramps, and become prone to kidney stones. Water helps the kidneys flush out toxins in the body, so being continually dehydrated allows these toxins to accumulate. People often ask me (Dr. Kuhn), "How much water is enough?" During regular weather, the body should get eight glasses of water daily. In the summer, the body needs eight to ten glasses of water a day depending on whether the person is outdoors (where he or she sweats more) or indoors with air conditioning. Another consideration is whether a person's job is physical or sedentary. Overall, let thirst be your guide. You will become thirsty with as little as a 1 percent drop in your body's total water stores, but this is not dangerous. It is a warning signal that you need to drink.

Coffee

Drinking coffee in moderation does no harm to the human body, but if people drink too much coffee, it can cause health problems. Coffee can affect digestion and cause stomach problems if it is overconsumed. Because of coffee's effect on the absorption of calcium and other minerals, it can also play a role in osteoporosis. Coffee may also cause pain for people with fibrocystic breasts or an inflamed urinary bladder. One to two cups of coffee is enough. If you are regularly drinking more, you should consider changing this habit. Choose to drink more water or other healthy beverages instead of coffee.
The True Wellness Checklist below is a summary of important actions that research has shown will improve your health:

  • moderate cardiovascular exercise and resistance training
  • regular qigong practice
  • regular meditation practice
  • adequate consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and water
  • adequate sleep

True Wellness Checklist

The True Wellness Checklist is a compilation of recommended actions that are associated with optimal health. These actions form the basis of disease prevention in both Eastern and Western medical systems. Meditation, qigong, cardiovascular exercise, and resistance training should be incorporated into everyone's healing plan. Although sleep is not on the checklist, you should strive for seven to eight hours of sleep within a twenty-four-hour period.

Approximate serving sizes:


Vegetables

1 cup raw vegetables, ½ cup cooked vegetables

Fruit

1 medium piece of raw fruit, ½ cup canned fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit

Nuts

1/3 cup

Beans/Legumes

½ cup cooked

Whole Grains

1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked grains, 1ounce dry cereal

Red meat, poultry

cooked, roughly the same size as a deck of cards

Fish

uncooked, 8 ounces (no more than 3x/week because of heavy metals)

Dairy

1 cup of yogurt, 1 cup of milk, 2 ounces of cheese

Eggs

1 egg

Oils

extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil for cooking and dressings

Many people have food sensitivities, allergies, or individual preferences; therefore, the dietary recommendations on the checklist form the essentials of a vegan regimen. You can add servings of meat, fish, or dairy, depending on your tastes or requirements. The majority of your food should be plant-based. If you do eat animal products, your plate should be filled three-quarters with plants and only one-quarter with animal protein. Choose whole foods over processed foods. Minimize sweets, but enjoy chocolate made of at least 70 percent cacao on occasion.


The above is an excerpt from True Wellness: How to Combine the Best of Western and Eastern Medicine for Optimal Health by Catherine Kurosu, MD, LAc and Aihan Kuhn, CMD, OBT.



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