The human body is made up of countless numbers of chemicals, each designed to carry out a specific function for the benefit of the body as a whole. The presence of essential chemicals means a better chance for vibrant health, while the absence of essential chemicals means a better chance for disease. This is important for our discussion on diet because the required chemicals (nutrients) we need for health can only come from what we eat.
From a scientific viewpoint we have learned that when the cells of our body die and new cells are formed, the materials needed to make those tissues come from the macro and micronutrients in our diet. Macronutrients include three main building blocks: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The micronutrients include: minerals, vitamins, enzymes and thousands of other co-factors whose job is to regulate the activity of the macronutrients. It is essential that these nutrients be of high quality. If you are not careful about the type and quality of food you eat, your poor diet will result in poor or absent nutrients and a greater potential for disease.
It has taken a long time, but the erroneous idea that diet has little to do with the prevention or elimination of disease, is now beginning to slowly fade. Science repeatedly confirms what those with some common sense have known all along: good diets make you healthy, while bad diets eventually cause illness.
In my own practice, I have regularly used diet modification and nutritional measures to greatly relieve or eliminate many chronic ailments. I use very simple and easy to follow guidelines discussed at the end of this chapter. These guidelines plus an understanding of the basics of the macronutrients will equip you to make healthier food choices.
CARBOHYDRATES Carbohydrates come mostly from plant sources. When broken down into their most basic parts (sugars) they become an important fuel for many tissues within the body. This means that they are an essential part of a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates are classified according to their molecular structure. There are three types: simple carbohydrates (sugars), complex carbohydrates (starches) and plant fibers (cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin). Simple carbohydrates are the ones that do the most harm. In the chapter on Weight Loss, I discuss how eating too many simple carbohydrates places a heavy burden on the hormonal tissues responsible for regulating blood sugar levels and will eventually lead to carbohydrate intolerance (insulin resistance).
Simple carbohydrates include: monosaccharides, which contain only a single sugar and oligosaccharides, which are a combination of two or more monosaccharides. The complex carbohydrates are called polysaccharides because they are made up of many simple sugars.
FATS When discussing the topic of fats, I am really talking about a class of compounds called lipids. These include triglycerides, phospholipids, cholesterol, prostaglandins and fatty acids. Lipids play many important roles in the body. They are part of the membrane structure of all cells and can be metabolized for an energy source or stored as fat. However, most of the time they are converted into substances called prostaglandins.
PROSTAGLANDINS Prostaglandins (PG) are hormone-like substances. There are 3 main groups (PG1, PG2, and PG3), each converted from three different categories or “families” of fats. In the chart below you see that PG2 has inflammatory qualities, whereas PG1 and PG3 have anti-inflammatory qualities. That PG2 is inflammatory does not necessarily mean that it is bad. In fact, when it is present in proportion to the other prostaglandins, it is highly beneficial. However, under certain conditions such as vitamin deficiencies, eating too many fats from the PG2 family and regular ingestion of hydrogenated fats, the body by default produces more PG2 than PG1 or PG3. The net effect is an imbalance in the levels of prostaglandins and a systemic inflammatory process.
SATURATD FATS As I discuss in the chapter, Cholesterol, some cultures around the world have diets historically high in saturated fat but DO NOT have heart disease like we do in America. In some cases, like the Eskimos of North America or the Masai tribes of Africa, despite extremely high dietary levels of meat and saturated fat, heart disease is non-existent. This reality runs countercurrent to what we are told regularly by most doctors who say that saturated fat is the primary reason for heart disease and clogged arteries. When they say saturated fat, they generally mean animal fat. However, saturated fat is found in many sources including: coconut oil, palm oil, cottonseed oil and a variety of nuts. Confusing the issue further is the fact that most of the fat found in clogged arteries is polyunsaturated. This means it did not come from the saturated fats found in animal or vegetable products. Polyunsaturated fats tend to become oxidized or rancid when exposed to heat through cooking. Excess polyunsaturated oils like corn, soy, safflower and canola oils, have been shown to cause several diseases including: heart disease, immune system dysfunction, organ damage, digestive disorders, depressed learning ability, impaired growth, and weight gain.
Saturated fats do have some know detrimental effects such as blocking delta-6-desaturase, an enzyme that helps convert non-animal fats into PG1 and PG3 (the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins). They can also raise cholesterol, produce autoimmune diseases, and lead to heart attack and stroke; but only when the ratio of saturated fat to unsaturated fat is too high. When the ratio is balanced the detrimental effects are greatly minimized. So what is the proper ratio? There is no hard and fast rule because genetics seem to have a strong influence. Some people can eat a great deal of saturated fat without endangering their health. However, there is one type of fat responsible for lipid-related diseases that should be avoided by everyone.
HYDROGENATED FATS Hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, or trans-fats, are all processed fats. This means that they have been altered from their original form by injection with hydrogen, in order to increase “freshness” and shelf life. Most of the foods you see in the middle isles of the grocery store, the ones that come in boxes or bags and can sit in the shelf for months at a time, contain high amounts of hydrogenated oils. These include cereals, crackers, cookies, baked foods, prebaked foods, chips, snack bars, breakfast bars, frozen foods and more.
Hydrogenated oils cause a host of problems:
Interfere with the normal conversion of fats to PG1 and PG3.
Cause an increase in the production of PG2.
Block the normal conversion of cholesterol in the liver leading to elevated cholesterol levels.
They become part of the building blocks of our cells, displacing desired materials and disrupting cellular function.
EATING FATS As a general rule, to get the right ratio of fats from your diet, you should eat foods high in omega 3 fats such as fish and flax seed, eat moderate amounts of animal fats, reduce or eliminate heated polyunsaturated fats, and eliminate hydrogenated oils.
PROTEINS Proteins make up a large portion of our bones, muscles, organs, teeth, skin, nails and hair. They are necessary for the repair and rebuilding of all body tissues. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Scientists are currently aware of twenty two different types of amino acids, eight of which are essential. This means that they must be supplied by the diet. The non-essential amino acids can be manufactured by the body. The body does have a reserve capacity for the essential amino acids and other nutrients so that when the diet is incomplete, the body can draw from its reserves.
Protein comes from a variety of sources. Meats, fish, eggs, and chicken are the most common examples. However, seeds, nuts, legumes and beans also contain concentrated amounts. It is my opinion that protein should be consumed in all of its forms. However, because of the protein available in non-animal products, for health reasons and reasons of conscience many have decided to turn to vegetarianism.
Proponents of vegetarianism are quick to tout the health benefits from eating a non-meat die such as a reduced incidence of heart disease, breast and prostate cancers. However, each of these outcomes can also be achieved even when meat is eaten. In general, I do not advocate strict vegetarianism. For some it may be acceptable, but I have often seen vegetarian patients who were slow to recover from their aliments because of low amounts of dense animal proteins. On my insistence, they reluctantly agreed to include more of these proteins in their diet and not surprisingly, their health improves.
I believe that metabolic individuality (genetics) is perhaps the greatest consideration when attempting to determine if meat sources of protein are satisfactory. In my own case, while in chiropractic college, I began a popular diet that promoted high raw fruit and vegetable consumption with very little meat consumption. It almost killed me. I have never been that sick or frail in my life. It is true that there were other stressful factors that contributed to my near demise such as completing my training, deciding where to practice, opening an office and so on. Yet, presently my stress is at times no less; but having learned that my body requires considerable amounts of dense protein, I function at a much higher level without succumbing to sickness. I have seen similar changes with numerous patients when a personalized diet was introduced. It has become my goal with any treatment program to find those key elements that relate specifically to each patient.
PROPER PROTEIN DIGESTION Proteins begin digestion in the acid environment of the stomach. Then in the small intestine, enzymes from the pancreas complete the process. Although proteins are digested differently than fats and carbohydrates, inadequate digestion of all three macronutrients occurs if:
There is not enough hydrochloric acid in the stomach.