It amazes me that the vast majority of educated Americans don’t know what it means to be healthy. They think if they keep their waistline, heart rate and cholesterol numbers in check, then they’re good to go.
Health is complex
Health is complex. To illustrate, think of the following items and jot down if you think they’re good or bad for your health … or if it depends. Really, take it like a quiz.
- High blood pressure
- Body weight
Ok, now let’s discuss … in a very casual, bloggy sort of way.
Is fat good for you? It depends. What kind of fat? What did you (or someone else) do to it before you ate it? Is it cooked? damaged? rancid? homogenized? processed? All of these things affect the nutritional content of a fat. And, of course, some fats are just inherently more nutritious than others. A shortage of healthy fats is one of the biggest issues with the “American diet.”
Is high cholesterol bad? It depends. No, not on good cholesterol or bad cholesterol. In my opinion, there’s no such thing. Your body produces cholesterol – both kinds – to deal with the state your body is in. Your liver releases it – typically to repair a damaged body part. So, if you have consistently high cholesterol levels, what does that mean? Your body is consistently under repair – and therefore consistently damaged. So, taking medication to chemically suppress your body’s repair system is a far cry from addressing the actual issue: lifestyle. (It’d be like sticking a piece of electric tape over a check engine light and saying the car’s fixed.) If you want your cholesterol to go down, then you need to not put your body in a position that needs so much fixing. And no, it’s not genetic. Genetic expression is a result of lifestyle choices. There’s a great series of videos on this online called, “Feed Your Genes: Express Your Health and Performance Potential” – part one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
High blood pressure
Is high blood pressure bad? It depends. Seriously. Tell me this: Why does blood pressure get high? Because there isn’t enough blood getting through with lower pressure. Why not? Maybe because the exercise you’re doing causes your muscles to need more oxygen to perform in that moment. Maybe because there are constrictions in your arteries – because of plaque buildup or just general inflammation. Maybe because you’re about to get into – or to run from – a fight. Whatever the reason: THERE IS A REASON. It doesn’t just happen on its own. And, just like before, it’s not genetic.
Is sugar good or bad for you? It depends. What kind of sugar is it? Where is the sugar? There’s a great video on YouTube called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” It’s 90 minutes long, but completely worth it. A Professor essentially teaches a lesson on how the body metabolizes different kinds of sugar. For example, alcohols have a byproduct of affecting your brain. Glucose is the primary channel of energy to your body. Fructose, on the other hand, has toxic side affects. He also makes a wonderful point: Where nature provides a toxin, it usually provides the antidote. Take sugar cane, for example. Despite the sugar it contains, how much fiber comes along with it? And how does that affect your body’s access to that sugar? Process that sugar out of the environment in which nature put it, and you can’t count on things working the way they have for thousands of years.
Vegetables? Good … although that diminishes the more you mess with them. Picked off the un-tainted vine/tree/whatever is best. Sprayed, processed, altered, packaged, preserved, and microwaved – that’s on the other end.
Calories? It depends (again). I think you see the trend by now. You need calories to live, but not all calories are created equal.
Is wheat good or bad for you? It depends. This question is actually closely related to the question about sugar. Yes, wheat is a carbohydrate and your body changes that into sugars to provide energy. Consider, however, the difference between eating white flour and eating raw wheat kernels from the field. How is your body going to deal with each one and what are the consequences? Removing the hull of the kernel, grinding the remainder into a powder, bleaching it, and then cooking it not only changes the nutritional content, but also compromises the nature-provided antidote.
Is beef good or bad for you? Maybe it’s obvious by now, but the answer: It depends. What did the cow eat? How did it live? What are the consequences of those two things on the nutrient density of the meat? You’ve probably seen studies of the correlation between red meat and various maladies. My question is: Why don’t they specify the quality of the red meat used? (And I don’t just mean the fat percentage.)
Fish is the same. Wild is best.
Next, Soda. Bad. 100% bad. Soda is probably the worst “food” anyone reading this puts in their body – and when I say soda, I mean any sugared drink. Gatorade, Red Bull, etc. – all included. Throw alcoholic beverages in there, too. (Alcohol is a sugar.)
It is what it is. Take care of body and your weight will take care of itself.
Good (other than in extreme cases like running yourself to death). Here again, though, not all exercise is created equal. I won’t get into it here, but you don’t need to exercise more than 30min a day to stay in great shape – and that includes a warmup. It’s called High Intensity Interval Training. (MaxT3 is the program I use.)
So, what are your take aways from this? It’s a little discouraging, isn’t it? You’ve probably heard that being healthy is simple: calories in vs calories out. So, if you just cut your portions in half and exercise twice as much, you’ll lose weight. Given what we’ve discussed today, though, being healthy is a lot more complicated than that. I’m saying you can’t just count calories, you have to look at the quality. You can’t just look at the fat or cholesterol content. You have to investigate everything. You can’t just draw the line around carbs as bad or fats as bad; you have to know the quality. And how can you know that? Unless you grow your own food. Or know the farmer. Or trust a government certification – like organic.
Really, though, there’s no way around it. If you want to be healthy you have to play an active part. You can’t just not drink, smoke or do drugs, and have a yearly checkup and expect to live a long healthy life.
You have to get involved. You can’t just coast.
Three simple steps
If this is new to you and you want to be healthier, it’s probably tough to know where to start. Allow me to suggest three starting steps. These will go a long way to applying what we discussed above now so you don’t get bogged down in all of the “it depends.”
First, only drink water. No milk, no gatorade, no juice, no herbal tea – just water. Yes, there are healthy drinks out there, but there are so many bad ones that it’s easiest to just draw a clean line. I have this first because you can start doing it today and take a big step towards a healthy diet overnight.
No sugar or flour
Second, avoid sugar and flour. In the beginning (i.e., for however long it takes to really feel like you have a handle on your diet), it’s probably better to not eat them at all. I see both of these foods as disease food, and avoiding them will help you learn to study ingredients lists and find healthy alternatives.
Step by step
Third, apply what you learned in the second step to eat less and less processed foods overall. In other words, eat like people have for thousands of years. So, if you’re going to choose between a strawberry fruit roll-up and a strawberry, go with the latter – even if the former is “made with real fruit” or is cheaper. Instead of pasta (a processed food), eat quinoa or brown rice. Instead of boxed cereal, make granola (if you have to have something in a bowl with milk on it to start the day). Instead of homogenized, pasteurized, pulverized and skimmed milk, go for raw milk. You get the idea. Study that ingredients list and keep it short and understandable! If we aren’t going to grow everything we eat for ourselves, and we’re not going to shake the hand of the farmer/rancher selling it to us, then we need to do our due diligence to ensure we’re eating a product that’s safe and promotes good health.
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