The age-old saying “you are what you eat” is truly the fundamental necessity of what it takes to be healthy (if you want to read about the possible origin of this phrase see this webpage https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/you-are-what-you-eat.html it is interesting!). What you eat is the single most important way to become and stay healthy. When we nourish our body our cells rejoice, and we thrive. Every day our food choices define our health, and not just our physical health, but also our mental and emotional health (2). A study found that people who increased vegetable and fruit intake from 1 to 8 servings per day “would experience an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment (2).” Eating a healthier diet actually improves our happiness before it improves our physical health.
While in my first year of studying Chinese medicine, we took a course in which we discussed all the aspects of Chinese medicine and how to treat: first - with nutrition, then with massage or meditation and qi gong, and lastly with acupuncture and herbal medicine. We learned that acupuncture and herbs are needed for more serious health concerns and disease, if the disease cannot be treated with nutrition, massage, or meditation. Unfortunately our modern lifestyle, and especially the quality and availability of processed foods in the United States has created an epidemic of poor health. Many, if not most of us, actually need treatment for more serious health concerns and disease, needing the use of herbal medicine and acupuncture. From autoimmune disease, to cancer, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and other common ailments, we are generally “unwell.” As a whole, it is critical to change our diets drastically, because without a healthy diet, acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, meditation, and exercise, can only do so much. It is easy to want to get better without improving nutrition, but our diet is the basis of our health. If most of us improved our diets and consumed the 8+ servings of vegetables and fruits recommended per day, with ample water, electrolytes, exercise and stretching, and some kind of meditation, we would likely not need any medications, or even herbal medications and acupuncture.
From wherever your starting point may be, including more vegetables and fruits in your diet will improve your health. Many studies indicate that increasing vegetable and fruit consumption alone does wonders for reducing risk of death from a number of diseases. “Compared to eating less than one portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating one to three portions (of vegetables and fruits), 29% for three to five portions, 36% for five to seven portions and 42% for seven or more (1).” Even if you make no other changes in your diet, eating more vegetables and fruits will benefit you. If you truly want to decrease risk of diabetes and other disease, then reducing, or even better, eliminating: fruit juice, soda, diet soda, sugars, processed foods, and other insulin spiking and inflammatory products from your diet is important. Processed foods, sugar, greasy food, vegetable oils, alcohol, and factory farmed meats create dampness in our bodies, contributing to weight gain, sluggishness, digestive issues, excessive phlegm, headaches, and eventually chronic disease. Is this what our culture has made us think we want to be? Our bodies crave real food, but we are addicted to junk and need to break the cycle.
Many studies have conflicting results of the health benefits of particular diets, for example vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, Mediterranean, and so on, as you quickly realize by watching documentaries on the subject or reading a variety of articles and studies. Many can argue for or against meat consumption, dairy consumption, grain consumption, but I believe part of the conflicting results are based on our unique differences. Meat may be beneficial for some, but less for others, as may dairy, grain, and other hotly debated food groups. Generally, we can all agree that sugar is not “good” for any of us, especially large amounts, and is highly inflammatory. Our liver can only process so much sugar before it is stored as fat, and causes “congestion” of the liver, and eventually insulin resistance and diabetes. For women, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 20 grams of sugar per day, and for men, 36 grams. Many food and beverage products contain more than that in one serving. No wonder we are all so sick.
The CDC conducted a study and found that only 1 in 10 Americans have an adequate daily vegetable and fruit consumption (3). These numbers are abysmal and indicative of how negative our fast food and processed foods culture impacts our health. It is no surprise that the rates of childhood diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disease and cardiovascular disease are on the rise. Spring into health - support your physical, emotional and mental health and increase your vegetable and fruit intake daily. If you are picking up a pizza, add a fresh salad. If you are cooking chicken and rice, add broccoli. Toss spinach in just about anything and it will be delicious. Eat fruit and vegetables for snacks instead of processed packaged foods. Even small changes will help you feel better and lead you on the road to greater changes and a healthier, happier you.