We all want to live a long, happy, healthy and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, the decisions that we make every day can ultimately, and dramatically, affect the overall quality of how we live.
Researchers continue to study the root causes of cancer and other medical conditions, and they are homing in on our diet and lifestyle as the key sources of diseases that decrease our quality of life, and even decrease our lifespan. Chronic diseases like obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, joint pain, inflammation, mental disorders and autoimmune disease are oftentimes the result of poor nutritional and lifestyle choices.
Self-appointed “health experts and gurus” are seemingly everywhere offering all kinds of advice and quick fixes for losing weight, inundating social media, television, magazines, marketers and newspapers. Most of them simply do not have the medical background, training or education in human nutrition to provide advice to patients or the public. This also includes your health care provider, who simply is not up to date on the latest evidence and research on what qualifies as a proper and healthy diet and lifestyle. Furthermore, our own government has put forth the “recommended guidelines” for human nutrition via the infamous Food Pyramid, further propagating antiquated and dangerous nutritional recommendations that have not substantially changed in over 50 years.
Although any changes to your diet and lifestyle require some level of discipline and commitment, there are many simple recommendations to help optimize your overall health and wellness.
For generations, we were taught to follow the USDA’s Food Pyramid. Although it simplified the American diet with an easy-to-read graphic illustration, the content has greatly missed the mark. For example, the Food Pyramid recommended six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta daily – nearly the same number of servings as proteins, fruits and vegetables combined! This is one primary reason as to why we have a worldwide epidemic of childhood and adult obesity, type 2 diabetes and numerous other chronic diseases. These are all related to the root cause: too many carbs, processed foods and sugar in our daily diets.
With decades of new research at our fingertips, we now know what works as far as diet and nutrition:
• Vegetables: Lots of green leafy and colorful vegetables (no limit to these nutrient-dense foods).
• Proteins: Chicken, wild-caught fish, sardines, free-range eggs and red meat (beef, venison and wild game), and even pork and bacon (yes, bacon!).
• Fats: Avocado, sardines, olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, fish oil and tree nuts.
• Salad dressing: Use only olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
• Liquids: Filtered water and green tea.
• Supplements: Multivitamins, prebiotics/probiotics, B-complex and vitamins C, D, E, K and A (optional).
• Fruits: One piece of whole fruit or a handful of berries daily, and that’s it. Do not drink fruit juice as this is simply liquid sugar without the fiber.
Eat whole foods, plant-based and organic foods whenever possible. Avoid all fruit juices, smoothies, products with refined or added sugar, cow’s milk, cheese, flour and wheat. Try to go gluten free. Eliminate the consumption of beans and peanuts that can cause a chronic, leaky gut and gut inflammation. If you have anything at home that comes in a box, bag or can, throw it out immediately and don’t eat it, as it likely is not good for you.
Individuals who adhere to a strict diet must still commit to a series of lifestyle changes. Exercise, of course, is part of those lifestyle changes, but you don’t necessarily need a gym membership to get the heart pumping and fat burning. Below are lifestyle recommendations that apply to children and adults of any age:
• Exercise: Walk, run, bicycle or swim a few times per week (most importantly, choose an activity you enjoy doing).
• Fasting: Incorporate some form of intermittent fasting a few times per week.
• Mealtimes: Try to finish dinner no later than 6 p.m. and do not eat snacks or drink alcohol after this time.
• Electronics: Do not use a TV, computer or smartphone at least two hours before bedtime.
• Downtime: Take time for scheduled vacations, hobbies and social interactions with family and friends.
The human body can handle an occasional cookie, slice of pizza or dish of ice cream. However, those occasional treats have crept into nearly every meal and snack, to the point where they have affected our overall health.
Before committing to nutritional modifications or a new exercise regimen, it’s important to consult with your trusted physician or health care provider. Social media influencers who tout “get healthy fast and quick weight-loss diets” are not reliable sources of information or for weight management. You may experience difficulty in finding a health care provider who is knowledgeable about human nutrition and healthy lifestyle changes. Don’t be discouraged, though; they’re out there and right here in our community.
The diet and lifestyle decisions we make today, tomorrow and beyond will have lasting downstream impact upon how long and how well we live our lives. It is critical that you self-educate (that’s what I had to do) to gain knowledge about human nutrition and healthy lifestyle changes. You can do it!
About the Author
Dr. Adam I. Riker, FSSO, FACS, is a surgical oncologist with Precision Healthcare Specialists and author of The Riker Regimen: A Guide to Optimal Human Nutrition, Longevity and Cancer-free Living.