Healthy nutrition

Healthy Food Bestpractices

Mediterranean diet

Following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, overall mortality, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

  • Eat primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Get healthy fats from olive oil and canola oil
  • Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Limit or exclude red meat

Moderate fat is good, carbohydrates are bad

A large study suggests moderate fat intake, combined with eating more fruits and veggies, while reducing carbohydrates, may lower your health risks.

After a fatty meal, do not have any desert. Let your liver focus on digesting the fat.

Eat breakfast, usually

Having breakfast frequently lowers the risk of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. However, most studies are observational, so it’s not clear if people are healthy because they eat breakfast, or they eat breakfast because they are healthy.

Skip breakfast if you’ll be stuck in a plane or conference, without much chance to move.

Eat fruits on an empty stomatch

If you eat fruit close to a meal, it’s held in the stomach too long along with other foods and will ferment in the gut. Fruit digests quicker than meat / eggs / diary.

If fruits are too acid for you on an empty stomach, eat them with wholegrain biscuits, or boil/saute shortly.

Eat fiber

A high-fiber diet curbs your appetite and reduces chances of developing several cancers.

Fiber maintains a healthy gut microbiome. Beneficial microbes feast on fermentable fibers that resist digestion by human-made enzymes as they travel down the digestive tract. In the large intestine, microbes can extract the fiber’s extra energy, nutrients, vitamins and other compounds for us. Short-chain fatty acids obtained from fiber are of particular interest, as they have been linked to improved immune function, decreased inflammation and protection against obesity.

Without fiber, some healthy gut microbes die off, and others start feeding on the mucus lining that helps keep the gut wall intact and free from infection.

Foods high in fibre:

  • Beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • Wholegrain and wholemeal, bran based cereal, oatmeal
  • Brown or wholegrain rice
  • Broccoli, artichoke, avocado, brussels sprouts
  • Raspberries, pear, apples
  • Chia seeds

If you only eat low-fiber foods now, ramp up your fiber intake gradually.

Avoid sugar

Simply avoid all commercial sweets / cakes / cookies which aren’t 100% made from natural ingredients. Most have sugar, preservatives, artificial flavourings and partially hydrogenated oils / trans fats. Eat fruits instead, fresh or dried.

Check labels when purchasing food. Most foods have sugar added, with non-obvious ingredient names.

If you cook at home, use a quarter of sugar quantity given by recipes. It’s only a matter of training your taste. If your guests don’t like it, put honey/jam on the table to help themselves.

Avoid…

Obesity

Obesity is strongly correlated to various conditions. If you are overweight, the best thing you can do for your health is to start losing weight. This will help you exercise easier too, further contributing to a better health.

Instead of trying all kinds of weight loss programs, supplements, teas or surgery, simply eat quality food, but less, slowly, and spend more time chewing. Calorie restriction is a great way to lose weight, see below. Get used to staying hungry, a sensation which might be erroneously caused by mutations in hunger hormones.

On Calorie restriction

Reducing calorie intake prolongs life in simple organisms, which during famine prioritize longevity over growth, reproduction and perhaps resistance to certain stressors. It seems to benefit some mammals as well, as long as they receive sufficient micronutrients.

However, multiple studies on humans gave contradictory results, especially when examinining a wider range of outcome variables. It might help counteracting the negative consequences of aging, but this is still under debate.

If you do want to reduce calorie intake, alternate periods of fasting with regular or slight over-eating. Restrict eating to an interval of hours each day, for example 10am - 6pm. Drink plenty of water.

On Gluten

Unless you have coeliac disease, there’s no benefit to go gluten-free.

If you have abdominal problems such as bloating, and coeliac disease has been ruled out, the cause of your symptoms might not be gluten, but one or more poorly absorbed sugars known collectively as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). FODMAPs are in wheat, onions, asparagus, peppers, apples, dried fruits, peas, honey, milk, ice cream, many sweeteners and beer. Exclude all FODMAPs food for a few weeks, then re-introduce one at a time, gradually, to find the most troublesome for you.

Superfoods

Many superfoods are super-hyped. Science says…

“Superfood” Power ingredient Verdict
Beetroot juice Nitrates Good, especially after exercise, just don’t overdo it (max 300 ml/ day)
Coconut water Potassium Useless, no better than water
Chia seeds Omega 3s Good, but oily fish packs more omega 3s
Dark chocolate, cocoa Flavanols May slightly reduce blood pressure in the short term
Goji LBPs, Zeaxanthin, Anthocyanin Good, though no better than many other berries
Kale Glucosinolates Kale is no better than white cabbage or Brussels sprouts. Boiling reduces glucosinolate content
Kefir   May be good for gut bacteria
Mushrooms Antioxidants Good, lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases
Wheatgrass   Useless

We’re extending the list as we learn more.

Drinks

Water

Good hydration makes it easier for the kidneys to extract waste. Don’t over-do it though. Simply let thirst be your guide.

If you’re usually thirsty, you might have too little sodium in your blood. Eat more salty foods.

Sports drinks

They may help elite athletes, but are unlikely to do anything for ordinary people. As an alternative, low-fat chocolate milk with its 4:1 mixture of carbohydrates and protein appears to be ideal for muscle recovery after a workout.

Unless you are professional athlete, most minerals lost in sweat do no affect your usual daily intake from food, except:

  • Sodium, which is critical. Eat salty foods to replace the losses.
  • Calcium. Eat more cheese, sardines (with bones), yogurt or kefir, broccoli.
  • Iron. Eat more poultry, beans, peas, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, collard greens, kale), dried fruit (raisins, apricots), iron-fortified cereals.

Soda

Sugary drinks rot your teeth (including fresh orange juice). Sodas are the worst, due to combination of sugar and flavourings such as phosphoric acid.

Some studies indicate that diet sodas help with weight loss compared to regular sodas, but others find a seemingly paradoxical association with weight gain. Causes might include psychology (“I can have 3 diet sodas instead of 1 regular”) and artificial sweeteners driving preference to sweet things.

The simplest, best choice is to avoid all sodas, even if provided for free in your office.

Fruit juice

Juices have lots of sugar too, and just a fraction of fiber found in the original fruit. It’s best to eat the whole fruit instead. If you really prefer juices:

  • limit consumption to 1 glass/day
  • use a straw, to reduce contact with teeth (sugar and acid damages them)
  • rinse with dilluted mouthwash afterwards

Milk

For adults, milk doesn’t have any clear benefits. For example, there’s no evidence that getting extra calcium from milk is vital for maintaining healthy bones. A generally healthy diet and plenty of weight-bearing physical activity is what keeps bones healthy.

Soy milk doesn’t help either. Its reputation for reducing harmful LDL cholesterol is overblown (even if you drank eight glasses per day, that would only equate to a 3 per cent drop in LDL). Although it has less fat, it often comes presweetened, counting towards your intake of free sugar. None of the supposed health benefits has been convincingly demonstrated in trials.

Coffee

Although coffee increases alertness and focus, the effects are short-lived. Users quickly become tolerant: people who regularly drink coffee are no more alert on average than those who don’t. For regulars, the morning brew merely reverses the fatiguing effects of caffeine withdrawal, bringing them back to a baseline level of alertness.

Unless abused, coffee does not have proven negative effects (except boiled, unfiltered coffee). The sole caveat: any hot drink (above 70 °C / 158 °F) increases the risk of oesophageal cancer. Some studies show drinking coffee is more likely to benefit health than to harm it.

Tea

Tea’s fluoride content and anti-bacterial properties protect teeth (unless you add sweeteners). Besides this, a 2009 review of 51 studies involving a total of 1.6 million people concluded that the evidence of various tea benefits was highly contradictory. Green tea seems to help. Avoid any hot drink (above 70 °C / 158 °F).

Alcohol

Besides its role as a social lubricant, alcohol doesn’t have any benefit.

Studies showing one or two drinks a day are linked to decreased risk of heart attack, or that red wine arrests cognitive decline, forget to mention that people who drink in moderation also tend to exercise more regularly, have a healthier weight, sleep better, and as a general rule are more affluent than those who drink to excess or never drink at all (perhaps because they quit due to health problems).

Alcohol damages DNA in stem cells.

Supplements / Vitamins

Many supplements have no effect, but are advertised & sold for profits (supplements aren’t regulated).

Here’s the list of useful supplements backed by science:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is naturally produced by your body when exposed to sunlight.

It’s not yet entirely clear how vitamin D might protect against autoimmune diseases, but several studies shows a strong corellation. Vitamin D also seems to ramp up the body’s defence against viruses, including those responsible for causing flu and colds (one reason why we are generally more susceptible to infection in winter, when there is less sunshine). People living in sunnier low latitudes are less likely to develop certain cancers. Vitamin D is known to influence the expression of genes that regulate cell growth. Studies on animals show that vitamin D can slow tumour growth, and even encourages certain types of malignant cell to commit suicide.

There is currently no agreement on the optimal level. The Endocrine Society and others recommend up to 10,000 IU daily from all sources combined, including the sun and diet. Vitamin D is best absorbed when taken with food containing fat.

Taking supplements is not risk-free. You can’t overdose on vitamin D from sunshine, as any excess made by the skin is degraded. But ingesting too much vitamin D can cause high blood calcium levels, which can damage the kidneys. Recommended dose: 5,000 IU/day, except summer.

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is produced by several plants in response to injury or when the plant is under attack by pathogens.

Multiple studies correlated it to reduced inflammation and other benefits. Recommended dose: 250 mg/day.

N-Acetyl cysteine

N-Acetyl cysteine is routinely used as a dietary supplement and as a decongestant given to children to ward off a cold. It proved highly effective in starving cancer cells.
Recommended dose: 1,200 - 1,800 mg/day. Like other amino acid supplements, NAC should be taken either 30 minutes before eating, or two hours after, to avoid competing with protein for absorption.

Nicotinamide riboside

Nicotinamide riboside functions as a precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), a coenzyme found in all living cells. Multiple studies correlated it to slowing down aging and other benefits. Recommended dose: 250 mg/day.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These lower triglyceride levels and inflammation, and are related to mental health. Found in foods such as mackerel, herring, tuna, salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts.

Omega-3 fish oil supplements helps complement your diet. Recommended dose: 500 mg every 3 days.

Curcumin

Curcumin helps as an anti-inflammatory agent, including some liver protection. Read more on How to take

Probiotics

The human microbiome is composed of bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes that reside in and on our bodies. These microbes have tremendous potential to impact our physiology, both in health and in disease. They contribute metabolic functions, protect against pathogens, educate the immune system, and, through these basic functions, affect directly or indirectly most of our physiologic functions.

The microbiota of the gut is quite diverse, and easiest to influence. Taking a probiotic supplement usually helps. Look for ingredients which include Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri 6475, Lactobacillus plantarum

Recommended usage: 1 in 3 months.

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Others

  • Quercetin, found in apples, red onions, peppers, tomatoes.
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin, fat-soluble antioxidants for eye health
  • Vitamin C: for most people, a healthy diet provides an adequate amount (e.g. lemon, orange, broccoli).
  • Vitamin B complex: for most people, a healthy diet provides an adequate amount. Only vegans should take B12 supplements, along with zinc, iron. Best to avoid.