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Diet Basics

In last weeks article we discussed the importance of the ‘basics’ in life – a healthy diet sufficient rest and sleep, moderate exercise, and a meaningful occupation. Over the next few weeks we will take a closer look at each of these, but first, and arguably most important, is a healthy diet.
One of the most important aspects of a healthy diet is to eat regular meals and healthy snacks to keep your blood sugar levels balanced; and to avoid refined sugar, which is found in sweets, biscuits, cakes and desserts. Skipping meals and eating sugary foods leads to unbalanced blood sugar levels, which in turn can cause sugar cravings, anxiety and irritability, which can be severe in some cases.

Complex carbohydrates found in grains such as wheat, spelt, oats, rye, and rice are released more slowly into the blood, so they do not have such a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels, but it is still important to eat these foods in moderation, and only choose wholegrain products such as brown bread, rice and pasta. Unfortunately hybridisation of wheat, coupled with widespread use of white flour and extensive use of flour improvers, has lead to many people being intolerant to wheat. Therefore if you feel bloated or uncomfortable after eating bread and other wheat-based products, it may be wise to try giving up wheat altogether.

As I mentioned last week, an easy way to figure out what is healthy, is to think about what is most natural. If in doubt, try to consider what type of diet we would have without access to supermarkets and industrial food production methods. We would have no processed foods or refined sugar, and we would eat far less grain-based foods, such as bread and cereals, as they would be too difficult to harvest and mill in large quantities.

It is also questionable whether it is healthy to consume dairy products in large quantities, since human beings are the only species that consume milk beyond infancy, and indeed the only species that consume milk from other animals. We are told that we need to consume dairy products for calcium, however the calcium in milk is very poorly absorbed, and we have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, despite having one of the highest rates of milk consumption. Something just doesn’t add up. Like wheat, dairy products are another common cause of food intolerance, which is a significant cause of ill health. If you suspect you may have a food-intolerance, it is well worth consulting a medical herbalist or nutritionist, as it could be having a serious impact on your health and wellbeing.

So, if we reduce our consumption of carbohydrates and dairy products, what do we eat instead? Seeds and, provided you are not allergic to them, nuts, are a far more satisfying and healthy alternative to biscuits, cakes and bars for snacking. They are surprisingly delicious combined with dried fruits such as apricots, dates and raisins. They are a great source of minerals, including calcium, which is present in an easily absorbable form. They are also rich in healthy oils, and are beneficial for hormone balance and bowel health. Nuts and seeds, together with beans and pulses also provide an alternative source of protein, which is healthier than consuming large quantities of red meat.

Another great alternative to red meat is fish, especially oily fish such as mackerel, tuna, salmon and trout. Although it is normal for human beings to eat meat in moderation, we currently eat far too much. Excess consumption of meat, particularly processed meats such as bacon and ham, worsens many health problems such as arthritis and endometriosis, and has been linked to serious health conditions such as bowel cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Animal fats found in red meat and dairy products tend to increase inflammation in the body. However, fish oils have the opposite effect, and are therefore beneficial for a wide range of health problems such as arthritis cardiovascular disease.  They are also great for healthy skin, hair, and nails.

Finally, one of the very best things you can do for your health is to radically increase your consumption of fruit, and especially vegetables. They are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, which are essential for good health, and they are full of antioxidants, which help to prevent inflammatory diseases and even cancer. If you are the type of person who just eats carrots and broccoli every day, try being a little more adventurous. There are so many varieties of fruit and vegetables, and local greengrocers and market stallholders in the many farmers markets around the country are often happy to give advice about cooking and serving a variety of vegetables.