General Guidelines For a Balanced Diet
 
The keys to eating a healthy, balanced diet aren’t difficult or mysterious. Most simply stated, eat a wide variety of whole foods only, select fresh organic produce whenever possible, minimize meat consumption, prepare your meals simply, drink plenty of pure filtered water, and you’re almost all the way there. The two biggest difficulties may be in breaking the related habits of convenience and avoiding overconsumption of the things you shouldn’t eat. Let’s look at those things first, since all other dietary considerations become much easier after they’re addressed.
 
1. The habit of convenience.
In an age when people are busier than ever, the average American diet is made up of 80% or more prepackaged, refined and processed foods, and meals from fast-food servers. There’s a price you pay for that convenience.
 
With few exceptions, these foods are made from commercially grown produce, and conventionally raised animals. The animals will be discussed below. The produce is inevitably going to be full of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other additives and preservatives) and increasingly incorporates genetically modified variants. (The US government alone among all the civilized nations does not legally require itself to inform you, its citizens, of the inclusion of genetically modified foods either in prepackaged items or in the produce section of your grocery store. In fact, they actively hide that information from you.) Numerous studies have shown that many of these chemical contaminants harm your health, and may cause or contribute to a variety of diseases. Most of them will penetrate the skins of the fruits and vegetables, so even thoroughly washing them will not remove those harmful substances. Since purposed interspecies genetic modification is a relatively new development in food science, there have not been adequate studies to evaluate its long-term effects. If you eat those foods, you are the test subject.
 
Today’s commercially grown produce is nutritionally deficient compared to what it was just 100 years ago. Since the beginning of agricultural awareness, farmers knew to rotate their crops to minimize soil mineral depletion, and to fertilize the soil with manure and compost to insured a healthy, nutrient rich soil. This provided the most nutritious produce. As the world population has grown dramatically, the challenge now is to supply enough food quantity to feed everyone, which has caused a significant sacrifice in conventional food quality. Although plants can synthesize some nutrients from water, air, and sunlight, others, notably minerals, need to be present in the soil in order to be present in the fruit or vegetable. Commercial farmers are doing the best they can, but most now add only Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to their soil, since they act as plant growth stimulants, leaving the plant deficient in the other 37 to 77 minerals (depending on what sources you consult) needed for optimal human health. Additionally, because of the presence of the above mentioned pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, the living plant must use some of its antioxidant and enzyme nutrients to protect itself from the harmful effects of those sprays. Nutrients are further lost in food processing and packaging, and other chemicals are added to increase shelf life. Fresh produce that is transported long distances, even in refrigerated vehicles, loose some nutrient content, and continue to loose nutrient content the longer they remain on the grocer’s shelves. As disturbing a thought as it is, the majority of food available in grocery stores, and most especially prepackaged and fast foods, are not adequate to meet the body’s nutritional needs.
 
 
2. Avoiding things you shouldn’t eat.
This has at least as much to do with the way the food is prepared as it does with the food itself. Preparation begins with the quality of the food you select to start with. If you use processed, prepackaged foods, you’re already starting with low quality food for the reasons stated in point #1 above. If you cook with refined foods, such as sugar and white flour, or eat foods made from those things, such as white breads, pastas, cakes, cookies, and pastries, you’re eating foods devoid of nutritional value except for basic simple carbohydrates. These foods actually rob your body of other nutrients, since your body must expend nutrient stores to break down and assimilate these nutritionally dead foods, setting the foundation for high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
 
You also need to avoid trans fats. They do not exist anywhere in nature and are entirely man-made artifacts. The single biggest offender is margarine, which should never be eaten. It increases LDL levels, decreases HDL levels, more than doubles the risk of heart disease in women and triples the risk in men (taken from a recent Harvard medical study). It decreases both the immune response and insulin response, and increases the risk of cancer  about five times. It has no nutritional value, and at least one health scientist has pointed out that it’s only one molecule away from being plastic. To varying degrees, anything that contains, or is, a hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil does the same thing as margarine.
 
When cooking, it’s best to avoid frying your foods. Most common cooking oils convert to trans fats when heated to frying temperatures. You significantly increase your dietary fat intake from the extra fat content of fried foods, too.
 
You also need to minimize the amount of meals you get from restaurants and fast food outlets. They are of course in business to make money, and as long as the general public doesn’t care about the nutritional quality of their food, the food servers will economize by using the least expensive food products in their offerings. That means they will generally include everything in points 1 and 2 in their meals, and in most cases nothing but those things. They will also tend to add more fats, sugars, and other simple carbohydrates in their meals, since that’s what most people expect and enjoy.                   
 

So how do you break the habit of convenience and avoid the foods that aren’t healthy? Depending on your lifestyle and eating preferences, it may take a little effort initially, but it’s really easy once you begin, often a satisfying process, and the health rewards more than make up for the effort.
 
1. Cook most of your meals at home. If you don’t have time to cook every day, cook larger portions, or a few different meals at a time, on the days you can cook, wrap them in foil or plastic wrap, put them in tupperware containers and freeze them. They can be thawed and reheated later, and will retain almost all of their nutritional value.
2. Whenever possible, use organic foods only. They are the only foods guaranteed to be as free of genetic modification as possible, and free of harmful pesticides, additives and preservatives. They are also unquestionably the most nutritious foods you can eat, and they taste better, too! Eat locally grown organic produce  more than imported, even from within the US. Due to legal inconsistencies, food can be labeled as organic as long as it was grown organically. There’s no restriction against spraying organic produce with chemical preservatives for shipping purposes after they’ve been harvested, and they can be legally sold as organic without mention of the chemical sprays. You can avoid that by buying locally.
3. Eat whole, real foods. Don’t use artificial sweeteners (including those found in diet soft drinks), or dairy or fat substitutes. Although you want to minimize the use of sweeteners and fatty foods, for most generally healthy people it’s okay to include almost any real food in moderation . That may not be true for people who are trying to lose significant weight or have specific food allergies or health conditions that require special dietary care.
 
Below are some general recommendations from the main food groups. Remember that to achieve optimal health and vigorous longevity, our body requires nutrient-rich foods in order to repair and regenerate cells, prevent or reduce the occurrence of disease, and support a healthy immune system.
 
Basic Food Composition
Almost everyone is aware that the three main food groups consist of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. In various proportions and combinations, these macronutrients make up virtually every food we eat. Foods also contain vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. These substances make up the antioxidants, phytonutrients, and other micronutrients that we need to consume daily to maintain optimal health. Many foods also contain fiber, which we need for proper elimination.
 
Fats
Fats are found in all the obvious places: oils of all sorts, shortenings, all dairy (whole milk, cheeses, ice cream, butter, eggs, etc.), all meats and seafood, and in all the greasy snack foods like potato chips, crackers, corn chips, and cheese puffs. They are also found in some places you might not think of, like all seeds, nuts and nut butters, some vegetables like avocados and olives, and in most beans, including cocoa beans (where chocolate comes from) and coffee beans.
 
You should get no more than 30% of your calories from fats, and those should be from healthy fat sources. Obviously, you should avoid the snack food types of fats, like the potato chips, corn chips and cheese puffs, and fast food fats like fried chicken and double cheeseburgers. In addition to containing very large amounts of fats, they are of the most unhealthy sort. Margarine and hydrogenated fats should be avoided for reasons stated above. Healthy sources of fats include all whole vegetable source fats such as those found in avocados and olives; fish and other seafood; and seeds, nuts, and nut butters. If you like to eat nuts, avoid the “oven roasted” varieties, since unhealthy fats are typically added to them. Raw nuts and seeds are best. Remember that nuts contain a fairly high level of fat, so eating them indiscriminately can cause unwanted weight gain. Monounsaturated oils, especially olive oil, cold pressed and extra virgin, are the healthiest choice for cooking oils, or to drizzle on salads and grilled vegetables. Eggs are fine in moderation, between 4-6 a week, but poached, soft boiled or hard boiled only, not fried. While a good source of protein, meat can be problematic in other ways (see the protein section below), and the fats they contain are not healthy fats, so include them sparingly. Ounce for ounce, meat can contain up to five times the amount of fat as fish.
 
Protein
This is the substance that helps to build muscle, creates new cells, and makes up most of our enzymes and hormones. Most of the sources of fats given above are also good protein sources, which is one reason why many people have difficulty reducing fat from their diet. Almost all protein sources contain fat, so we want to do our best to insure that we’re getting protein that contains the healthiest fats possible, and in relatively low quantities. The main sources of protein include all meats, all seafood, all poultry, all dairy, eggs, seed, nuts, beans, and grains.
 
With few exceptions, the only complete protein comes from animal sources. If you want to  minimize animal consumption, which is advisable in all cases, two or more vegetable-source proteins needs to be eaten in combination at the same meal. Rice in particular, combined with any bean or legume, will supply complete vegetarian source protein. Vegetable protein contains much less fat than meat, and it’s a healthier fat. It’s also free of the hormones and antibiotics that are commonly found in meat.
 
If you eat meat, eat it in moderation. In most Asian countries, meat is traditionally used most often as a flavoring or condiment rather than a main course. Even if the origins of that eating style may have had more to do with economics, the health benefits are clear and undeniable. In all cases, try to get meat from organically fed (to avoid pesticide contamination), hormone and antibiotic free animals. Likewise eggs, a very good protein source, should come from organically fed or free range chickens, also free of hormones and antibiotics. Fish is a very good source of complete protein, and contains healthful fats. Chicken and most other poultry are a good source of low fat protein. Duck, being fatty, is the exception. Avoid processed sandwich meats, since they are usually preserved with nitrates and nitrites, which are known carcinogens.
 
Carbohydrates: Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains
The average American diet is lacking in adequate amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition to being a source of healthy carbohydrates used for energy, they contain many vitamins and minerals necessary for good health, enzymes that provide antioxidant protection and aid in digestion, and other phytonutrients that are known to be potent cancer fighting substances. Green vegetables contain chlorophyll, which helps to build and oxygenate the blood, and is itself a potent antioxidant. Colorful vegetables contain numerous carotenes, a class of nutrients that includes the well-known beta carotene, which are also cancer fighters. Most fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, which helps cleanse the intestines and removes toxins from our body.
 
Everyone should eat a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, from as many varied sources as possible, preferably fresh and organic to insure the highest nutrient content free from contaminants. Vegetables should be either lightly steamed (best) or grilled to minimize nutrient loss. Include some raw vegetables, either as salads or snacks, and raw fruit, especially during the warmer weather. Raw fruits and vegetables provide the highest enzyme activity, and retain all their other nutrients.
 
Grains are best eaten in their whole form. The husk or shell of the grain contains the most nutrients, providing complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. The fiber from grains is among the best for promoting elimination and intestinal cleansing. When grains are refined, the husk is removed, eliminating the bran, the fiber, and most of the nutrients. You’re left with a pure carbohydrate, which is usually bleached, further reducing its nutritional value. The resultant white flour is then made into breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, pastries, and cookies that are simple carbohydrates, otherwise nutritionally dead, and are readily and rapidly converted into sugar when eaten. Many of those products contain high amounts of added sugars and fats. Do your best to include whole grains in your diet,  such as whole wheat, buckwheat, brown rice, whole oats, barley, and quinoa. If you eat store-bought breads and pastas, try to get whole-grain products. Read the labels carefully, because most often what passes for whole wheat bread, for example, is mainly white bread, made from refined white flour, with just a little whole wheat flour added. Legally, this can be sold as whole wheat bread. The same is true for pastas and breakfast cereals.
 
There are many other things you’ll want to pay attention to when planning your healthy, balanced diet. Each individual’s particular needs and circumstances must be taken into account as well. What you’ve read here is a good place to start, and most of it will apply to everyone. If you’d like to get more detailed information and specific recommendations, click here for my article, Dietary Guidelines For Optimal Health and Longevity.
 



© 2007 Steven Cardoza Compassionate Arts Health and Longevity Services • Web Design and Construction Sharper Web Solutions