Healthy eating habits

by Dawid Michalczyk
Updated: 30 August, 2013

Disclaimer: This article represents personal views and should be treated as such. Implementation of any ideas contained herein can only be done at own risk. Original article location: http://www.art.eonworks.com/articles/healthy_eating_habits.html

Summary: Based on over 23 years of personal experience I describe my views on what constitutes a healthy diet and suggest a range of healthy eating habits. The diet is simple to implement and relatively low cost.

I have been experimenting with nutrition since 1990 and keep journals about my observations. Over time, I tried several different diets - ranging from the politically correct ones to the highly controversial, along with diets of my own design. Although diets vary in their effectiveness - some can be very harmful - my general observation is that a healthy diet plays an essential role in the overall scheme of well being. Furthermore, there is no one diet that will work for everybody.

Benefits of healthy eating

Eating the natural foods humans are well adapted at utilizing, enhances the ability to cope with the reality of every day life. This in essence
a man standing on a hilltop
Good health can lead to a better and more fulfilling life.
improves the probability of living a longer, healthier and happier life. Quality food consumption becomes especially important in the present world of high stress and pollution - making a healthy diet an essential aspect of personal health care.

Good health is the most important thing in life because it gives freedom. Freedom to pursue dreams and do all the things that poor health won't permit. Any significant health problem, chronic or acute, will bring your life balance out of order. Not just your own bodily balance but everything and anybody you normally interact with will be affected. Many relationships and activities will suffer in some way or may have to be limited. You may not be able to fully support yourself and may have to rely on others. Illness strains relationships by making life of those around you more difficult. Basically a myriad of different problems will arise from poor health. Ultimately poor health limits what one can do in life.

Common benefits of healthy eating are better health and a sense of well being, better sleep, improved physical endurance and strength, sharper mental abilities and lower sleep requirements. Furthermore, no or little time, and money, and energy is spend on doctors, hospitals and health insurance bills.

What is a healthy diet?

Bushmen hunters standing in the savanna
Hunter-gatherers living on their traditional diets are virtually free of heart, cancer and other degenerative diseases common in the western world.
Since this article deals with healthy eating habits, a question remains to be answered: what constitutes a healthy diet? Unfortunately, there are more opinions about this than there are health experts. To further complicate the matter, dietary concepts change over time, leaving many confused and uncertain about what or whom to trust. One solution to this problem is to become sufficiently knowledgeable about the relevant subjects and draw reasonable conclusions. Along with ongoing personal experimentation, such approach will enable you to establish healthy eating habits that work especially well for your body and mind.

In order to determine the minimal basic requirements of a healthy diet, I concluded that it is safe to start with the following two objectives:

  1. examine human diet over time - the foods humans consumed since the arrival of our species.
  2. examine diets of ethnic groups known for their good health.

Okinawan farmer in a garden of greens
The traditional living Okinawans and people from the other Ryukyu Islands have the highest longevity in the world. This is partly attributed to diet, but also to other factors such as lifestyle, genetics, and mental well being.

Looking at the type of diets humans lived on through out pre-history, provides good insights into the kind of foods human body is well adapted at utilizing and dealing with. Further, the diets of certain ethnic groups that are well known for good health - the people of Okinawa (Japan); traditional cultures in the Mediterranean region; and many hunter-gatherer societies - suggest certain healthy eating habits that promote good health.

Upon closer examination of the above mentioned objectives, two main denominators emerged:

A) traditional diets are based on natural, whole or minimally processed foods in accordance to heritage.
B) traditional diets are lower in calories and are more nutrient rich compared to a typical western diet.

In the context of present time, one can therefore make two general assumptions in regard to the question of what constitutes a healthy diet: 1) generally, the less a food is processed the better. 2) eat less - eat what is adequate, do not overeat.

Generally, the less a food is processed the better

The Homo genus includes modern humans and species closely related to them, and has been estimated to be about 2.3 to 2.4 million years old. Thus starting with our earliest ancestors, for 99.9% of the existence of our genus we lived on foods that were either raw or minimally processed. The technology needed to increase food processing did not exist until very recently. It is therefore reasonable to assume that our bodies are best adapted at utilizing and dealing with the raw or minimally processed foods which sustained us, and our predecessors, for millions of years: fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts and seeds.

close-up of a branch of peaches hanging from a tree
Peaches are a good source of vitamin C and fiber.
Food cooking started about 500 000 - 250 000 years ago (depending on the source, the range may vary). During this time frame human species have adapted to simply cooked vegetables and animal foods. On the other hand, the beginnings of grain consumption are much more recent. Evidence of earliest known, systematical collecting of grains for food goes back to about 23 000 years ago - giving less time for adaptation to grain based foods.

Over time humans started processing the natural foods to an increasingly higher degree. Extracting and mixing food ingredients with ever stronger emphasis on improving the taste, while largely neglecting the nutritional value, has led to a dramatic rise in health problems during the past several decades.

Consider all the new, highly processed foods so popular today: fast food, pizza, sweets, chips, processed meats, cookies, sugary breakfast cereals, energy drinks, soft drinks, etc. Such foods are typically made from low quality ingredients and are often high in sugar, salt, fat, and contain additives.

Regular consumption of such highly processed energy dense foods, often coupled with excessive intake of popular stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, gave rise to the hyper-active, haphazard, fast-forward cultural norms of today that increase stress levels and further worsen health problems. Processed foods pollute and destabilize mental faculties and thus hinder their proper development and function.

Often, the more recent the food is, the more likely it is to be less beneficial or even directly harmful - possibly due to lack of full adaptation to such foods.

The dramatic rise in heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, cancers, diabetes, liver and kidney problems is a byproduct of our modern lifestyle. Fortunately, healthy diet can help relieve or even eliminate completely many chronic health issues caused by unhealthy diet.

Considering the declining health of most western nations as opposed to good health of the ethnic groups described above, it seems reasonable that many of the most recent food inventions are directly harmful to human health. Further, it has been repeatedly observed that as ethnic groups around the world adopt the modern western diet, their health dramatically declines and they develop the same diseases that are so common to westerners. Not to mention the fact that the above diseases were far less common among westerners themselves barely 100 years ago.

a basket full of fresh vegetables
Raw vegetables help improve digestion.
The more food is processed - through excessive cooking, pasteurization, homogenization, high heat, mechanical processing, etc, - the less natural and nutritious it becomes to a point of becoming a harmful burden to the body, rather than a useful and health promoting food. Some industrial processing practices deprive food of their nutrients to such high degree that the food has to be "enriched" by artificially adding some nutrients back into the food. This is especially true of flours where some vitamins are added after the processing is done.

A good diet is based on natural, whole or minimally processed foods. Some of it should consist of foods that can be eaten raw, such as vegetables and small amount of fruits. A healthy diet can also include fermented or cultured, unpasteurized foods such as kefir, yogurt, cheeses, miso, sauerkraut and pickles. These probiotic foods are considered highly beneficial in many cultures. Cooking should be minimal and only applied to foods that must be cooked in order to be edible. Ancestral heritage also plays an important role as certain foods may need to be excluded or emphasized.

Eat less - eat what is adequate, do not overeat

cows grazing on grass
Natural diet is essential to good health of any animal. Cows that freely graze on fresh plants out in the open, rather than being fed grains or corn, are healthy and result in healthy foods.
During the past several decades, food in the western and westernized nations became increasingly affordable and more readily available than ever before in human history. This very fact combined with the enjoyment and stress relief that food consumption brings results in all too frequent over eating. Which leads to a variety of chronic health problems.

In the past, as in the traditional way of living among the ethnic groups mentioned earlier, food consumption has been lower. Food quality, on the other hand, has been higher, with few energy dense foods that are so common today.

Finally, as an interesting note, it has been repeatedly confirmed through laboratory experiments on animals, including monkeys, that cutting down calories considerably lowers their susceptibility to diseases and prolongs their life up to 50%. Some scientists believe that life long caloric restriction can have similar effects on humans.

Health promoting eating habits

Over time, through learning and experimenting, I worked out many healthy eating habits. I list the most important below. I feel they are essential to creating a solid foundation for good health. If you'd like to experiment with them, try one at a time, say for a few weeks, and observe how you feel. You may find that they will work quite well for you.

Avoid or minimize:

Sugar and processed foods. The worst type of foods are highly processed foods and foods that are high in simple carbohydrates or sugar. Generally, such foods are often high in calories, low in important nutrients, contain unhealthy fats, processed salt, and artificial additives. Regular consumption of such foods has been linked with a variety of diseases including obesity, diabetes, immune system disorders, cardiovascular diseases, malnutrition and cancer.

The following processed foods are particularly harmful to health and should be avoided: all junk food, chips, soft drinks, sweets, sugary breakfast cereals, processed meats like sausages or ham or salami, many refined or white flour foods, many canned foods that are high in fat or sugar or salt. These foods are typically made from low quality ingredients, are of poor nutritional value, can contain unhealthy fats like trans-fats, often contain sugar or large amounts of processed salt, and have chemical additives added to them (some of which are known to be disease causing).

Sugar is actually so harmful to health that efforts are being made to raise the awareness that sugar should be controlled like alcohol and tobacco to protect public health. Regular consumption of foods that are naturally high in simple sugars or foods that have been added sugar may be the leading cause, or a major contributing factor to diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Sugar foods include but are not limited to: most commercial yogurts, kefirs, juices, soft drinks, ice cream, energy drinks, honey, dried fruits, maple syrup, jams, sweet breakfast cereals, and sweets of any kind (cookies, desserts, chocolate, candy, etc). Generally, anything that tastes sweet has sugar or artificial sweeteners in it and should be avoided. The only exception is fresh or cooked fruit which can be eaten in small quantities (a handful a day, I write more about fruit eating later in this article).

For best results all processed and sugary foods should be completely eliminated from any healthy eating plan.

Damaged or oxidized fats and high heat cooking. Avoid all refined or overly heated fats: margarine, any oil that is not cold pressed, leftover fat from cooking, all foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and trans fatty acids. Read the labels. Such fats are considered to be among the most health damaging foods due to their damaged (oxidized) state (or the ease at which oxidation happens in them).

Other foods to avoid include: polyunsaturated oils (except cold pressed in small quantities), any meat or fat that has been exposed to high heat like frying or grilling, powdered eggs and dairy (often found in baked goods), homogenized dairy products (except butter and cream, which are not homogenized), aged meats and cheeses and baked goods that contain dairy.

Do not cook meat or fat at very high temperatures while exposed to air. Such practice will avoid fat and cholesterol oxidation - believed to be responsible for build up of arterial plaque and injury to arterial cells. Grilling and frying is especially harmful. Avoid eating the outer layer of meat and fat cooked in hot air, like in the oven. Steaming, baking, or cooking in water through gentle simmering, are probably the healthiest ways of cooking meats and vegetables.

Polluted foods. Avoid or minimize consumption of foods polluted with unnatural, toxic or other unhealthy substances. Avoid consumption of fish and water animals unless certain they came from unpolluted waters. Especially predatory fish should be avoided as toxins accumulate in them in greater quantities. Minimize intake of all plant and plant based foods sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals commonly used to cultivate them. Avoid meats from animals treated with hormones and antibiotics. The best way to avoid all these harmful ingredients is to buy organic foods whenever possible. Later in this article I describe which foods are especially high in pollutants.

Omega 6 Polyunsaturated fatty acids. Keep the intake of foods high in omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) within healthy range. It is very easy to get too many omega 6 PUFAs because they are found in so many foods. Omega 6 PUFAs are found mainly in nuts and seeds and any products made from them (mostly oils) and containing them. Especially commercially baked goods like breads and cookies, many processed/junk foods, and butter substitutes are high in omega 6 PUFAs. Virtually all oils, except olive, flax, palm and coconut oil are high in omega 6 PUFAs, and some of them are widely used in commercial food production due to their low cost.

Omega 6 PUFAs are especially dangerous when consumed in excess. PUFAs are unstable, they oxidize readily resulting in health damaging free radicals. High omega 6 PUFA intake have been repeatedly linked with cancer, heart and inflammatory diseases. If you are suffering from any of these diseases, reduce intake of all food sources high in omega 6 PUFAs from your diet - nuts, seeds, oils made from them and foods containing them.

NOTE: Omega 6 along with another family of PUFAs called omega 3 are essential for health. It is when one gets too much or too little of any one of them that problems arise. Which unfortunately is very common in the west. Many people are deficient in omega 3 and consume excessive amounts of omega 6. It is essential to keep the intake of these fatty acids within recommended range. Although nobody knows what the ideal range is, most experts seem to agree that the ratio between omega 3 to omega 6 should be between 1:2 to 1:10. I can only recommend to experiment with different rations to find out what works best for you.

Mary G. Enig, PhD, a well known authority on fatty acids, writes in the "Know your fats" book that the minimum intake of essential fatty acids should be 1 - 1.5% of energy (kcal) from omega 3, and 2 - 3% of energy (kcal) from omega 6. So on a 2000 kcal diet one needs at least 2.2 - 3.3 grams omega 3 and 4.4 - 6.7 grams omega 6. (For me, such intake would be too high in omega 3 and much too low in omega 6)

Rich sources of omega 3 are flax seeds/oil, fish oil and fatty sea fish. All plant oils except olive, palm, flax and coconut are relatively high in omega 6, as are most seeds and nuts. Sunflower and sesame seeds are an especially rich whole food source. A few small handfuls a week of fresh nuts or seeds is healthy, especially if you eliminate all sources of processed foods high in omega 6 PUFA. Walnuts are especially good as they contain a good ratio between omega 3 and 6.

Fungi and mycotoxins. Minimize or eliminate consumption of unfresh foods that are especially prone to fungi and mycotoxin contamination: alcoholic beverages, spices, wheat, rye, barley, corn, peanuts, dried fruits and (even slightly) damaged fresh fruits. Mycotoxins are poisonous substances produced by certain molds and fungi which can cause a wide range of health problems including cancer, asthma, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. To minimize the health risk of these foods, make sure to buy only organic brands that come from reputable manufacturers and buy them as fresh as possible. The longer a food has been stored the greater its chance of becoming contaminated with molds and fungi. A couple of days is often enough for bread in the kitchen to get contaminated with invisible (at first) patches of molds. Always wash grains clean, and then cook them thoroughly by boiling them for at least few minutes before further cooking. This will lower the content of possible fungi in the grain. Mycotoxins are very heat resistant, even frying or roasting does not eliminate them.

I know from experience that any food that is not too fresh but tastes normal, often causes me aura migraine headache. This is especially true of breads that are high in rye or wheat. Same goes for dried fruits, some spices, and many peanuts varieties. I suspect this could be due to the effect mycotoxins or fungi have on the liver (vision and liver function are closely related) as these foods are the only ones that cause me the aura migraine.

Emphasize and do:

(The most important healthy eating habits are listed first)

pear close-up
Pears are a good source of the soluble fiber pectin which helps with proper bowel function and lowers cholesterol.
Ensure balanced nutrition that meets your own needs. Everybody is different and therefore every person has different nutritional needs. The most important healthy eating habit is about getting the right quantities of all nutrients and minimize the risks of getting too much or too little of any nutrient. Nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins, and water.

Essential nutrients are nutrients that are required for healthy body function and can not be manufactured by the human body. They can only be obtained from a dietary source (or as supplements), and currently include: essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and water. See the full list of currently known essential for health nutrients and currently recommended levels of intake.

Balanced intake of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats and water is fundamental for proper body function. Long term unbalanced intake, whether too low or too high of just a single nutrient will eventually lead to health problems - and can including severe diseases like cancer, diabetes and many others.

Eating a limited diet day in and day out will eventually lead to a deficiency of the nutrients the diet lacks, and excess body levels of the nutrients the diet is high in. Even a healthy diet that includes regular consumption of a single food that is particularly rich in some nutrients, like chocolate, can eventually lead to excessive body levels of the nutrients that chocolate is high in. Dark chocolate is especially high in copper, iron, and oxalic acid. Milk chocolate is high in sugar, which depletes chromium and other nutrients necessary for sugar metabolism.

Overconsumption of copper rich foods (tea, coffee, chocolate and other cocoa products, nuts, seeds, drinking water that runs through copper pipes, and others) can lead to a host of serious health problems like anemia, nausea, vomiting, moodiness, depression, heart disease, joint/spinal degeneration, increased susceptibility for infections, higher risk for some cancers. On the other hand, insufficient copper intake can lead to insomnia, depression, low immunity, vascular degeneration, premature graying of hair, and other health issues.

When the intake of essential amino acids is insufficient, protein synthesis (building cells and repairing tissue) comes to a halt. Immunity is also lowered as amino acids are needed to form antibodies to combat pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Many health problems can be caused by insufficient protein intake. On the other hand, excess protein consumption will put extra stress on the liver and kidneys. It may result in loss of calcium, which eventually leads to osteoporosis or kidney stones, and other problems.

Taking supplements of nutrients the body is not lacking or is already high in can also lead to various health problems caused by excess intake of those nutrients. For example, if you are not deficient in magnesium and your diet provides adequate magnesium, and you start taking a magnesium supplement, you can then gradually develop health problems caused by magnesium excess. Although this largely depends on dose and duration, many magnesium supplements contain enough magnesium to cause problems in a week or less. Other nutrients in the body will most likely be affected by high magnesium intake. For example, magnesium can lower potassium, sodium, iron, selenium, copper, and other nutrients. Conversely, taking a magnesium supplement to correct a magnesium deficiency is necessary to eliminate the problems caused by the deficiency.

Getting the right nutrition to maintain good health is a highly individualized matter. Most diets today follow the outdated one-size-fits-all approach which does not take into account the tremendous variability in nutritional needs based on lifestyle, state of health, and genetics.

Nutritional needs differ among people due to many factors like genetic weaknesses or disease predisposition, age, diet and bioavailability of nutrients, state of health, type of work, climate, nutritional imbalances, the amount of daily physical and mental and emotional activities, and other factors. Even moderate exposure to mental or physical stress may dramatically increase the amount of certain nutrients needed - far exceeding the Recommended Daily Intake.

Because every person has different nutritional needs, one should therefore not rely too strongly on the officially recommended daily intake of nutrients. As your needs for some nutrients may be much higher or lower than is commonly recommended. For example, even though my diet provides the recommended amount of magnesium (around 400mg a day) I still often supplement with 100-200mg of magnesium to prevent symptoms of deficiency. On the other hand my needs for potassium are rather low, as I barely meet the recommended minimum of 2g a day, and higher potassium intake result in symptoms of excess.

It takes time and effort to bring the body into a relatively balanced state. The first step should consist of establishing the nutritional status of the body in order to correct nutritional imbalances by treating nutritional deficiencies and excesses. Ideally, cellular analysis should be performed. Hair mineral analysis can be used as an alternative. Blood tests should not be relied on for establishing nutritional status of the body.

It's very useful to become familiar with symptoms of excess and deficiency of the nutrients that you are lacking or have excess of, as well as the synergism and antagonism between nutrients. This is especially important if you are taking supplements. That way you can, at least to some extent, continually adjust your nutritional intake according to symptoms. (Particularly good sources of information on interactions between nutrients and symptoms of excess and deficiency are Cellular Nutrition by Dr. Ronald Roth and The Doctor's Complete Guide to Vitamins and Minerals by Mary Dan Eades, M.D.)

The easiest way to find out the details of your nutritional intake is to acquire a computer program that automatically calculates the daily intake of nutrients based on the consumed foods (see Resources). That way you'll see which nutrients are low in your diet and which are supplied in excessive amounts. You can then check symptoms of excess of the nutrients that are high in your diet, and check the symptoms of deficiency of the nutrients that are low in your diet. That way you'll be able to see which nutritional imbalances are potentially responsible for your ailments.

You can then adjust your diet by lowering the intake of nutrients that are in excess and increase intake of the lacking nutrients - if that is what is needed, as you may have a unique need for a higher or lower intake of certain nutrients, in which case their levels of intake should not result in any symptoms. If meeting nutritional requirements through diet alone is not possible, then using supplements of the lacking nutrients is necessary to prevent deficiencies.

For instance, if the nutritional computer program shows that your intake of iron is too high, and your symptoms match one or more of the symptoms of iron excess, you can then see which foods that you are eating are highest in iron and can then lower their intake or replace them with foods that are low in iron. Even better is to stop eating iron rich foods for a week or two to see if the symptoms of iron excess disappear or decrease in intensity. A faster alternative is to lower iron intake and take an iron antagonist like calcium or zinc in order to lower iron quicker (assuming the intake of calcium and zinc is not excessive to begin with and one is not high in any of them).

Another example is where the iron intake is within normal range but the intake or iron synergists is high, which in turn can raise iron.

Things are not always this clear because many nutrients share the same symptoms of excess or deficiency, and one can have deficiencies or excesses of multiple nutrients. Furthermore, a low intake of a certain nutrient does not necessarily mean that one is deficient in that nutrient and vice versa. Nevertheless, the method described above is often effective and I have been using it with good results for years. With enough experience it can be relatively easy to determine the cause of the problem and simply adjust nutritional intake. Although all this seems like a lot of work, and it is in the beginning, with practice it takes considerably less effort, and eventually the need for using software becomes much less frequent. It is always best to do such things under the supervision of a health care practitioner who is experienced in correcting nutritional imbalances.

The ideal food sources of proteins, fats and carbohydrates are probably best determined through various physiological characteristics like blood type. This is why I recommend the Eat Right 4 Your Type diet developed by Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo. Following this diet, with some minor modifications, has given me the best results of all the diets I tried.

Finally, let me emphasize that nutritional needs vary among people. Therefore one should not rely completely on the officially recommended daily intake of nutrients but treat it as a very rough guideline. For optimum brain and body function your needs for some nutrients may be much higher or lower than is commonly recommended. Which is why an ongoing sensible experimentation with nutrition is so helpful in identifying beneficial and harmful foods, food combinations and supplements.

Although this eating habit is the hardest to get right and requires long term commitment, it is well worth pursuing. Once achieved, it will have a profound effect on the overall state of health, mental clarity, and well being.

The importance of organic food. Until about the early 1900s all food was organic. It was the norm since the beginning of life on this planet. Modern agriculture industry practices have changed that. As a result, mineral-deficient soils are commonly used for plant cultivation. This created many serious problems.

Humans and the animals we eat get food from plants, and plants get nutrients from the soil. Mineral-deficient soil results in plants that are nutritionally inferior to plants that are grown on good quality soil. Thus the commercial, non-organic foods are usually of lower nutritional value - sometimes far lower than the natural or organic equivalent. Especially vitamin C, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus are found in greater quantities in organic foods. The same is true for important antioxidant phytochemicals like flavonoids and carotenoids.

Taking supplements is helpful but may not be sufficient. There may be hundreds or thousands of health promoting undiscovered substances found in natural foods. They may all be important and some may be essential to human health - but sufficient amounts may only be found in organic foods. Additionally, it seems that some nutrients may only be properly utilized when obtained from food.

Perhaps more importantly, organic plant foods are much lower in nitrates and pesticide residues, and organic meat is free of hormones and antibiotics. Organic farming is also environmentally friendly and more sustainable. If getting organic foods is not possible where you live, it may be necessary to supplement with high quality (from reputable brands) vitamins, and a mineral and trace mineral complex in order to minimize possible deficiencies.

The more natural and less processed the food, the better its health promoting value. Some nutrient loss always occurs during food processing, thus emphasize whole and minimally processed fresh foods. Such foods are rich in a variety of high quality nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, bioflavonoids, fats, carbohydrates, proteins and others - including the ones not yet discovered.

Therefore it's best to eat whole or minimally processed foods. I can recommend to at least partially replace white rice with brown rice; white bread with whole grain bread; canned foods with fresh. Always choose fresh over frozen, or if not available frozen over canned. Fresh foods taste better, have more nutrients in them, have no added salt, sugar or unhealthy additives.

Less processed foods are also lower in potentially harmful chemicals that may have been introduced during the production process. For example, fruits or vegetables may contain trace amounts of the detergent used to wash it prior processing. All processing machines need to be maintained by cleaning and repairing, which again may introduce small amounts of harmful chemicals into the food. The longer the food processing chain the more potentially harmful chemicals may end in the food. Some may argue that the amounts are too small to matter, but the truth is that low level food pollution has never been part of human diet until very recently.

Variety and moderation in diet is important. By consuming a variety of healthy foods in moderation you get a more balanced intake of a wide spectrum of nutrients and lower the risk of getting too much, or too little, of any food or nutrient. Moderation and variety helps prevent allergies, malnutrition, overdose (of any nutrient), and lowers exposure to natural and man-made toxins found in many foods. Nevertheless, although moderation is an important healthy eating habit, it does not ensure a balanced nutritional intake. (Read the first item)

Enjoy simple meals. Meals that contain fewer foods are easier to digest. Brown rice with some chicken meat and cooked green peas and a carrot with little olive oil and sea salt is a nutritious and satisfying meal. With simple meals it's also much easier to identify beneficial foods and foods that are causing problems. Generally, the simpler the food preparation the more nutrients are preserved and the easier it is to digest. Simple meals are easy and quick to prepare and use fewer resources like electricity and water - thus are more environmentally friendly and cost less.

Beware of the so-called superfoods. Some superfoods contain undesirable substances or are very high in certain nutrients. Such foods can be detrimental to health if eaten regularly even in small amounts. Broccoli and spinach contain goitrogenic substances that suppress the thyroid, and proper thyroid function is extremely important to good health. Cocoa products like chocolate and dark chocolate in particular are very high in iron, copper and oxalic acid. Brazil nuts are often recommended as the richest food source of selenium. Unfortunately a single brazil nut can contain anywhere from 20 to 200mcg of selenium, and they are also high in oxalic acid. Kelp, a rich source of iodine, contains varying amounts of bromine - a thyroid suppressant. Kelp can also contain mercury and other toxic compounds. Almonds, sesame seeds, raw spinach and cooked, miso, buckwheat flour and groats are all very high in oxalates.

Eat when hungry and do not overeat regardless of food. This healthy eating habit helps create a balance in the body that leads to a healthier state of being by letting the body more naturally regulate its needs. Hunger is a signal. It indicates that the body needs and is ready for food. Fullness is another signal indicating adequate food intake. Conscious practice is needed to get a good sense for when to eat and how much. What works well for me is to eat within 30 minutes from the time I feel the very slightest hunger.

Lack of hunger or poor appetite is often caused by over-eating or eating unhealthy foods, or too much fat in the diet, or lack of physical activity. To remedy the problem one should adapt a healthy diet, get adequate and proper type of daily exercise, get plenty of sleep during the night, minimize stress (a lot of stress is caused by excessive desire), and address mental health issues if there are any. If none of this works, correcting nutritional imbalances will most likely help. I know from experience that a mild deficiency of vitamin B1 or iodine can cause me unnatural lack of appetite despite living a healthy lifestyle.

NOTE: This habit should not be followed if you have a chronic illness, are recovering from an illness or feel stressed in daily life. Under such conditions you should eat as soon as hunger is felt or even at regular intervals regardless of hunger. It is absolutely essential to provide the body with adequate and high quality nutritious foods to help cope with the demands of such situations.

Prolong the nightly fast. Unless very hungry, do not eat for 2-3 hours before bedtime. That way the nightly fast can be prolonged considerably. This gives the body more/adequate time and energy to perform the countless nightly tasks that are so essential to good health - rather than digesting the just eaten meal. This simple healthy eating habit can reduce sleep requirements by one hour or more, and make you feel more fresh and better rested in the morning. Periodically, for detoxification, do not eat for 2/3rd of the day. That is, eat only during an 8 hour period and leave the remaining 16 hours for elimination and assimilation.

Drink enough water. This seems obvious, yet it is easy to forget about it if one gets too absorbed in some activity. Not getting enough water can lead to headache, dizziness, kidney ache, and other health issues. Under normal circumstances in temperate climate most people need about 2 - 4 liters of water a day.

Consume some raw foods every day. Most of these raw foods should be vegetables, and only little fruit. Although fruits are widely recognized as healthy foods, in my experience they are not healthy when eaten in the currently recommended quantities. Currently it is recommended to eat several fruit servings a day which in my opinion is too much. Even when eaten in moderation, over time fruits seem to irritate the digestive tract, and can also cause anxiety, restlessness, depression, and anger. Perhaps the fruit acids are too irritating, or because the commercial fruits of today are much higher in sugar and lower in other nutrients (compared to their original wild counterparts) and therefore easily upset blood sugar levels.

Considering that in temperate climates fresh fruit has been available year round since only very recently, it seems to me that a more reasonable recommendation would be to eat one small fruit serving a day (a handful of berries or grapes, an apple, or a plum or peach, etc). Especially fruits that are high in fructose should only be eaten in small quantities, ideally as snacks between meals. If you suspect that fruits may cause you problems, eat them occasionally to see if that helps, or eliminate them completely from your diet for a month or two. Then gradually start eating one fruit type at a time, say one fruit daily for a week, to identify which fruits cause you problems.

During summer time, one naturally craves more raw foods so up to half of the diet (by volume) can occasionally consist of raw foods if one craves them. Most of it should be raw vegetables, although some more fruit can also be eaten. During winter, one naturally craves more cooked foods so raw food intake should be much lower.

Vegetables should be consumed on a daily basis either with meals or as snacks. Raw vegetables are great for improving digestion and not much is needed to feel their effect. Several slices of a cucumber, or 1/2 a pepper, or some other vegetable can be added to a meal once or twice a day. Juicy fruits and vegetables are best eaten as a snack between meals.

Ensure adequate fiber intake. Dietary fiber is the mostly non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant foods. There are several types of fiber and they all have different properties that are essential for good digestion and health. Adequate fiber intake help prevent cardiovascular diseases (heart and stroke), type 2 diabetes, cancer and gastrointestinal disorders. Fiber is also effective at eliminating toxins, parasites, and is the best remedy for constipation. The usual sources are vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. The first signs of inadequate fiber intake are constipation and long transit times. Healthy transit should take no longer than one day. Raw fruits and vegetables are great for helping with transit times, especially when eaten as snacks between meals. It has been estimated that about 35g of fiber a day is needed. Most people consuming the typical western diet get less then half of that. High fiber foods are: grains (bulgur and oatmeal are convenient sources), whole grain breads, legumes and beans (especially pinto and kidney beans), and nuts and seeds.

Reduce levels of phytic acid and other anti-nutrients. Grains, legums, nuts and seeds are high in phytic acid and anti-nutrients like lectins and digestive enzyme inhibitors. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract and thus interferes with the absorption of these minerals. Long term, excessive intake of foods high in phytic acid can lead to severe health problems caused by mineral deficiencies. Enzyme inhibitors can interfere with digestion.

Soaking, fermenting, sprouting and cooking will largely neutralize phytic acid and other anti-nutrients. Fermenting also helps break down gluten, a hard to digest protein. The Weston A. Price Foundation has a very useful article on how to minimize phytic acid in food. And here is a simple method of soaking brown rice.

This healthy eating habit is especially important to follow if you eat a lot of whole grains or make your own whole grain based foods like breads.

fresh blueberries on a branch, ready to be plucked
Blueberries are exceptionally high in health promoting antioxidants. They also have antibacterial properties and are good for varicose veins and urinary infections.

Ancestral diet. Consider the diet (and lifestyle) your ancestors had for thousands of years. You will most likely do very well on such a diet (with modifications based on modern nutrition) due to the long period of adaptation. For example, the traditional Chinese diet is high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein; Europeans, on the other hand, have been eating less carbs and more protein and fat; North American Indians did not consume grains, etc. I suspect that in the future, taking into account ancestral diet may prove to be among the most important aspects of a good diet.

Properly wash fruits and vegetables before consumption. This lowers the exposure to agricultural chemicals used to cultivate plants, and harmful microorganisms. A frequently recommended way of washing fruits and vegetables is to first submerge them in water for 5-10 minutes - in order to loosen/soften any dried particles - then to gently rub the food item under clean running water. A more thorough procedure includes, after the initial washing, soaking the food in water mixed with some kind of suitable cleaning liquid for 15-30 minutes. There are many different recommendations as for what to use, but none seem to be completely effective at eliminating all harmful microorganisms. I usually use 50ml of vinegar for each liter of water and soak it for up to 30 minutes. Washing salad leafs is especially important as you can't peel its skin. Peel the skin if washing is not sufficient, especially if the surface is covered with a thin layer of wax.

Steam vegetables that need to be cooked. Steaming preserves more nutrients. Do not overcook. Cooked vegetables should be crunchy when you eat them, not soft. Vitamin loss, especially vitamin C, increases when exposed to higher temperatures. Less heat and shorter exposure (5 minutes or less) lowers the vitamin loss.

Chew food well and eat at a comfortable pace. A very simple healthy eating habit, yet a highly effective and safe way of improving digestion. Digestion starts in the mouth as saliva gets mixed with the food during chewing. Saliva has many important properties. It contains an enzyme which initiates the breakdown of carbohydrates; it has anti-bacterial properties; helps nourish and repair the gut; it helps keep the mouth and teeth clean. By simply chewing food longer, or more thoroughly, you can significantly enhance digestion and absorb more nutrients.

Cultured and fermented foods. Regularly consume unpasteurized fermented/cultured foods that work well for you and avoid those that do not. These foods include sauerkraut, miso, pickles, kefir, yogurt, tofu, and others. These are pre-digested foods that are high in probiotics (friendly bacteria) and enzymes which provide numerous health benefits. They help prevent intestinal infections from viruses and bacteria; help keep the intestinal lining healthy; can prevent diarrhea and can lower cholesterol levels. The Lactobacilli and Bifido bacteria, have been found to display anti-cancer activity.

Eat juicy fruit by itself. Juicy or watery fruits are usually best eaten alone as a snack between meals - unless you can find a combination of foods that works well. For best digestion only eat one type of fruit at a time.

Good sources of protein

milk, eggs, cheese
Organic, raw or minimally processed cultured milk and milk products are highly nutritious, easy to digest foods, rich in essential proteins, friendly bacteria, enzymes and Calcium. Eggs are an exceptionally good source of protein. Egg yolks are high in vitamin A, biotin, choline, sulfur, lecithin, selenium and vitamin B12.
  • eggs, soft-boiled or runny egg yolk is best as it's easier to digest. Egg yolks are very nutritious. A whole egg and several egg whites can be eaten daily.
  • poultry: chicken and turkey can be eaten almost daily, both white and dark meat.
  • red meat.
  • raw fermented milk products: sour milk, kefir, cheeses, etc (hard to find but sour milk and kefir can be made at home from regular (pasteurized) milk).
  • some wild game (except predators).
Meats are very nutritious foods and at least a 100g should be eaten daily. Most fish, unfortunately, are no longer healthy foods due to contamination with mercury and chemicals. Most non-organic meats come from animals that have been fed unnatural diets based on corn/grains/beans. This changes the fat content of the meat making them higher in the omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Further, such animals are frequently given antibiotics and hormones - thus should be avoided. On the other hand, organic meats should be eaten with the fat and skin and other edible parts that are naturally part of the meat. Organic eggs, meats and milk contain the highest quality protein. If you can't tolerate regular milk and milk products you may have no problems with raw or fermented equivalents like sour milk, kefir or cheeses.

Good sources of carbohydrates

    rice growing on a crop
    Rice is a gluten free grain. Brown rice is far richer in nutrients than white.
  • vegetables should be consumed every day preferably with every meal.
  • whole or minimally processed grains: brown rice, parboiled rice, rolled oats oatmeal, bulgur, amaranth, quinoa, pearl barley, whole grain bread, and occasionally white rice, spaghetti, and buckwheat (high in oxalic acid but also high in nickel, cobalt, vanadium and rutin). Whole oats, whole barley, and whole wheat can be avoided or only eaten occasionally in small amounts as they are very high in silica.
  • beans, once or twice a week.
  • potatoes.

Good sources of fats

coconut tree
Coconuts and coconut oils have antiviral, antibacterial and antiprotozoal properties. Coconut oil is a good oil to cook with.
  • cold pressed sunflower and sesame oils are very good if consumed in moderation, 1-2 table spoons a day in total (as they are high in omega 6 PUFAs).
  • cold pressed (extra virgin) olive oil.
  • raw butter, especially from grass fed animals.
  • fresh, soaked, or sprouted nuts and seeds (no more than a few small handfuls a week, as many nuts and seeds varieties are high in omega 6, nickel, copper, phytic acid and oxalic acid).

Food shopping

I always try to find organic foods to avoid harmful substances like hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, etc. The most contaminated fruits are: raisins, cherries, peaches, strawberries, mexican (winter) cantaloupe, apples, apricots, Chilean (winter) grapes. And the most contaminated vegetables are: spinach, celery, green beans, bell peppers, cucumbers, cultivated button mushrooms, potatoes and wheat. Lean poultry is probably the safest meat to eat if not organic.

I plan meals loosely, 1-2 days ahead. The meal preparation is very simple: meat is either cooked in water or the oven, vegetables that need cooking are steamed. Since certain food vitamins become more bioavailable once exposed to low heat cooking, it is a good idea to alternate between cooked and raw vegetables. For example, Beta-carotene found in carrots becomes more absorbable after light steaming. I adjust the quantity of food according to how physically active I am during the day.

I take supplements of some vitamins and minerals that my diet is low in. I sometimes use spices like oregano, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and daily use unrefined sea salt. I sometimes make kefir or sour milk at home from organic full-fat, unhomogenised pasteurized milk.

Final thoughts

Although healthy eating habits can make enormous improvements to one's health, it's only one essential part of healthy living. The other parts are proper and adequate physical activity, mental and spiritual well being, and sleep. All need to be addressed in order to achieve better health.

sunflowers growing on a field
Sprouted or soaked sunflower seeds are very nutritious, high in minerals, and are one of the best sources of vitamin E.
Good health is based on balanced approach to life. Yet, life is a constant change. The demands of life change and so do we. Thus good health is a moving target, and the balance needs to be continually maintained by making adjustments. It's a life long process.

Many chronic health problems are to a large extent caused by poor eating habits and nutritional imbalances. In such case the natural way to improve one's health is through self education about nutrition and healthy diet, correction of nutritional imbalances, ongoing experimentation with diet and close observation of the cause and effect the dietary changes have on mind and body.

If you continually notice experiencing ache or pain (or simply not feeling quite right) after eating certain foods, then that is a clear sign that these foods should be avoided - at least for the time being until nutritional imbalances have been corrected (which may be the root cause of the problem). Similarly, a craving for certain natural food can indicate that the body is lacking certain nutrient(s) found in that food.

With practice, through increased awareness of the effect food has on the mind and body, it will become easier to get a sense for which foods are beneficial and which are not, and when to eat what and how much. As one gets better at listening to the body, it becomes natural to self diagnose a lot of minor problems (which can become major if not paid attention to) and remedy them by simply adjusting the diet or other aspects of life.

Although healthy eating along with nutritional balancing is essential for good health, it's important to remember that nutritional needs differ among people. No single diet will work for everybody. What works for one person may not work for another - thus it's important to learn about and experiment with nutrition to find out what works for your own mind and body.

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Recommended websites

Cellular Nutrition - the most useful site about nutritional balancing and the interaction between nutrients and the effect this has on health and disease. A real gold mine.

Dr. Lawrence Wilson - great site about nutritional balancing and health in general. Simple, very readable site design.

westonaprice.org - by building upon the work of Weston A. Price, this site provides a rich source of information about health and nutrition. Their recommendations are based on time proven traditional approach to diet and health along with scientific studies, rather than hype or political-correctness.

mercola.com - a lot of useful, practical and down to earth health information.

beyondveg.com - a superb site dealing with: " Reports from veterans of vegetarian and raw-food diets, veganism, fruitarianism, and instinctive eating, plus new science from paleolithic diet research and clinical nutrition." Fascinating reading for anybody who has been into health and diets for some time.

Sprouting basics - an excellent introduction to sprouting nuts, grains, seeds and beans by Tom Billings.

Dom's kefir - a comprehensive guide to kefir making at home.

wildfermentation.com - fermenting foods information.

Nutrition Software - a directory of nutrition software that can help you track the daily intake of vitmains, minerals, proteins, carbs and fats. Some of these programs do not calculate correctly, so make sure to do a thorough test before using one for good.

Food Composition Databases

Find out the nutritional content of many foods. Some of these databases contain data on nutrients which others don't. If available, it's best to use a database from your own country as nutritional content of the same food can vary a great deal - mainly due to the soil and the type of food farm animals eat.

USDA National Nutrient Database - USA nutritional database, data files are freely available along with free software.

NUTTAB - Australia and New Zealand database from Food Standards.

Fineli - Finnish database from National Institute for Health and Welfare.

Foodcomp - Danish database from National Food Institute.

Anses - French database from French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety.

Nutrition data - useful online tools based on the USDA National Nutrient Database.

Recommended books

Over time, I've read well over a hundred of carefully selected books on the topics of health and nutrition, and these are the ones I found to be especially useful and effective.

Essential reading:

The following books are easy and quick to read. They contain fundamental information on how to improve personal health through healthy eating. If you can only afford one book, I would recommend getting "Eat Right for your type" by Peter J. D'Adamo.

Eat Right 4 Your Type: The Individualized Diet Solution to Staying Healthy, Living Longer & Achieving Your Ideal Weight by Peter J.D'Adamo

Live Right 4 Your Type by Peter J.D'Adamo

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon, Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.

The Doctor's Complete Guide to Vitamins and Minerals by Mary Dan Eades, M.D.

Natural Health, Natural Medicine: The Complete Guide to Wellness and Self-Care for Optimum Health by Andrew Weil, M.D.

Chinese Secrets of Health and Longevity [Audio Cassette] by Bob Flaws

The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns by James A. Duke, PhD

Further reading:

Most of the following books are more in-depth and some deviate from the norm. Although these books vary in their concepts, and I may not agree with everything (or most) of what some of them say, they all contain rare nutritional gems.

Biochemical Individuality by Roger Williams, Ph.D.

Spiritual Nutrition: Six Foundations for Spiritual Life and the Awakening of Kundalini by Gabriel Cousens, M.D.

Chemistry of Man by Bernard Jensen, Ph.D.

Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis by Lawrence D. Wilson, M.D.

Know Your Fats : The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol by Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.

Mucusless Diet Healing System by Arnold Ehret

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price

Survival in the 21st Century by Viktoras Kulvinskas

Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition (3rd Edition) by Paul Pitchford

Dawid Michalczyk is a freelance illustrator and an artist. To see examples of his artwork and writings visit his website at http://www.art.eonworks.com
Copyright © 2005 Dawid Michalczyk. All Rights Reserved. This content may be copied in full, with copyright, contact, creation, information and links intact, without specific permission, when used only in a not-for-profit format.

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