By Sue Ingebretson
Most of us interested in our health can recite at least some facts or figures related to nutrition. We may point out that it’s important to our overall health to consume more than five servings of vegetables per day. Or, that we’re aware of the many benefits to the digestive system from the nutrient, fiber.
The truth is we don’t need to know much more than that.
Fiber is good.
What else is there? We’re all fairly aware that by changing our foods, we can change our health.
But, what if we don’t?
What can happen if we continue to consume the Standard American Diet of processed foods, added sugars, and empty-calorie pseudo-foods?
Take a look at this list. Here are a few diseases connected to the inherent problem of nutritional deficiencies. How many of the following are familiar to you?
- Heart disease
- Mental illness
- Gingivitis / Periodontitis
- Respiratory tract infections
- Rheumatoid arthritis
When the above-mentioned health challenges are researched in connection with nutritional deficiencies, the following terms are often noted — oxidation, cellular damage, oxidative stress, and free radicals.
The radical truth about free radicals.
Here are the fundamentals of what you need to know. Oxidative stress is related to aging. We can all relate to that, right? We’re each subject to the aging process … but what about doing it faster?
How would you like to shift your aging process into high gear?
I didn’t think so.
Some refer to this illustration of hyper-aging as “rusting.” Just as a forgotten metal garden tool would rust if left outdoors and unprotected from the elements, so does the unprotected body.
Oxygen is a fundamentally necessary nutrient. We need oxygen to fuel every cell of our bodies. However, reactive forms of oxygen can lead to cellular damage when influenced by other factors.
Free radicals are the unstable molecules that lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can trigger cancer, inflammation, artery disease, and put our aging process into overdrive.
The following are just a few lifestyle and environmental factors that lead to the production of free radicals:(1)
- Consuming refined and highly processed foods (resulting in too many anti-nutrients and too few vital nutrients)
- Over- consumption of sugar and sweetened foods/drinks
- Exposure to excessive and chronic stress
- Exercise imbalance (either not enough or over-exercising)
- Lack of deep breathing (taking short, shallow breaths)
- Smoking and/or exposure to tobacco and smoke
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Air pollution (exhaust, industrial pollution, and/or allergens)
- Radiation (excessive sun, x-rays, cell phones, electro-magnetic fields, etc.)
- Exposure to molds and fungal toxins
- Compromised gut and / or liver function (i.e., dysfunction due to alcohol, smoking, sugar, processed foods, or heavy metal exposures.)
- Hidden and/or chronic infections
- Herbicides / pesticides
- Some medications and chemical compounds
- Sleep deprivation
- Consuming fried and/or charbroiled foods.
Does the picture of oxidative stress seem clearer now? How do the above factors relate to you and your health challenges? Some factors are difficult to avoid including exposures to toxins in our residential and work environments.
On the positive side, this list also points out the numerous factors that are definitely within our control. We have the ability to influence and change what we eat, to move our bodies with healthy forms of exercise, and avoid toxins such as (excessive) alcohol, tobacco, herbicides/pesticides, radiation, etc.
Modern world – modern problems
Lifestyle challenges, including nutrient deficiencies, are linked to many modern world diseases. We’re no longer able to ignore the glaring connections between disease, our urban environment, and the stressors of modern day living.
We live in the real world. It’s impossible to avoid all sources of free radicals, so, yes, oxidative stress is inevitable. However, why make it worse than it already is? Is there anything that can stop or at least mitigate the damage caused by free radicals?
Healthy, healing nutrients to the rescue.
Consider phytonutrients the antidote. Antioxidants (including phytonutrients) are the chemical nutrients naturally found in plants that actually combat and disarm free radicals. They do so with efficiency, speed, and targeted results. Also known as phytochemicals, these chemical compounds directly influence gene expression.
Gene expression and the healing power that foods can provide are explored in more detail in this article, “Epigenetics, Fibromyalgia and You!” Check out the news provided in this link, which shares exactly what you need to know most about the foods you eat and their influence over your genes. Our environment and behaviors (including the foods we eat) have a profound effect – at the cellular level – on how we feel.
Therefore, what we eat changes and influences how we feel.
Antioxidants can provide the following health benefits and more:
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- Slows the aging process
- Reduces oxidative stress
- Lowers risks of some cancers, degenerative diseases, heart disease, risk of stroke, etc.(2)
- Boosts the immune system
- Increases resistance to infection
- Reduces inflammation common in arthritis and joint pain
- Reduces the length and/or occurrences of common colds, and respiratory infections
- Benefits eye and skin health(3)
- Helps to repair damaged cells
There’s a good reason why phytonutrients are often called, Nature’s Pharmacy!(4)
Phytonutrients are easy to find.
To discover a wealth of phytonutrients for yourself, look no further than the produce section of your local market. Look for green leafy veggies as well as colorful vegetables ranging from white and green, to yellow and orange, to red and deep purple.(5)
You’ve probably heard the term to “eat nature’s rainbow.” (And, nope you can’t skip the “nature” part of that statement. Skittles, Starburst, and M&Ms may be colorful, but are as far from nature as east is from the west.)
It’s important to consume a wide variety of fresh, local, and in-season vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds every day. Look for vibrant colors that continue from the skin of the vegetable or fruit through to the flesh.
Here are just a few basics:
- Leafy greens(6)
- Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
- Green beans, snap peas, snow peas,
- Tomatoes, peppers, red onions, grapes
- Carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin
- Eggplant, purple potatoes
- Pistachios, pumpkin seeds, chia seed, hemp seeds
Because we are each different, some vegetables may be more difficult for you to digest than others. Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, for example, may be easier on your digestive system if lightly sautéed rather than eaten raw.
Some of us who have fibromyalgia and accompanying autoimmune challenges are impacted by vegetables that belong to the nightshade family(7) (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.). Experiment with this category of foods and test to see how they make you feel. Additionally, many fruits may prove to be too high in sugar for those with yeast/candida issues and leaky gut. For most of us, it’s safest to focus our fruit consumption mainly to antioxidant-rich berries.
As you begin to experiment, it’s a matter of tailoring your own diet to meet your nutritional and health needs.
Get your creative juices flowing!
I’ve mentioned before that online forums such as Pinterest can serve as a great tool for meal planning. Use the easy search feature on Pinterest to look up fun and new ways to prepare familiar and unfamiliar veggies.
Purchase books or magazines featuring appealing and appetizing images of vegetable dishes. Watch cooking programs geared for healthy and natural living. Sample vegetables at your farmer’s market and bring home new and interesting varieties to try. Consult a holistic nutritionist or a health coach who specializes in creating meal plans and recipe ideas.
These are just a few tips to get you started. Consider your next trip to your local farmer’s market or produce section of your store as an adventure. Happy picking!
making the meat the side dish and the vegetables the main course.”
– Bobby Flay, American Celebrity Chef
1. “Understanding Oxidative Stress.” Waller Wellness Center. Retrieved 10/09/15.
2. Mercola, J. “The Ultimate Guide to Antioxidants.” Mercola.com. Retrieved 10/09/15.
3. Axe, J. “Lutein: The Antioxidant That Protects Your Eyes & Skin.” Dr. Axe. Retrieved 10/09/15.
4. HMDI Editors. “Phytonutrients.” HeartMD Institute. 10/08/10.
5. Schaeffer, J. “Color Me Healthy – Eating for a Rainbow of Benefits.” Today’s Dietitian. November 2008. Vol. 10, No. 11, p34.
6. Ingebretson, S. “6 Proven Ways Leafy Greens Pack a Powerful Healing Punch for Fibromyalgia.” ProHealth. 10/12/13.
7. McFarland, E. “The Link Between Nightshades, Chronic Pain and Inflammation.” GreenMedInfo. 4/21/13.
Additional Data Source: TheHealthSciencesAcademy.org.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
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