Common-Sense Dietary Advice


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This page was last revised on July 12, 2011.


Most of what I have to say can be found in reasonable books on eating and diets. Some of it should be included, but usually isn't, such as the information on timing your eating. The following recommendations are my own opinion, but are based on lifetime of observation and experimentation.


My recommendations:


Exercise

Any dietary regimen--indeed, any lifestyle--should definitely include exercise. The good news for many people that it need not be hard exercise. Hard exercise can do wonders in transforming the looks and functioning of most bodies, but only very moderate exercise is necessary to maintain reasonably good circulatory health and body functioning.

The best exercise? For those who are able, it's walking. Simple walking. Walking is a critical contributor to cardiovascular health, easily maintaining enhanced circulation and moderately- elevated heartrate for as long as desired.

If walking causes you foot and joint pain, try:

  1. Using better shoes
  2. Using cushioned insoles
  3. If you can afford them, get orthotic appliances (shoe inserts specially made to fit your feet)
  4. Using thicker socks or try wearing close-fitting, thin, cotton inner socks and bulkier outer socks
  5. Taking ibuprofen or another NSAID on a daily basis, within recommended dosages
  6. Avoid walking on pavement. Try finding large lawn areas, as in parks, or trails to walk on
  7. Try walking in areas where the topography varies quite a bit, so your walking geometry is frequently changing
  8. Do appropriate stretching exercises before walking
  9. Try walking at differing times of the day, to see if you hurt less at a particular time
  10. Pay attention to your body alignment during walking, and try to adjust it
  11. If you have pain in your lower back, sacrum, hips, or the backs of your thighs, try seeing an osteopath (D. O.) or chiropractor for a back adjustment
  12. For serious, persistent pain, see a podiatrist (foot doctor) or orthopedist (joint/bone doctor). Note that there are osteopathic (D.O.) orthopedists.

I do strongly recommend walking on a woodland trail in varying terrain for at least one of your walks every week. This results in your body geometry constantly changing, introduces more of an aerobic aspect to your walking, allows you to walk on softer surfaces, provides you pleasant scenery, and helps you enhance your eye-foot coordination.

I mentioned above checking your body alignment. Some points you may check:

  1. Watch your feet to see what direction they point when you put them down. Ideally, the toes should point straight forward. Some people have body geometry that makes it difficult or even impossible to achieve this, but you should try to make your footprint as straight as possible, so that it becomes an unconscious habit.
  2. Note if you are holding your back very rigidly while walking. If so, try to relax your back. Ideally, whether you are male or female, your hips should be swinging slightly while walking. This increases flexibility, reduces back pain problems, and increases your stride.
  3. Ideally, you should be picking your feet up and swinging your legs straight forward during your strides. If you find that, instead, you're somewhat dragging your feet or swinging them out to the side somewhat, try correcting this.
  4. Check your general posture. While you're walking, try rotating your shoulders back while, in the process, your scapulae (shoulderblades) should be drawn in towards each other and in a downwards direction. Draw your shoulders back, then relax. Do this in sets through your walk. The specific reason for this is that many of us, while reading or working at a desk or doing many other of our familiar everyday activities, unconsciously rotate our shoulders forward, and the tendons that draw the shoulders forward tend to tighten, resulting in an unnatural shoulder position.
  5. Also try keeping your head straight and level, but moving it back, more nearly over the centerline of your body, for similar reasons as for your shoulders.
  6. Try to keep your knees slightly bent as much as possible, especially in more strenuous walking. This gives your body more of resiliency, more of a cushioning effect, and increases your overall muscle tone.

In any case, stretching should always be part of any exercise program. It's best to do some mild exercise to warm up a little, then stretch, then engage in more serious exercise. When stretching, it's better to passively stretch than to "bounce" stretch.

If walking continues to be excessively painful for you, or if you're unable to walk, the best alternatives are then bicycling or swimming. If you use a wheelchair and cannot swim, then you certainly can use wheelchair travel as an aerobic exercise (as you well know). You might also be able to use a rowing machine, which is another good alternative.


Timing Your Eating

When you eat is actually very important. Studies have convincingly demonstrated that calories from digestion during the night are metabolized differently than those from the daytime. Nighttime digestion leads to more fat deposition. So, here's my recommended eating schedule:

  1. On arising: Most people simply aren't ready for breakfast when they first wake up. A better idea is to immediately have a small amount of fruit or fruit juice in order to give your body something of a blood-sugar kick-start. Fruit juice also doesn't require your body to have to spend serious energy in immediate digestion. However, if you have diabetic tendencies, this should instead be a small protein snack.
  2. Breakfast: It takes most people a half-hour to an hour after arising before they're really ready for breakfast. Make it a good one. Carbohydrates simply aren't adequate. Breakfast should include some serious protein as well as carbohydrates. If you're going to eat any seriously fatty foods, breakfast is actually the best time to do it.
  3. Lunch: Again, you should eat a good lunch. Lunch should actually be your "main" meal of the day.
  4. Supper: Supper should be very light, very low in fat, low in protein. In other words, a light (complex) carbohydrate snack is an idea supper. And supper should be eaten at least five hours before bedtime. If you feel that you can't get through the rest of the evening without further nourishment, then try drinking a small amount of fruit juice or a non-caffeinated diet soda. You should be going to bed with an empty or near-empty stomach. You'll sleep much better, you'll lose weight, and you'll be more ready for a good breakfast.
  5. Snacks: Snacks are okay if they're appropriate food and if they're approximately midway between breakfast and lunch or lunch and summer. Snacks by their very nature should a light-- low fat! They should basically just be a small amount of carbs and/or protein to maintain energy levels. Low-fat jerky or fruit or raw vegetables are good snacks. Potato chips are lousy snacks.

What to Eat and Not Eat

I'm sure you'll find few surprises here. Keep in mind the three great food cravings of the human race: sugar, salt, and fats. Try to maintain great moderation in the intake of these three and you're off to a good dietary start. Why do we have these cravings? Because these are all important contributors to survival in a primitive state, and at the same time difficult to get in a critical state.

Fats are by no means completely evil. But in our civilized lifestyles, we need very little of them. The worst fats are apparently the hydrogenated fats, also called saturated fats. The worst of the worst is hydrogenated cottonseed oil, which should never, ever be part of your diet. However, you'll find that it's an ingredient in an overwhelming majority of baked goods, margarines, and the like. Hydrogenated fats are actually worse than butter.

The best fats are the omega-3 fatty acids, which should be taken as supplements. The second-best type of fat is olive oil, which is the best fat for all-around cooking. I suggest using canola oil for baking where the flavor of the olive oil may be inappropriate. Sesame oil and a few others may be ujsed for specialty cooking where the flavor is an important factor.

There are some important differences in the proteins in meats. Generally, fish has the best protein, but this protein degrades quickly in any kind of storage, including freezing. Fish should be eaten as fresh as possible. Red meat protein is the most stable; red meat is the most suitable for freezing.

Eat complex carbohydrates, that is, starches, and avoid sugars, but the context of the carbs is important. Eating straight white bread or thoroughly-cooked pasta is just about as bad as eating straight sugar. Eat carbs in the form of whole-grain products, preferably coarse-ground. Pastas should be cooked al dente, or somewhat firm to slow uptake of the starches.

More on this subject area later.


Supplements

In my opinion, the three most beneficial supplements for people in general are vitamins B (complex), C and "F".

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid or some type of ascorbate) can be taken in a variety of forms. There are tablets to be swallowed whole, there are chewable tablets, and there is powder. The powder can easily be stirred into sweet drinks such as fruit juice. Be aware that the chewable tablets have been implicated in encouraging tooth decay. If using chewable tablets, it's best to brush or at least rinse afterwards. Unlike almost all other mammals, the human body cannot manufacture its own vitamin C, which is critical for good immune functioning.

What is "vitamin F"? Vitamin F was the original name for alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in cod liver oil and flax seed oil. This is an essential fatty acid that isn't produced by the human body. In other words, there actually is a type of fat that you MUST eat for good health and even fundamental life itself. This may be taken as alpha-linolenic acid, or as its metabolic products epa (eicosopentaenoic acid) and dha (docosahexaenoic acid). Many people with high blood pressure respond very well to substantial doses of these omega-3 fatty acids. They are also important in general to good circulatory health and to mental health. These may come combined with gla (gamma-linolenic acid) which is also a helpful part of this complex. However, it's not a good idea in most cases to take linoleic acid (the precursor to gla) as a supplement. (Note that linoleic acid does not have the second "n").

Vitamin B is, of course, actually a complex of vitamins. Nutritional needs can easily be met/supplemented with a multi-B vitamin. Make sure, however, that folic acid (or folate; necessary for good cell replication) is included in the formulation. Folic acid (or folate) is also critically important for pregnant and nursing mothers. It's also a good idea for strict vegan vegetarians to be sure to take a vitamin B12 supplement occasionally.

Another good supplement for people in general is vitamin E (tocopherols; antioxidants). It's a good idea to take vitamin E with the vitamin "F" complex.

People with diabetic tendencies may benefit from taking chromium (for sugar metabolism). Vitamin A is also often beneficial. Vitamin D is very seldom needed as a supplement.

If you have any diabetic tendencies or eat a lot of sugar and refined carbohydrates in general, then it's a good idea to be taking chromium piccolinate supplements. This is a trace mineral essential to the proper metabolism of sugars.

If you're doing a lot of hot, sweaty work or exercise, then you probably should also be taking a potassium supplement.

While iron supplements are often a good idea for women, men should never take them unless directed to do so by a physician.

More information on supplements will be posted in the future.


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