Proactive Approach to Health
-- Tips from our experts
Having a proactive approach to health requires a basic understanding of the impact caused by our interaction with the environment around us. This goes from the simple effects of diet and what we put in our mouth, up to more complicated effects of stress, exercise routines and genetic considerations. It is important to be able to get passed the marketing used by companies to sell products and goods and be able to make informed risk/reward decisions so we don't compromise longer term health and vitality. It also involves being able to have enough understanding across several different disciplines in order to separate fact from fiction. Good examples of this are anti-oxidants and probiotics. Both are related in different ways to the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology. Both terms have been used and abused by marketing departments as a way to sell products. But what are they really and why do they matter?
‘Micro-health’ factors, such as unstable electrons (termed free radicals), can cause larger scale havoc to our ‘macro-health’ over time. Unstable electrons are the same force that create electricity, lightening and will rust a car. The process of converting oxygen into energy (oxidation) creates free radicals in our body but since we have to breathe to live we can’t really do much about this. Free radicals, however, are also caused by many outside environmental factors such as air pollution, exposure to toxins and many types of 'unhealthy' foods we eat. But we wouldn’t need a degree in physics to know that breathing air pollution or eating chemical laced processed food is bad for our health. Most that we poll as part of our studies are aware of the compromises to health they are making when they decide to eat junk food. Often it comes down to our choices between convenience and responsibility. It is easier to get a candy bar from 7-11 spontaneously then to have to park and go in to buy a pack of blueberries from a grocery store. A proactive strategy means thinking ahead enough to not make spontaneous choices as part of our regular dietary routine. Craving a snack every day when we get off of work is normal. But instead of going to 7-11 for a candy bar or hot dog, bring something along that is better for you. It usually comes down to a little bit of planning which can go a long way towards better health.
To manage free radicals our body has developed ways through our immune system to eliminate them to protect our cells (and eventual organs) from damage. Plants also have the same problem with oxidation and to protect themselves developed chemical compounds through evolution to neutralize free radical exposure and damage. These chemical compounds are commonly known as 'anti-oxidants' because they help neutralize the effects of oxidation. Fortunately for us, if we consume them we can get some of the benefit. One of the most common anti-oxidants is ascorbic acid or also known by the more familiar, household name - Vitamin C.
In relation to our point about simplicity as a proactive strategy. To neutralize free radical damage it makes sense to eat foods with high anti-oxidant content in their most natural state. The more a food is tampered with the less valuable it is in terms of an anti-oxidant source. Even cooking, freezing or boiling has been shown to reduce the anti-oxidant properties. In 2009, a study concluded that boiling spinach for 13 minutes demonstrated a 31.6% loss in its anti-oxidant capabilities. The only way to ensure a proactive anti-oxidant strategy is simplicity. Try to consume foods in their source state and do as little tampering with it as possible while still making it edible. Some of the best anti-oxidant sources are blueberries, raw pecans, artichoke hearts, blackberries and kidney beans.
Disease prevention often comes from just having that additional level of knowledge to be able to make better decisions. For instance below are a few suggestions that may help:
- Be careful with children and soft drinks and closely monitor their sugar intake. Because sugar today can be highly refined, processed in bulk and gives food items a ‘sweet taste’ competitive advantage, it is in almost every packaged food item on the shelves today. Sugar is one of the top compromises to health for children and should be at the top of the list of concerns for parents. Part of the issue is that parents often are trying to monitor their children’s sugar intake, such as ice cream a couple times a week, but don’t realize that since highly refined sugar can be in almost everything children are eating, they are only monitoring a small amount. High sugar exposure leads to permanent cellular damage over time, acting as a root catalyst for many of the main stream diseases adults face such as Type-2 diabetes, obesity and cancers. If a child starts drinking soft drinks and having excessive amounts of processed sugar at age 5 then by the time they reach puberty they have already had over a decade of sugar abuse. By their 30s it has been two decades of sugar abuse with potentially permanent damage.
- Eat foods in their natural state that are high in anti-oxidants. Don't buy a product because it claims to have high anti-oxidants in it. In fact, don't buy a product to eat based on any of the following:
- Having anti-oxidants. As we demonstrated it is shown that much of the anti-oxidant capability is lost during manufacturing of processed foods. It if comes in a wrapped package and claims to have antioxidants this could be potentially misleading.
- Having probiotics. This is another new marketing term that you should ignore. If you are eating a balanced diet of natural foods you should be getting all you need of probiotics. The process of having the right amount of bacteria in your digestive system has been evolving over millions of years and your body manages this for you as long as you eat healthy. There is a lot of misinformation around this currently. One study demonstrates, for instance, that only about “10–30% of probiotics survive” through the gastrointestinal tract. This depends on a number of variables, including the type of probiotic, but we could be potentially throwing away 70% of our investment when buying probiotic supplements and overpaying for probiotic foods whose health benefit claims are often unsubstantiated.
- Having fortified vitamins and minerals. Foods fortified with minerals have helped cut down on many diseases caused by malnourishment. Vitamins are a bit of a different matter. Adding ascorbic acid to a product just to say it has Vitamin C is not the same as getting the vitamin from an actual fruit or vegetable. It isn't about how much Vitamin C something contains, it is about how much your body absorbs. An orange, for instance, has over 70 different compounds that work together as part of the absorption process inside of your body. Absorption is the key to getting the most from vitamins and studies show that absorption rates are drastically impaired when consuming processed foods versus foods in their natural state.
The best proactive strategy is a simple one. Do not worry about changing your eating habits constantly following the next breakthrough or trend. We tend to say there is no such thing as a silver bullet for good health, but there is silver buckshot. If you are consuming a healthy supply of natural foods this is the best start. Blend this with regular exercise and you are further down the health path. From there you can continue to build your knowledge but make sure it is grounded in common sense.
Good health habits do not have to be complicated to be effective.