Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Meredith's Hierarchy of Health - Personal Food Pyramid and Random Health Info

On the off chance anyone else who finds this is annoyed with all the random health info out there, I pieced together a system that seems to apply to most people. I go mostly paleo, but as I point out a few times, I don't stress about always following the rules. Just enough to avoid cravings is pretty good, and the stuff that is worst for you (#8) typically stops sounding appealing once you've been removed from it for a while. In fact, I desire fruit far more often than desserts these days.

For a bit of background, I've had trouble losing weight since high school, and developed something of a pot belly that drove me nuts because I used to look really nice! It started when I stopped swimming and had a stressful year of school, but then even without the stress years later, and even with two years of kickboxing, it was still there. Even when I lost weight I didn't feel particularly thin. By the time I was done with college, I felt soft and chubby, which was disturbing because there is a problem with weight gain on one side of my family, and one of my grandmothers has hypothyroidism. Another few friends of mine were diagnosed with that as well, and one of them informed me of her journey with food, and discovering that an appropriate diet (which is more or less paleo) can prevent the worst of it. She also mentioned that most doctors have to sign something that says they won't diagnose hypothyroidism until the levels are pretty bad, and then they only treat part of it. She found a doctor who doesn't do this, apparently.

I am incapable of verifying my friend's story, but this last February I was eating something with bread and realized I didn't really care that much about bread, so I might as well consider that paleo thing. I do have many symptoms of a thyroid problem, and I was told as a child to watch it because it was enlarged. My mother also has several symptoms, and it's her mom who has it for sure, so it seemed wiser to try to fix it on my own before it got off track, rather than spend money going to the doctor, if it is even the problem.

Therefore, I did a bunch of research that took me to which I recommend for anyone interested in the sciencey aspect. Or just anything in general. I don't always call myself a paleo follower, because I'm a bit loose on the rules, but looking at myself compared to others, this is the diet perspective that seems to make the most sense to me.

1) The Base of the Pyramid: Nutritionally Packed Leaves, Stems, Low-Sugar Fruits and Roots
Definitely not grains, not even whole grains, but "vegetables". I'm going with a more botany-oriented version here, because most plants that are botanically similar will have similar nutritional values, and if you really want to be technical, any part of a plant can be defined as a vegetable. But I need to split things up a little more for this, and so you will not see "vegetable" in bold on this list.

The main reason that this is at the base of the pyramid is because the ratio of bad to good is pretty heavy on the "good" side. There's lots of good in most of these and not a whole lot of bad.

Most things you would consider "vegetables" would be on this list, so rather than make a list of what is on here, let's make a short list of what is not on here:
  1. Rice and corn - These are not leaves, stems, fruits or roots. These are starchy seeds.
  2. White potatoes - These are technically stems, I just found out, after years of considering them roots. But it doesn't matter. There is almost no nutritional value to a white potato. Sorry.
  3. Beans and lentils - These are also seeds.
  4. Legumes - These are typically seed pods containing lentils. So still a no for this particular department. No seeds in your base!

2) Unprocessed Meat
Sure, you could plan a decently nutritious diet with very little meat, but personally I feel as though if you are eating unprocessed meats, you are going to be better off than trying to acquire the same supplements from other plants, like legumes. It is good to get a good variety of meats, everything from beef to fish, but to give example, stay away from things like lunch meat, unless it's just finely sliced normal meat, pepperoni, sausage, and anything especially greasy.

3) Fruit
Fruit is packed full of vitamins and nutrients, although it is often packed full of sugar as well. It's perfectly fine to eat lots of it, as long as you pair it with something more grounding, like dessert after a meal of meats and pyramid base vegetables.

This is the last point in which you actually need anything in your diet. #4-#6 are all optional for health, if you are eating plenty of #1-#3.

4) Unprocessed Dairy
Some people have trouble with dairy, so if that's the case, it's probably best to avoid, however, if you can fit it in, it's not really bad for you.

The good thing about dairy is that it contains healthy fats, and can also contain quite a bit of protein. Plus, it is cheaper than meat, and can be easier for grab and go snacks. I can't eat lactose, personally, but I enjoy saving some greek yogurts for a quick thing to grab, or to add into smoothies, and plain greek is a good replacement for sour cream. It comes with a lot of carbohydrates as well, however, in addition to more fat than necessary, so keeping the dairy on the DL is probably best for most of us. But I still eat it with most of my meals, as long as I keep it to cheeses with plenty of health benefits.

5) Nothing But Carbs
Yeah, it's not very nutrient dense, but white potatoes and white rice also won't give you a gassy stomach. If you're prone to digestion problems, it's probably okay to occasionally indulge in white potatoes and white rice every once in a while, just be aware that you're not going to be slimming down any time soon if you have too much. At this point, you are also no longer paleo, but you also don't need to be a stick in the mud when you're out with friends for sushi or mom made fancy mashed potatoes.

6) Seeds That You Can Tolerate. For me: Psuedo-Grains, Some Legumes, and Lentils
This one and #5 are somewhat interchangeable depending on the level of digestive issues you suffer. If you don't suffer from a painful, bloated gut from eating beans or split peas, this might not be a big deal for you. Personally, I am fine with split pea soup but no such luck with beans. I can also have plenty of quinoa, but no on the brown rice. Which is a big bummer because white rice is boring. 

Up until this point, you aren't really running into particularly bad foods. This is the last number with "healthy" food and the rest I would recommend avoiding.

7) Seeds That You Can't Tolerate. For me: Wheat, Corn, Brown Rice, Beans, Anything with Gluten
Let me point out really quick that gluten is a protein. It's not inherently bad, just something that we may have too much of in our modern day meals, and anything with gluten has the same negative effects as corn and brown rice do. Actually, I prefer rice over corn, too, but it all gives me a stomach ache.

And stomach aches are the reason that all of this is down here at #7. Most seeds have natural defenses in place to prevent you from going back and eating more, preventing the plant from reproducing. Cooking seeds minimizes the effect of course, and there are ways to minimize it by soaking and whatever, but who has the time to care about that? It's way easier and healthier to just skip this whole section when meal planning anyway, unless you're used to boxed foods like I was. But once you start cooking, a meat and a veggie dish is all you need and that's kind of a relief, honestly. I hate cooking.

If you're looking for information on why no beans or rice or anything, I recommend searching for further reading. I think the viewpoints there are pleasantly un-extreme, logical, and researched.

Furthermore, be aware that some people simply don't have that many digestive issues and won't even have a #7. There's no need to push your eating habits on them, and there's no reason for you to let them push theirs on you. Just say your stomach hurts when you eat whatever it is that bugs you.

8) Refined Grains, Mystery Preservatives and Added Sugar
The problem with added sugar is primarily that it throws your blood sugar out of whack, which will cause you to crave more. The same thing goes for refined grains, which has no nutritional value on top of including all the same things you don't want in the seeds you can't tolerate. There's just not really any benefit to refined grains at all.

If you're going to eliminate anything from your diet, don't eliminate a nutrition factor like carbs, sugars or fats. Those things are all good for you if they come from the right sources. Going low carb might be good to curb cravings, but no carb can contribute to brain fog, as can low fat and low sugar. You need these things, but in moderation. What you should eliminate instead, are the food products that have distorted your carbs, fats and sugars, as well as products that cause you to crave ridiculous amounts, ultimately leading you to crash.

9) Stress
There's no need to get stressed about your food. The more stressed you are, the less likely you are to keep up with the diet, and you're also less likely to lose the weight. Of course, you'll have fewer stress problems already if you're not dealing with digestive pains, but think of it as a present to yourself, not a problem. Find easy solutions to your problems, such as purchasing steamfresh vegetables instead of cooking them all by yourself. Assuming you don't have severe dietary restrictions from your doctor, there's nothing wrong with eating your produce frozen. Yeah, fresh is better, but maybe you're lazy like I am. Find a system that works for you, and stick with it.

Random Health Lifehack:
I have really bad acid reflux. If you have really bad acid reflux, you've probably heard of a lot of things that help, but I thought I'd throw some extra stuff out there. Any and all points help, especially the fish oil if you've got GERD or similar intensity:

  • Don't eat too close to bed
  • Avoid sugar, especially added sugar (most important)
  • Avoid acid (duh) and ditch the soda completely
  • Avoid grease (less important)
  • Take probiotics - Probiotics are bacteria in your intestines that are supposed to help your body break down food. This can help you to have better reactions to foods and sometimes makes a difference with acid reflux. When we are exposed to lots of antibiotics, especially medicinally, we kill that bacteria that we need, and probiotics can help to build it back up. You can get them in certain dairy products like kefir and yogurt, but I prefer to just take the supplements so I can be sure I'm getting all I need. I get the kind that are refrigerated (so the bacteria are alive when I get it) and then the directions indicate to take for about a month, and then you can stop. You can take them again next time you have to take antibiotics.
  • Eat healthy fats and take fish oil - I get the kind you have to keep refrigerated. It's kind of expensive, but wow does it help. It's got healthy fats in it, which really help your body to rebuild the things that acid reflux destroys. This is the most helpful thing when your reflux has progressed to GERD or is getting in your sinuses, since it repairs the problem areas. 
  • Drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep. Don't stress yourself out. Don't drink water during an attack though, because it'll thin out the acid and make it temporarily worse.
  • If you have other digestive problems, try an elimination diet, where you eliminate all but the necessary things (meat and veggies) and then add other stuff back in slowly. It is possible you are having trouble because of a food sensitivity that is irritating your system.
  • Detoxing by drinking excess water, sweating, eating "real" foods only, and having regular bowel movements can help
  • Decide to like vegetables. They taste better if you pay more attention to their flavors and textures, especially when you're skipping out on #8 of the hierarchy

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