Nutrition & Chronic Illness: Taking Out Garbage
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out”? This saying refers to the fact a computer can only do what it is programmed to do, and can be only as good as the data it receives and the instructions it is given. But when it comes to nutrition’s impact on our physical and emotional health, it takes on a whole new meaning.
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Have you ever heard the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out”?
This saying refers to the fact a computer can only do what it is programmed to do, and can be only as good as the data it receives and the instructions it is given. But when it comes to nutrition’s impact on our physical and emotional health, it takes on a whole new meaning.
Taking Out the Trash
Think about the last time you ate fast food. How did you feel while you were eating it?
You may have felt joy or even euphoria while you indulged. Processed foods are high in carbohydrates, sugar, fats, and salt that can spike blood sugar, sending signals to the brain to release “feel-good” chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. But how did you feel an hour later?
Chances are you felt lethargic, foggy, or even depressed. Junk food lacks the essential vitamins and nutrients to sustain energy. That spike in blood sugar is followed by a drop in blood sugar, which can lead to irritability and sluggishness—and cravings for more junk food, which perpetuates this “garbage in, garbage out” cycle.
Poor eating habits have many negative impacts on our health.
In an article on CNN.com, Julie Daniluk writes, “About 70% of our immune cells are in our digestive system, making direct contact with the food we enjoy every day. If the immune system is triggered by bacteria in food, or flags a food as an allergen, or has an imbalance of important hormones such as insulin, it can set off the red alert of inflammation” (2012).
Poor nutrition can contribute to Type 2 diabetes, digestive problems, heart disease, kidney disease, obesity, and liver damage; it can even increase the risk of cancer. Poor nutrition can also trigger pain flare-ups, joint inflammation, and increased A1c levels.
You Are What You Eat
Not only does poor nutrition wreak havoc on our physical body.
It can also have negative effects on our mental health, causing anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviors. There is good news: You have control over how you feed your body and mind. Controlling one’s nutrition can help manage both the physical and psychological, keeping our bodies and minds in tip-top shape.
Here are some tips for ditching the garbage:
1. Don’t be a junk-food junkie. Fast food and junk food (Twinkies, potato chips) are high in calories and low in vitamins and minerals. It can cause spikes in blood sugar that lead to sluggishness and irritability, and may ultimately leave you feeling physically and emotionally empty.
2. Taste the rainbow. Iceberg lettuce has insignificant nutritional value compared to red leaf or romaine lettuce. The darker the pigment of the fruit or veggie, the more packed with vitamins it generally is, so go for color.
3. Nix the sugar fix. Sugar and high-glycemic starches can destabilize blood sugar and increase insulin, which directly causes inflammation and swelling. Avoid added sugar, flour, and other high-starch treats, and swap them with fruit or even dark chocolate to tame your sweet tooth.
Here are some tips for ditching the garbage:
4. Fat is your friend. The right kind of fat, that is! Fat is an essential part of our diet, but the wrong kinds of fat can contribute to health problems. Unsaturated fats and omega-3s are the good guys. You can find them in olive oil, avocados, olives, nuts, peanut butter, fatty fish (tuna, salmon), and tofu.
5. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine have been proven to trigger inflammation and joint pain in people with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Excessive amounts can also cause irritability, depression, and anxiety. Limit or eliminate them.
6. Control carbohydrates and calories. Too often, our plates are overloaded with carbs (bread, pasta, rice) and not enough colorful veggies. Though there is debate on the ideal ratio of macronutrients (carbs/fat/protein) we should consume, most studies agree that low carbs are the best bet for a healthy diet. Load your plate and your palate with veggies and lean meat.
Choices that Matter
Choosing to eat a healthy diet is, in essence, choosing to build a healthy body and mind.
By making healthy food choices, people can manage and even prevent chronic illness and improve mental clarity. When we feed our bodies with nourishing food, we thrive both physically and mentally. So get rid of the garbage and get “healthy in, health throughout”!
© Copyright 2015 by Andrea M. Risi, LPC, therapist in Denver, CO. All Rights Reserved.
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