If you are looking for inexpensive, no negative side-effect ways of managing pain, look no further than your diet. Simple dietary changes can do wonders. And once you’ve addressed an issue, a nutritious diet can help stop it from coming back. Dietary changes that you make now can help to prevent new issues from coming up in the future. Let’s see how.
Dietary Help for Health
In the past, humanity’s main dietary challenge was getting enough food. Our bodies evolved to exist on very little. To top that off, we developed a taste for sugar, salt, and fat, which helped us survive in lean times.
Our problem today is that our bodies haven’t caught up with the times. Cheap processed food is plentiful. But processed food manufacturers add too much sugar, salt, and fat so that people will crave their products. In addition, heavy processing removes vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which means people end up eating more food than they need, but not getting enough nutrition. As a result, people end up both overweight and malnourished. And this causes problems.
The good news is, small dietary changes can make a huge difference. By making a few tweaks to your lifestyle, you can help your health.
Change #1: Eat More Fiber
What is Fiber?
Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods. That means, when we eat fruits and vegetables, our bodies absorb the nutrition and let the fiber pass through. If our bodies don’t digest it, why is it important? Many reasons. First, fiber cleans the digestive tract, which helps prevent digestive problems. Second, fiber expands in your stomach, and tells your brain mealtime is over. Third, dietary fiber can help reduce blood cholesterol levels. It also helps to regulate insulin. Unfortunately, dietary fiber is one of the main ingredients missing from heavily processed foods.
Where it comes from
There are two kinds of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Your body needs both. Soluble fiber dissolves in the water in your digestive tract. Foods rich in soluble fiber include grains like oats, barley and rye, along with fruit, and root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in your digestive tract. Instead, it helps to move waste products out of your body. Foods rich in insoluble fiber include whole grain bread and cereals, nuts, and seeds.
Why is too little fiber a problem?
- Constipation. Fiber helps to move waste out of your body. Not enough means you have to work harder to push waste through.
- Hemorrhoids. Constipation is the number one cause of hemorrhoids.
- Diverticular disease. This painful condition also results from chronic constipation.
How Increasing Dietary Fiber Helps
- Dietary fiber can help reduce cholesterol. It does this by binding with cholesterol particles in your digestive system and moving them out with the waste.
- Dietary fiber helps to regulate insulin and can help prevent obesity. In turn, this can help protect against heart disease.
- Dietary fiber expands in your stomach and helps you to feel full for longer, which can help prevent overeating.
- A high fiber diet helps prevent certain cancers. By moving waste products through the digestive tract, fiber can lower your chances of bowel, stomach, and esophageal cancers.
- Dietary fiber helps protect against stroke and diabetes. Replacing refined grains with whole grains can reduce your risk of stroke by up to 36%. You can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by 30%.
- A higher fiber diet helps lower blood pressure.
How Can I Get More Fiber in my Diet?
Eating a diet rich in high fiber foods is easy! How? Check it out:
- Choose brown rice over white. You can also try other grains like millet, quinoa, barley, and buckwheat.
- Choose whole-grain foods over refined grains.
- Beans (legumes) are good sources of fiber.
- Eat more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, including apples, bananas, oranges, berries, and dark colored vegetables.
- Check out Web MD’s Ultimate High Fiber Grocery List.
Change #2: Cut the Sugar
We’ve all heard this before. Sugar hides in everything. And even when it’s on the label, food manufacturers are finding ever sneakier ways of concealing it. Have you heard of dextrin, malt syrup, diastatic malt or sorghum? These are some of the 56 most common names for added sugar. Even foods that don’t taste overly sweet, like bread, may have added sugar.
- Sugar causes tooth decay.
- Dietary sugar can make skin conditions like acne worse.
- It contains no nutrients but is very calorie dense, which means you can eat way too much, without your body telling you it’s had enough food.
- It’s addictive. The more you eat, the more you want.
- Too much dietary sugar can cause insulin resistance, and eventually diabetes. Higher insulin levels can also lead to cancer.
- Too much dietary sugar can lead to heart disease.
How Can I Reduce my Sugar Intake?
It’s not easy, but you can do it. And the great thing is, the more careful you are about dietary sugar, the easier it gets. And the more dietary sugar you cut out, the more it will help.
First, learn the 56 names of sugar and become a careful label-reader. From Sucrose to HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup), manufacturers use different names to hide the amount of sugar they add.
Next, know how much sugar you should consume. Hint: the amount you should consume is a lot less than you think. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams a day (150 calories) for men or 25 grams (100 calories) for women. Maximum. For reference, one 12 ounce soda contains 39 grams.
As for processed sugar substitutes? Not so fast. Although products like NutraSweet and Splenda are FDA approved, a recent study suggests that they may promote diabetes by disrupting gut bacteria.
Are you thinking of switching juice for soda? Think again. Juice contains nearly as much sugar as soda. Not to mention many juices on the market are sweetened with sugar or corn syrup.
It’s best to find less sweet alternatives. Try unsweetened flavored soda water instead of soda or juice. Ripe berries with cream make a lovely dessert. Or blitz frozen fruit in a food processor with a dollop of vanilla yogurt for a tasty sorbet.
Give it time. Change can be hard at first. But eventually, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
Change #3: Choose Nutrient Dense Foods
What are Nutrient Dense Foods?
The human body needs different kinds of nutrients. These include fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. By choosing foods rich in more than one of these, you can get a lot of bang for your food buck, especially if it’s also rich in fiber. Here are some foods that can do double duty — or more. When you choose nutrient-dense foods, you’ll eat less without being hungry. Every calorie will count. In addition, this one simple dietary change will help your health in many different ways. Here is a very small selection of nutrient-dense foods.
Garlic. In addition to making food taste great, garlic is rich in vitamins C, B1, and B6. It’s also a good source of potassium, selenium, calcium, copper and manganese. Garlic raises “good” cholesterol and lowers “bad cholesterol.” It also lowers blood pressure.
Shellfish. Shellfish like clams, oysters, and mussels are high in B vitamins, calcium, copper, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals.
Nuts. Nuts are rich in healthy fats and fiber. They’re also a good source of protein and vitamin E. Nuts can even help heart health.
Spinach. Spinach has lots of potassium, vitamins A and K, iron, and more.
Beans. Beans are high in both protein and fiber. They also have lots of iron, folic acid, and other minerals. But be careful. Many canned beans have a lot of sodium.
What about supplements?
Should you do dietary supplements to help lose weight? If you’re following a weight loss diet, a doctor may recommend you take vitamin supplements. But this isn’t because supplements will take off the pounds. It’s because if you’re restricting your food intake, you may be missing out on vital vitamins and minerals. The National Institutes of Health reports that supplementation does not affect on the weight of people who do not already have nutritional deficiencies. Most experts agree that it’s best to get your nutrients from food, rather than from supplements. If you have a question about supplements, contact your doctor.
Is there a Diet to Help Skin Conditions?
There is growing evidence of a link between diet and various skin conditions. Dairy products and high glycemic foods are linked to acne. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cancer, including skin cancer. There is a link between psoriasis, diabetes and heart disease. Interestingly, dietary changes that help diabetes and heart disease also sometimes help psoriasis. Sugar even accelerates skin aging.
You can read more in this article from The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.
Is there a diet to help with menopause?
Menopause is natural, but many find the symptoms troublesome. Experts recommend getting enough iron and fiber. Foods with isoflavones, like soy, may help ease menopausal symptoms. It may also be helpful to avoid caffeine, spicy foods, and alcohol. Also, as risk for osteoporosis rises with menopause, make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D. You can read more at WebMD.
Diet help for arthritis
If you have arthritis, your doctor may suggest you lose weight. Taking off a few lbs will ease the burden on your joints, which will lessen arthritis pain. There are even foods that can reduce inflammation, boost your immune system, and strengthen your bones. The Arthritis Foundation has a selection of articles about diet and arthritis. Although no diet will cure arthritis, the right foods can help.
Gout has been called “the disease of kings,” because this debilitating form of arthritis is often caused by eating too much and too richly. As with any other kind of arthritis, your doctor may ask you first to lose weight. But there is also a gout diet that doctors typically prescribe. In addition to increasing fruits, vegetables and water, the diet for gout calls for reducing protein and fats. Gout patients may also be asked to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and certain kinds of seafood. You can read more in this publication by The Mayo Clinic.
Certain diseases like arthritis, lung disease, heart disease, lupus, and multiple sclerosis cause long-lasting inflammation in the body. There is evidence that certain foods can lower inflammation and ease the pain of these conditions.
Dietitian Gaynor Bussell recommends a diet rich in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. He also suggests avoiding foods with a high glycemic index. Says Bussell, “a junk food diet can raise the level of inflammation.” Foods that are nutrient dense and high in dietary fiber can help.
Taking charge of your health may seem a daunting prospect. But, as we’ve seen, three simple dietary changes can help, both with general health and with specific conditions. More fiber. Less sugar. More nutrient-dense foods. Just remember, talk to your doctor before you implement any dietary changes.
It takes practice, but you can do it. Your health is in your hands.
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Featured image CC by 0, by Bill Branson, via Wikimedia Commons.