Maintenance of health in 2021

There are several major planks upon which a “health maintenance” diet rests. Eating a healthy diet is very important during the COVID-19 pandemic. What we eat and drink can have a detrimental effect on our health. There are no foods or dietary supplements that can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, although healthy diets and habits can help to support our immune systems.

A few of my favorite tips for maintaining a healthy diet include:

Following a predominately vegetarian diet

It also needs to be realized that today’s animal products are quite different from those that the hunter-gatherers would have obtained.  Animal products, especially meats, obtained via modern agriculture have a much higher fat content, deficient in essential fatty acids generally and particularly deficient in Omega 3.  Moreover, animal fat concentrates pesticides and other agricultural chemicals and many of the animals suffer many drug treatments, including overuse or misuse of antibiotics.

Today there is much evidence that links overuse of animal products with heart disease, strokes, arthritis, cancer and many other degenerative illnesses.

Animal food contain on average much more fat, than a plant based diet. Plant food diets contain far more carbohydrate and fibre which is absent from animal foods. Therefore, if we consider that a diet that is either entirely or mainly of plant origin is the most ideal, then by comparison diets rich in animal produce are far too high in protein, far to high in fat, far too low in carbohydrate and contains insufficient dietary fibre. 

Moreover, animal-derived foods contain on average 57% more calories per gram of dry matter than plant-derived foods.  They therefore tend to favour the much more ready development of obesity – a scourge of modern societies that itself opens the way to many chronic complaints.

These are vast differences and so great as to make the high animal food diet a potentially huge health problem by departing so very severely from the diet with which most of humanity evolved.

Avoidance of processed foods

The negative effects of oxidative damage from extracted oils and the glycation effects of dietary sugar, can severely boost the bodies toxic burden.

Eating 50g of sugar a day and 50g of extracted oils, severly downgrades the micronutrient status.

On eating processed foods regularly, Vitamin A becomes severely deficient and cannot be made good from the carotene in this food.  The Vitamin D requirement for adults who stay indoors is not met either.  For most of the population these deficits are probably made good with cows’ milk. 

Vitamin C is very marginal with the processed foods.  If one takes into account the desirability of Vitamin C at levels well over and above the recommended daily amount, then Vitamin C is badly in deficit in the above diet and only about one eight of what is present in a mixed vegan diet. 

The B Vitamins do not emerge as clearly deficient with the particular mix of foods selected for the exercise, though pantothenate and biotin appear very marginal and folate is probably highly vulnerable to wrong food choices among the particular processed foods on the list.

In this case the high sodium level and the poor sodium to potassium ratio are very dangerous.  The calcium to magnesium ratio is very poor and the absolute value of magnesium is marginal.  One should evaluate all these figures bearing in mind that a diet high in processed food is usually accompanied by much refined fat and sugar as well. 

White flour and bread should be regarded as processed foods. Wheat itself contains unnecessary additives that should be sought out and avoided all together.

Essential fatty acids

Here I am referring to the need for both the Omega 6 and Omega 3 types.  Health maintenance requires a balance of both even though therapy more often calls for the provision of Omega 3 at the expense of Omega 6.  Quite commonly it is necessary to conduct therapy through creating an out-of-balance treatment to oppose the long-standing imbalance that has existed in the patient’s body.

 It is therefore recommendable to use fish or fish oils.  As this is a special need for a specified purpose it seems to indicate that in the healthy diet that contains a small percentage of animal produce, there can be real advantage if that produce is fish or seafood.  All the practice experience indicates that it is less suppressive naturopathically than meat even though its protein content is high and in the so-called “fatty fish” types the fat content is also high.

EPA cannot be provided at all in a diet that is wholly vegan. In that case fish added to a vegan diet may actually offer us a critical advantage or save us from circumstances that would otherwise threaten our health.

Phytonutrients

Also known as nature’s natural defense. Phytonutrients are natural compounds found in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and legumes. These plant compounds are essential and contain nutrients that help to promote good health.

There are hundreds of phytonutrients, often referred to as phytochemicals. The most common phytonutrients include carotenoids such as lutein, flavonoids, isoflavones, lignans and plant sterols.

Phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants that help to prevent damage to cells throughout the body. Phytonutrients may also act as antibacterial or antiviral agents.

Foods rich in phytonutrients include:

  • Red, orange and yellow vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, peppers, mangos and more.
  • Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli and romaine lettuce.
  • Garlic, onions, chives and leeks.
  • Whole grain products such as brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and whole grain cereals.
  • Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, sunflower, sesame and flax seeds.
  • Legumes such as dried beans, peas, lentils and GMO free soy products.

Level of application

The foregoing remarks make it clear that you can formulate a “generally healthy” diet in a superficial way.  There are diets that follow the guidelines given here to the letter and which become really quite technical and fussy about the maximization of individual phytonutrients derived from foods.  In between these extremes you have an infinite number of possible diets that take these precautions to all sorts of different intermediate levels.  The choice is up to the individual, though knowledge is needed as a basis for making the decisions.

Supplements

There is no universal agreement about the need for supplements in a maintenance nutritional program.  The argument comes up again and again “I would like to get all my nutrients from foods and not use supplements”.  How feasible is that?  Is it a valid option that people should consider?

This question should be addressed carefully.  There is no doubt that most people today are making dubious food choices that tend to undermine their nutrition.  There is no doubt that agricultural methods today are diminishing the nutritional value of crops.   There is no doubt that food processing is depleting foods further of important nutrients.  There is no doubt either that the population is receiving drugs and environmental toxins of a wide variety of kinds, many of which have nutrient depleting effects.  All of these factors tend to make the continuing use of supplements very desirable for the bulk of the population.

 If anyone were to follow the above guidelines to the letter, they would still require nutritional supplements.  We have to assume that they begin from a position of reasonable health, because when therapy is needed supplements are nearly always clearly desirable.

Conclusion

Big meat-eaters who declare that they suffer no disadvantage from the habit are probably blissfully unaware of the build-up of their body toxic burden, which may not show up for years in terms of symptoms.  They are also perhaps unaware of how they are exploiting and using up the “credit” represented by the strong constitution they inherited.   Nonetheless, all is never lost and everyone should do what they are prepared to do with a devotion to their own interests and those of their family and loved ones.

The common worry about protein quality in vegetarian diets is exaggerated.  Where vegetarian diets contain dairy, eggs or fish that worry can be eliminated entirely.  Meat holds no magic nutritionally.

Vegetarian and vegan diets are by no means proof against the common abuses of diet.  Such diets can be rich in salt, sugar, dairy, and refined fat and frying may be widely employed.  They too can miss out on the merits of the phytonutrients of fruits and vegetables if they concentrate too much upon vegetarian processed foods.

Vegans lack Vitamin D but can make that good by going in the sunshine.  We should remember that a wretched product like white bread can be made entirely vegan.  Vegans lack Vitamin B12 but can add in a good nutritional supplement.  They may show a slight but not very worrying shortage of zinc, easily made good with a low zinc supplement.  They need have no shortage or imbalance of essential fatty acids, though they need knowledge of how to control the Omega 6 and where to find enough Omega 3. 

Enjoy your journey of healthy eating with balance, wisdom and moderation.

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About the author

Qualified chef, Health Coach and Nutritionist based in Johannesburg & Cape Town, South Africa

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