By Walter Crinnion, ND
Setting goals is a common occurrence as the New Year approaches. Many set similar goals year after year. While financial goals are dreamed of, health goals are far more crucial to our lives. Good health provides limitless possibilities. Without health, those possibilities can be significantly diminished. Thoughts about health goals are common in January following overindulgence in alcohol, sugars and fatty foods typical of the holiday season. Let’s think about how our diet impacts our health. For decades we have known that all the major chronic disease states, which afflict virtually everyone consuming the Western diet, are lifestyle related. The major lifestyle factors that cause these illnesses are the Standard American Diet (SAD) and our toxic environment. A lack of exercise plays a role, too. It never ceases to amaze me that vast majority of the Americans insist on eating the SAD and living in an ever-more-toxic home environment. Genetics do play a role in chronic illness, however, the outcome is determined by both genetic predisposition AND lifestyle.
Let me use myself as an example. All of the men, and most of the women, in my bloodline died from heart disease – at fairly young ages. My father had his first heart attack at 48 years of age. Knowing my genetics predisposed me to cardiovascular disease, I have consumed a heart healthy diet with heart healthy supplements, along with regular exercise, for the past 35 years. My father had already had two heart attacks by the time he was my age, but according to the cardiologists I have visited, I have the cardiovascular system of a 26 year old! Most people know they should eat right. Most everyone realizes that smoking cigarettes causes cancer. But people like the taste of sugar and fat the same way they enjoy what happens to their brain and mood when they smoke. Sometimes it is hard for people to look past the short-term benefits to see the long-term costs of their choices.
There are “functional foods” readily available as good choices. Functional foods have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. These foods include broccoli and all of its Brassica relatives (Kale, Brussels sprouts, Cauliflower), and all of the dark-colored berries. Additionally, wild Alaskan salmon provides a high level of essential oils. However, you will not get the same benefit from Atlantic farmed salmon. The natural chemicals and fiber from these vegetables and fruits are primary benefactors. To gain the full benefit from these foods, one needs to eat them AND digest and absorb them. We actually are not what we eat – but what we digest and absorb.
When digestive ability decreases, digestive discomforts may increase. Television advertisements assure us that all of our digestive discomforts will go away, including occasional heartburn, if we just take medication on a daily basis! But if the digestive discomforts are caused by a reduced digestive enzyme output, why not support digestion naturally? All too often medications only mask the symptoms, typically with serious side effects.
Aging decreases the overall energy level and digestive ability is also often compromised. Studies indicate that people with type “A” blood have weaker digestive ability and as they age, often experience digestive trouble more frequently than people with type “O” blood. Dr. Peter D’Adamo’s Eat Right 4 Your Type discusses this in length. He makes the argument that persons with weaker digestion (blood type A) do much better on a vegetable-based diet because meat proteins are much more difficult to digest. Type A blood individuals could benefit from supplemental digestive enzymes. However, should they want to eat a lot of animal protein, they would need more protein-digesting assistance, typically from protease enzymes. Aging blood type O people will need digestive help to break down animal proteins, too. A number of oils and fat-soluble vitamins that are essential for life need fat or oil-digesting enzymes (lipases) to help aid digestion as well. Therefore, if you are wanting to add Alaskan salmon into your diet to support a healthy heart, as I have done for the last 35 years, it would make great sense to add supplemental lipase to insure that all those fish oils are actually absorbed!
The holiday season has come and gone. We may have more weight around our middles and less money in the bank. Department stores may be happily in the black while our health and vitality is in the red. It is time to refocus, make the healthy investment of functional foods to your diet and stop the junk, alcohol, sweets and high-fat foods. Aim for a cleaner environment and add exercise. Hundreds of studies on healthy diets show dramatic benefits for those who changed their eating habits. The benefits are derived from replacing the poor food choices with good, healthy food! Be sure that you are getting the greatest return on your investment by insuring that you are optimally digesting and absorbing all that healthy foods have to offer.