I’ve noticed a lot of people in my Facebook feed who are talking about being sick with colds and allergies lately. My sister-in-law is a teacher, and she was just telling me the other day that this year has been rough already for illnesses. She told me that usually the kids get sick & then the teachers get it, but this year it seemed the teachers were already sick at the start of the school year.
I talk about lifestyle disease a lot, and I just kind of assume that you know what I’m referring to. But in case you don’t- here you go:
Lifestyle diseases are diseases that are caused by something environmental. They may have a genetic component, but they require a lifestyle factor in order to activate. In other words, if you were not born with it, it’s probably a lifestyle disease. Diabetes, cancer, eczema, allergies, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, the flu and other viruses, depression, anxiety, chronic kidney disease…. All of these conditions have an environmental trigger. By environmental, I mean any part of the internal or external environment that can cause or worsen disease. Food, bacteria, chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, heavy metals, pollution, stress, all of these things can act on the body and affect the immune system, triggering disease.
Here is the good news: there is a LOT you can do to reverse or decrease your risk of developing lifestyle diseases, even if you have a genetic predisposition.
We are not just sitting ducks, waiting for the wrong person to breathe on us and get us sick. I have not been sick since January 2016.
I’m not saying I’m never exposed to illnesses. I have 4 kids. I’m out in public daily. But even when illnesses go through my house, I don’t get them. When your gut is healthy, pathogens can come into your body, but they will just pass right through. 80% of our immune system is in our gut, so pretty much the most important factor in staying or getting healthy is taking care of your gut.
Genetics are a blueprint, but YOU are the builder. You have an incredible ability to prevent diseases through improving your body’s environment.
For example, let’s talk about the flu. It’s “flu season” right now, so let’s try to understand why it’s flu season, who gets the flu, and what we can do to prevent it.
First, the flu is not more prevalent at this time of year due to colder temperatures. It’s more prevalent because we get less sun exposure in the winter, and our Vitamin D stores are depleted. Most people are Vitamin D deficient these days. That’s because we spend most of our time indoors, and we don’t go outside unless we are slathered in sunscreen.
Vitamin D is a hormone, not a vitamin. Our bodies make Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. but even those of us who know this and spend 10-15 minutes a day outside without sunscreen will still probably not make enough Vitamin D in the winter, when the sun is less intense. So we should probably take a Vitamin D supplement. In fact, studies show supplementing with Vitamin D is more effective than the flu shot. It’s also free from the side-effects that flu shots can cause, so I personally choose to skip the shot and take a Vitamin D instead.
But the biggest factor in who gets the flu is gut health.
If your gut is healthy, your immune system can do it’s job properly, and you are much less likely to get the flu even if you are exposed.
Gut health is important in preventing pretty much all lifestyle diseases, even those with genetic components. And what we eat is the biggest factor affecting gut health. Scientists in laboratory studies have actually turned cancer growth on and off with food.
Every time we eat, we are either feeding disease or fighting it. So just because “everyone” in your family had Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure or breast cancer does NOT mean you will get it too. You CAN dramatically reduce your risk with the right nutrition.
So what should you eat?
Here are a few foods that are very beneficial for your gut. Try to start adding them in to your diet and see how you feel after a few weeks.
The one food the healthiest populations in the planet have in common is beans. Start slowly and try smaller beans or lentils at first. While you may experience some gassiness when first incorporating beans, your digestive tract will quickly adapt, and your probiotic gut bacteria will appreciate their favorite food! Another great bean fact- they are digested so far down the intestinal tract that some of their calories never get absorbed. So you can eat 100 calories of beans and only absorb 85-90 calories. Meaning you feel full on less!
Dark Green leafy veggies
These veggies are essential to good gut health. They contain fiber, antioxidants, folate, polyunsaturated fats and phytonutrients.
I don’t mean breads or cereals that claim to be “whole wheat” or “whole grain”. While those foods may contain some whole grain, they are still highly processed and contain a lot of other ingredients like sugar, preservatives, and flavors or colors. I’m referring to whole, single ingredient grains. Oats. Quinoa. Rice. Sorghum. Barley. When consumed in whole form, these foods are digested in stages, allowing the insoluble fiber to make it down to where it needs to be to create prebiotics, the preferred food of probiotics.
Fats are best consumed in whole food form, where they still have nutritional value, instead of oil, which is just fat with no nutrients. Healthy fats come from nuts, seeds, avocados and occasionally small portions of fatty fish like mackerel.
Nuts & seeds
I know I just mentioned these under healthy fats. But nuts & seeds contain other nutrients- magnesium, iron, omega 3 fatty acids and selenium. Selenium is an essential component in mood regulation and can be helpful for those with depression. Flax seeds have been shown in studies to reduce breast cancer risk. Just make sure to grind them before eating, so your body can absorb the nutrients!
And what should you eat less of if you want a healthy gut?
We have been led to believe by the media and the dairy industry that dairy is essential to human health. This is actually not true at all. Dairy is the most allergenic food humans consume. It is most often the culprit behind allergies, eczema, respiratory illnesses, acne, menstrual bloating and cramping, migraines and asthma. It has been linked in studies to both Type 1 & Type 2 diabetes, as well as some cancers. Whenever one of my clients is suffering with any of these health concerns or has evidence of leaky gut, the first thing I suggest is removing dairy to see if symptoms improve. I recently had one of my teenage clients with severe acne report that his skin cleared up significantly within just a few weeks of eliminating dairy.
Processed foods, including processed meats
Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, hot dogs, etc. are Class 1 carcinogens. This means they are known to cause cancer in humans. Other types of meat (red meat, chicken, pork) are Class 2 carcinogens, meaning they are probable human carcinogens. Higher meat consumption is linked to many, many lifestyle diseases, including heart disease, the #1 killer of Americans. But processed meats are even more clearly dangerous. Cutting down on these foods, or removing them from your diet, is a good choice if you are looking to live a long, healthy life.
Other processed foods (things that come with an ingredient list) can contain very little nutrition but be high in calories. They are often full of added sugar, salt & fat, as well as artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. A good rule of thumb is to look for things that contain 5 ingredients or fewer, in order to avoid a lot of these harmful additives.
This one is tough. Because sugar in some form is added to about 80% of the foods on the grocery store shelves. Sugar feeds many of the most dangerous diseases, including cancer, causes chronic inflammation, and contributes to weight gain. If you have a sweet tooth, try a few dates, or make “ice cream” out of frozen bananas. There are lots of recipes for banana “nice cream” out there. My favorite includes natural peanut butter & cacao powder. Honey & natural maple syrup are far better options to sweeten your foods, especially if you are making them yourself instead of buying processed treats.
These man-made chemicals are detrimental to human health. Some have been pulled off the market in other countries because they are known to cause cancer, migraines, exacerbate autoimmune diseases and promote the overgrowth of bad gut bacteria.
Alcohol is a well known toxin to the human body. While an occasional glass of red wine may not cause a health issue (and may actually help you live longer) drinking 2 or 3 drinks every night, or binge drinking on the weekends can damage your gut, your liver, your heart, basically all the important stuff. So if you are looking to get healthy, cut waaaayyyy back on the adult beverages!
As a health coach, I often help my clients learn to crowd out the less-healthy foods in their diet and gradually replace them with foods that will promote health, so that in just a few weeks or months, they are noticing their symptoms disappearing, along with any excess weight. We do this in a way that never feels overwhelming, so that my clients are able to create new, lasting nutritional habits that can help them avoid or reverse lifestyle diseases.
If you would like more information on my coaching services to find out if I can help you take control of your health, please send me an email & let’s chat!