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Thursday, 28 January 2016

What IS A Balanced, Healthy Diet?

This is Chapter 2 of my book 'The Best Things To Eat and Drink When You Fly' that gives perspective on what to eat and drink to prepare folks for a flight. But, really, this information is helpful for everyone who may be confused about what is best to eat and drink, in general. I hope it helps you! :)
PS: Please note that you may have to cut and paste the links onto your browser in order to open them, if you want to check them out, but also, please feel free to email me and I will send them to you!

Chapter 2 – Best Diet For Travelers à Balanced, Healthy Diet

“If  you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready”. Will Smith

For the frequent flier and /or business traveler, the best things to eat and drink to prepare you for calm, comfortable, productive, and pleasant flights and trips is to already be eating and drinking the best things for your body– when you’re not travelling, when you’re on terra firma. You see, along with adequate sleep, proper hydration, and getting enough exercise, a balanced, healthy diet, as part of your usual, regular lifestyle habits, contributes to optimal fitness and health.  A stable, fit, optimal state of health is a much better state for the body to be in and/or to start out at, when subjected to the conditions of cruising in a confined cabin at 30,000 feet – wouldn’t you agree?

Numerous studies affirm the long-term health outcomes associated with habitual consumption of balanced, healthy diets: prevention of obesity and overweight, and lower risks of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers. Additionally, what can truly be helpful for the frequent flyer to know and understand are the many more proximal and immediate positive benefits of healthy eating and drinking: control and/or prevention of indigestion, gas, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, halitosis, and other gastro-intestinal discomforts, as well as other physiological discomforts such as headaches, lightheadedness, blood clots, urinary tract issues, and general malaise.

So, What Exactly Is A Balanced, Healthy Diet?
A balanced, healthy diet is one which provides the body with its essential nutrient requirements for its physiological needs. So, as much as we enjoy eating and drinking, the main goal is to get and keep us healthy – daily, weekly – for life. That’s not to say we shouldn’t celebrate and enjoy foods, drinks, and eating and drinking! In fact, having access to the foods and drinks we need, but, also, want, and like gives great satisfaction and improves the quality of our lives. All people have the basic human right to be well-nourished from foods and drinks they enjoy and tolerate well. The CDC identifies a healthful diet as one of the necessary determinants of individual health and wellness and national levels of health and well-being.

How To Eat A Daily Balanced, Healthy Diet
If the main goal of a balanced, healthy diet is to get our daily doses of necessary nutrients, then you can always analyze the *Nutrient Chart I have provided for you (see below), go through the sources of each nutrient, pick out the foods you like and can get, and plan your own personalized menus for the day, week, month(s), year, etc., accordingly. And, as you’re out and about, travelling, you will be that person who relates to dining out like this: You’re up for that, right? You have time for that, don’t you? You certainly can go for it, if you want to!

Oh, guess what?  You don’t need to do that because, actually, it’s been done for you. In fact, in almost every nation on the planet, Dietary Guidelines have been developed and are available, so that you make informed dietary choices to enable you to achieve a balanced, healthy diet that delivers your necessary daily nutrient requirements. Dietary Guidelines translate the science and theories of nutrition into the much more practical ‘language’ of food.  Dietary Guidelines distills the information from reliable studies and detailed sources to generate practical plans based on basic, wholesome foods grouped according to their similar nutrient content and compositions with suggested serving amounts, and recommendations on what groups to choose the mainstay of intake from vs. occasional selections or treats. It’s amazing to see that Dietary Guidelines are extremely similar across almost every nation. This affirms the fact that despite our differences of race, culture, national origin, or geographical location, we all share (more or less, but well-within normal human variation) the same nutritional requirements. The foods may be different from country to country, but, they are similar in nutrient compositions, so as to enable classifications in distinct groups, in a similar manner, in each country, from country to country. The ‘language’ of nutrition is universal. Some examples of international food guides:

If more people, across the globe, would start today to consume foods and drinks in suggested servings and amounts, based on Dietary Guidelines, it would be life-changing (for the better!) for individuals, for populations, for nations, for the world! It would result in more people eating balanced, healthy diets --thus, they would be better nourished and, ultimately, healthier. So, why don’t more people follow Dietary Guidelines?  Are they too difficult to understand, to execute? Are the recommendations unreasonable? Are they too vague, too detailed, too generic, too boring? Does it matter?

It does matter -- more today than ever before. Dietary Guidelines, of some sort, have been around a long time, and even the most rudimentary of recommendations have been better than nothing to help people reference and reassure that their dietary intake is within reasonable and helpful limits for the body’s needs. Up until the 1980’s, people actually ate more in alignment with recommendations. It’s only been in the last 30-40 years, that our food intake has run amok. With the increased production and availability of food, in general, came also the increase of convenience and fast foods/drinks engineered and processed with higher sugar, salt, fat, and, ultimately, calorie levels. A ‘food-everywhere’, ‘eat-constantly’ environment has evolved, where grazing, snacking, nibbling, and oversized portions have become normal. Now, I grew up with the ‘mangia-mangia’ dynamic being a second generation Italian, so, this was normal for me and my family (many of whom were overweight, obese, and heart/liver/colon/lung-unhealthy), but now it’s like the whole world is becoming second generation Italians when it comes to food! I might add, too, I believe, it wasn’t so much the Mediterranean diet that I and my family usually consumed that contributed to our diet-related health problems, but, rather, all the convenience and fast foods that we consumed on top of our daily healthy diet, for example: the snack-pack puddings we were given after we had our piece of fruit, going to the burger joint not even a half hour after we finished dinner as our after-dinner entertainment, evening take-out pizza deliveries from an uncle’s restaurant to have as our bedtime snack – always accompanied by cold Cokes, of, course. Our grandparents and parents were fascinated by how easy it was to get cheap, tasty food and lavished us with it. It was a tangible way for them to show us they loved us, could care for us, and that they were ‘making it’ and were as successful as all the other Americans. By the time we transitioned through puberty, early adulthood and full-blown adulthood, our bodies – from our brains to our tastebuds to our stomachs, via our livers, pancreases, and adrenal glands, mediated by all the hormones involved --  (patho)physiologically needed, as well as wanted too much food. It was our normal.

Similarly, the now general food-obsessed environment we live in today has made it normal for many more people to overeat. When I was growing up in the 50’s-80’s, I was 1/ 8-10, perhaps even 15 children, classified as obese/overweight. Now, 1/3-4 children are classed as such. It’s ironic that with improvements in food research, production, hygiene, and distribution, it’s become daunting for people, even our children, to get their proper nourishment. It seems our dietary intake is now driven much more by hedonic forces than by our bodies’ physiological needs. The main goal of diet—to obtain our nutrient requirements to get and keep our bodies healthy—has been superseded by other ‘goals’ – to please our palates, feel totally ‘satisfied’ and satiated’, and find ultimate food experiences. “Mangia, mangia”!

Here’s a link to an excellent discussion on why people overeat:

So, it’s time to look back in order to move forward. We must revert back to eating more of the ‘basics’, less processed foods, appropriate portion sizes, and less often. Food and diet need to be put back in perspective. We need to reorient our palates with our bodies’ physiological needs. Dietary Guidelines show us that, no matter where in the world you are or travel to, it is absolutely do-able to consume and enjoy eating and drinking, healthfully. You just have to start doing it and before you know it, you will actually find yourself preferring wholesome, basic, fresh foods and drinks (aka, clean eating) to highly processed too-sweet, too-greasy fare (aka, junk foods) in portions suited to your body’s needs. And if you find you, yourself, can’t be bothered or find it too difficult to follow Dietary Guidelines, do me a favor – get your children to follow them. It will be a gift to them that will keep on giving. ‘Hard-wiring’ your children, from the get-go, to prefer more wholesome, basic, balanced diets as outlined in Dietary Guidelines, will, hopefully reawaken and encourage the dietary autonomy and self-regulation of their food intake that they were born with, to get and keep them healthier, for life. They, in turn, will be more likely to pass this dynamic and physiological legacy to their own children. I love a hopeful strategy! Looking back does not mean moving backward! I can’t help myself from inserting one of my favorite poems here that says it so much better than I ever could!

Although following any of the national Dietary Guidelines that I have listed, will help you to eat and drink better, I admit, I really prefer the Dietary Guidelines and Food Pyramid  as proffered by the Harvard School of Public Health: It is clear, concise, and very much all that is known to help you make the best dietary choices you possibly can, according to the best evidence-to-date.

Additionally, one of the best resources I’ve ever seen that explains many of the benefits of healthy eating can be found at:  The explanation of what happens to the body when you eat and drink too much of too rich, too-sugary, too –high-saturated fat, too-high alcohol, is worth the short hour of listening -- perhaps while waiting at the gate? J. The presentation was made to help guard against overindulging at holiday times, but the principles are pertinent to everyday choices. Certainly, as one meanders around food courts at airports, it’s good to have information to help you be mindful of what it means if you succumb to hedonic eating and drinking, especially shortly before subjecting your body to the added stressors of air flight. The gluten-free aspects may not apply to you, but it’s good to be educated and aware of issues surrounding the gluten-free craze, and, actually, as overblown as it might be, there is evidence of an increase in the prevalence of celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity in many countries. Moreover, similar mechanisms of gastrointestinal distress and other signs of physiological intolerance can and do legitimately occur with any substance that is not tolerated, for some reason, by the body, or consumed excessively. These issues are explained clearly in this slideshow. The practical advice on how you can execute healthy eating each day, is also worth a look and listen.

If you are still not convinced and/or feel you need additional more individualized dietary guidance to help you achieve a balanced, healthy diet and the optimal health, vigor, radiance, and energy levels that you desperately want and need to be the consummate frequent flyer and globetrotter, then, the next chapter is expressly for you! Fasten your seat belts! Read on! J

*Nutrient Chart file:///C:/Users/mjove/Documents/AppendixC_NutrientChart.pdf

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