I was having dinner with some friends a while back and one of them asked what was new with me. “Well,” I said,” I just graduated from a nutrition program. I’m now an Integrative Nutritional Health Coach.” After a congratulatory toast and some encouraging words about launching my new career, my friends lamented that they knew they could stand to improve their diets. Then one said, I know I should eat better but I wouldn’t want to live too long!” illuminating the belief that our elder years are nothing more than disease riddled misery that dribble on longer than we or any of our would-be caregivers might appreciate. “Maybe we shouldn’t concern ourselves with how long we’re going to live,” I responded. “The more interesting question might be: are we living too short and dying too long?”
Had my friend thought about his statement, he might have seen the flaw in his logic: a careless diet can actually lead to that elder-years-slow-roll-to-death he so feared. But the better we eat, the better our chances for living a longer, healthier life. There is new and growing data to indicate that what we eat, how we sleep and how much exercise we get, has an effect on how sick we get or whether we get sick at all. Our bodies are designed to stay healthy. Given the right kinds of nourishment, we have enormous potential to live a long, joyous, energized life.
To put it another way, according to biochemist, Dr. Libby Weaver, the human body is made up of 50 trillion cells. Every second each cell in your body coordinates billions of chemical reactions. Every month you completely regenerate your outer layer of skin. Every three months you completely rebuild and replace your blood supply. Every 10 years, adults completely rebuild and remodel every bone in their body. Children rebuild their skeleton every year. Now think about raw materials your body has to work with.
My grandfather lived for a long time on coffee, cigarettes and snack cakes despite my mom’s best efforts to get him to eat better. I often think about how long his body kept going (though feebly and with dementia) on such a poor diet; proof that we have the mechanisms within us to sustain life on scraps, to keep us going in times of famine. But it’s hard work, and while the liver and digestive system are scrambling to keep toxins from killing us and nutrients, such as they are, shuttled to the right locations, the body becomes stressed. Eventually, inflammation sets in, followed closely by disease and you know what. Pretty grim, right?
But imagine what could happen, would happen if we supplied our bodies with foods that provided mostly good stuff (fresh, unprocessed foods, loaded by nature with vitamins, minerals, protein and good fats), and minimal bad stuff (processed foods full of stabilizers, artificial flavorings, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats). Imagine what your body could do if you gave it what it needs and omitted the things that turn out to be functional distractions. With the right building blocks, metabolism shifts from fat storage to a fuel burning powerhouse; the immune system functions not just to help us get well when we get sick, but to keep disease from taking hold in the first place.
When we eat junk, we build junk and we survive, for a while, and everything seems ok, until it isn’t. When we eat, fresh vegetables, good quality animal products and whole, unprocessed grains, our miraculous digestive systems can get right to work building new cells and keeping us strong, without having to filter out the toxic stuff first. If we do as Michael Pollan suggests, “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much,” we can do so much more than survive. We can thrive!
Renee Girard is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. As a Nutritional Wellness Coach, she helps people move toward a delicious, nutritious, energized life. Renee sees clients individually or in groups at the Natural Healing Garden at 119 Garden St.