In the first part of the Foundations of Health: Diet blog series, I discussed general healthy recommendations for what to eat, click here to read Part 1. Equally important and often not discussed is how to eat. For today’s post I will discuss some considerations about how to eat to optimize digestion.
Food is an essential part of life. The choices we make about what we eat can have lasting impacts on our health. Many chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity can be caused by unhealthy dietary habits (1). For many people, preventing these diseases can be as easy as engaging in healthy eating habits. These healthy eating habits include not just what food is eaten, but also when and how to eat. In this article, I will discuss very general healthy diet recommendations (what to eat). In part 2, I will discuss how and when to eat.
What to Eat
There is no perfect diet that can be applied to everyone. However, in general, the best thing is to focus on is the quality of food (2). High quality food includes are those that are closest to their whole forms found in nature. Foods like whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and healthy proteins are all high quality foods. Low-quality foods are those that are highly processed such as white bread, white rice, fried food, processed meats, sugary beverages, refined sugar, and foods high in trans fats. These low-quality foods are minimized or eliminated in a healthy diet.
A sense of connection with others is integral to our well-being. Love and the sense of belonging in a community has far reaching implications on our health. The benefits of love aren’t limited to relationships between partners or spouses. Having a strong network of connections with friends, family, coworkers, and/or neighbors is an important aspect of everyone’s health.
Sometimes relationships can be stressful, but overall, love has shown to to have a strong stress reducing potential. When you feel love, areas in the brain that are responsible for emotion, attention, motivation, and memory are activated. Our immune function improves, depression and anxiety decreases, and overall sense of well-being improves.
Relationships can be work sometimes, but putting in the effort can be well worth it. So, remember to reach out to those you love today and give others that boost in well-being everyone needs.
Chances are good that if you aren’t waking up feeling rested, you aren’t getting enough good quality sleep. Around 30% of adults in the US report getting 6 hours of sleep or less a night (1). Research shows the average adult needs 7-9 hours a night and that kids and teenagers need even more sleep!
Myth busted: There is a mentality that we can “catch up” on sleep lost throughout the week, but studies show that just isn’t the case. One study out of Harvard Medical School found reaction times and mental focus remain low even after a “catch up” night of 10 hours after 2 weeks of getting about 6 hours of sleep (3).
What to do about it
I always recommend that people start with the basics. Much like it is common knowledge that eating more vegetables is a healthy eating habit, there are healthy sleeping habits too. These habits help improve sleep quality and can help you get to sleep faster.
The Thirst Response
Ideally, we would all be able to rely on our body’s mechanism of thirst to determine when we should be consuming more water, either through drinking water or consuming food that contains water. The thirst mechanism, in theory, should not only provide our body with enough information to know when to drink water, but also on how much water to drink based on intensity of the thirst mechanism. The issue with relying solely on this thirst sensation arises from an inability for us to adequately assess the thirst response in some cases. Firstly, studies demonstrate that as we age, our thirst response is blunted. Older individuals typically do not drink enough fluids to replenish water loss when compared to younger individuals (1). The mechanism for this is not well explained, but could be due to a loss of sensation to thirst from a lifetime of failing to respond to the body’s alarm system for water. In essence, the longer we ignore our body's plea for water or mistake it for hunger, the perception of thirst can be altered and result in a weaker thirst signal (2).
Your Water Intake Recommendation
What I am going to recommend to you is starting with a baseline recommendation for water intake and modifying based on individual factors such as diet, thirst, caffeine intake and sweat time which I’ll go through below.
Before you begin, take a moment to check in with yourself. How are you feeling in this moment? Now, without changing your posture, place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. Take a few minutes to analyze how you breath. Do you notice one hand moving more than the other? Try to gauge your rate of breath. Is your exhale a different length than your inhale or are they equal? Is there a pause to your breath? If so, where do you pause?