Over five years ago, my mom, at 55 years young, was diagnosed with cancer. Not just any cancer, but stage IV lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain. This was a sorry-there’s-no-cure-get-your-affairs-in-order kind of diagnosis. My world was forever changed.
She’s still alive, by the way. She’ll be a six-year cancer survivor in June. It was a fight. It was anything but easy and while she’s cancer-free today, the side effects of her toxic treatments have been severe. But she’s here and I don’t let one day go by without thanking God I still have my mom.
I start with this because it was her diagnosis and subsequent battle with cancer that really spurred my journey of learning more about nutrition and its role in maintaining our health.
I’ve read an alarming number of books about food and our health. I find it fascinating the way our bodies work and how the foods we eat can either harm us or heal us.
The thing is, there’s a lot, and I mean a lot, of contradictory information out there.
One of the first books I devoured shortly after my mom’s diagnosis was The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. I read a lot of books during those initial months of her diagnosis and treatments, but this one had the biggest impact on me. After reading it, I became a vegetarian and stopped drinking cow’s milk. We’re talking drastic life changes.
Then, a few months later, my dad handed me Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions which pretty much touted a diet that was the exact opposite of what Dr. Campbell described in his book.
Dr. Campbell said the casein in cow’s milk will kill me, Sally Fallon said (raw) cow’s milk is basically the most nutritious thing you can put in your body.
And trust me, I’ve read everything in between these two extremes.
Sooooooo….what is a regular girl like me supposed to do? I have one goal in mind: a long, disease-free life that I can enjoy without pain or sickness. I want the same thing for each of my family members. I know eating the right foods can contribute to that goal.
You could easily make yourself crazy by reading all the differing nutritional philosophies out there. With that in mind, there are five food truths I’ve come to believe based on everything I’ve read, my personal experiences, and lots of observation. One thing I’ve learned in my research on nutrition is that truth is a relative term, so these are my truths, which may be also viewed as opinions.
1. Eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods is key.
Too much of anything can be a bad thing. Our bodies need a balance of nutrients to grow, thrive, and be well. You can’t even pinpoint exactly how much you need of each nutrient because it could be different for every individual. The only way to get the ideal balance of nutrients is to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods on a daily basis. If you are eating too much of any one thing, even if that one thing is “healthy”, you could be hurting your body.
2. What we eat has power to make us well or make us sick.
I wholeheartedly believe that nutrition does matter. It goes beyond maintaining a healthy weight. What we eat can truly affect our health, both short term and long term. Overall, I actually think nutrition plays a stronger role than genes do in our health because I think nutrition can turn on or off certain genetic tendencies.
3. The bulk of our diet should be made up of plant-based foods.
The reason I think this is simple. If you are going to get the wide spectrum of nutrients you need, you have to eat a lot of plant-based foods, specifically a lot of vegetables. There are nutrients, important nutrients, you can get from animal foods. I think eating them is fine, nutritionally speaking. But if they make up the bulk (more than half) of your diet, you don’t have enough room in the rest of what you’re eating to get all the nutrients you need.
4. No matter what diet you follow, make sure you’re eating whole, unprocessed foods.
Whether you eat vegan or paleo or somewhere in between, most of what you’re eating should not be packaged, processed foods. If I were to give one piece of advice to someone looking to improve their health, it would be to cut out processed foods.
5. Nutrition is highly individualized.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet. One person may thrive on a vegan diet, while the next person’s health may suffer. A certain individual may need more fat and less protein than the next. This is why you need to be careful and never assume that what “works” for one person will “work” for you.
I would love to keep this conversation going. Are there any “food truths” you’d add to this list?