No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means. ~Maimonides
You are what you eat.
This is a fact of life. Our bodies transform what we eat and drink into the very substance of our physical selves. Diet is one of the most important factors that influences health in our society. A healthy, nourishing diet can prevent the onset of many long-term illnesses, slow, halt or reverse the effects of illnesses that have already struck, and contribute to a longer life. Every individual, but especially those fighting a long-term illness, should consider making a sound nutrition plan part of their healing process. Three health promotion goals can be achieved by making smart diet and nutrition choices:
- Achieve optimal weight: Achieving a healthy weight sets your body up for success when facing a long term illness. Importantly, your risk of developing other illnesses related to diet and weight are greatly reduced if you are a healthy body weight. By preventing the onset of additional diseases, you enhance your opportunities for healing.
- Promote your personal health and individual nutritive and dietary needs: It’s not just about how much you eat, what types of food you eat plays a significant role in your dietary and nutritive health. Nutrition is increasingly addressed by medical doctors when treating chronic disease, and nutrition is often a cornerstone of integrative health plans. Several well-established diets (e.g., DASH, Mediterranean, anti-inflammatory) have been studied by researchers and shown to be effective for improving health outcomes in those with long-term illnesses. Speak to your health care providers (and possibly incorporate a dietitian into your healthcare team) to determine your personal nutrition needs and develop a dietary plan that will help you tip the scales towards health.
3. Reduce inflammation in the body: Systemic inflammation (not in response to an acute injury or disease) can impact the body in many damaging ways. It is associated with many chronic diseases, including cancer, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Inflammation can be caused or exacerbated by psychosocial factors like stress or depression, as well as by what we introduce to our bodies, in the form of foods, chemicals, and toxins. Some foods are known to cause inflammation, while others combat it.
There is evidence that the standard American diet (“SAD”), high in refined and processed foods, causes inflammation of the gut, resulting in poor nutrient absorption by the body, bacteria entering the bloodstream, and a resulting inflammatory response that may be at the root of some autoimmune diseases. Anyone which a long-term illness, but especially those with autoimmune diseases, may find it helpful to consult with a certified nutritionist or registered dietitian who can recommend an appropriate anti-inflammatory diet to manage symptoms and promote healing.
Nutritious Foods for Good Health
The first step toward ensuring you are getting all the nutrients you need is to make the most of what you eat. This means eating a wide variety of whole foods every day, along with plenty of the water and other healthy liquids you body needs to functions at its best. The most nutritious food is usually that which is closest to its natural state. Too much processing, refining, and overcooking can chip away at any food’s nutrients. An important and easy way to increase your daily nutrient intake is to go for a variety of color. The more your shopping basket looks like a rainbow of color, the better your diet will be!
Here are some general rules for healthy eating and sound nutrition that apply to most people, whether or not they have a medical condition:
- Fresh or lightly cooked vegetables and fruits
- Raw or lightly toasted nuts and seeds
- Whole grains such as brown rice and barley
- Whole wheat breads, pastas, cereals, and crackers
- Nuts, seeds, beans
- Lean protein like poultry and fish
- Eggs and low-fat dairy products like cheese and yogurt
- Healthy fats like olives and olive oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, and avocados
- Refined sugar
- Excess red meat and saturated fats like butter and cheese
- Fried foods
- Excess alcohol
- Soda (including diet, but especially regular)
To reduce your exposure to pesticides and other toxins, try to buy organic foods (or grow your own!) when feasible. Farmer’s markets are an excellent resource for fresh, local produce, meats, dairy, and eggs. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s website for more information on making healthy choices at the supermarket.
Registered Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s in a name?
When it comes to seeking nutritional advice, credentials and titles matter. The term “nutritionist” is used broadly and often mistaken for a formal, credentialed title. In fact, you can find many self-proclaimed nutritionists online who have no formal nutrition or dietetics education. These non-credentialed practitioners may still have valuable information to offer, but remember to perform your due diligence: ask for credentials and experience, seek out referrals, and ask to see data and results.
There are two credentialed nutrition titles: RD (registered dietician) and CNS (certified nutrition specialist). An RD has at least an undergraduate degree, and many hold advanced degrees. RDs are credentialed through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A CNS must be certified by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists and hold at least a master’s degree. Requirements for the nutrition and dietetics field can vary by state. Visit https://www.nutritioned.org/state-requirements.html to learn about licensing requirements for nutrition professionals in your state.
Keep in mind that insurance companies may reimburse nutritional services offered by licensed professionals, but you will almost certainly be paying out of pocket for non-licensed practitioner services.
The Caring Ambassadors strongly encourages you to seek out licensed professionals in all areas of healthcare, whenever available.