Food is medicine. It can greatly impact your health either for better or worse. I have had patients who had such limited intake of food come to my office saying “I can only eat meat, white rice, steamed broccoli or cauliflower, rice cakes, and some nuts.” This is a person who very likely has a condition called leaky gut. It’s a process to climb out of health issues like leaky gut. The goal is prevention, and the right food can help.
Plus, whatever the state of your digestion is, eating the right foods can help you look and feel younger. Here’s how.
Put A Rainbow On Your Plate
I cannot emphasize this enough: You need color on your plate every day, at every meal, and try for every color!
The most important thing to know about eating color is that whole foods like vegetables and fruit have MVPs (minerals, vitamins, and plant nutrients, known as phytonutrients). These phytonutrients and polyphenols (micronutrients) can positively affect your DNA, creating an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging response.
Pro Tip: Here is a great list of foods rich in polyphenols.
Where To Add Color?
I realize eating a variety of colors is not a new concept, but it can be overwhelming. You can add a ton of color with a simple salad:
- Green: mixed greens, bell peppers, chives, basil, parsley, cilantro, cucumbers
- Red: radishes, tomatoes, red onion, red peppers
- Orange: carrots, orange peppers
- Yellow: yellow peppers, golden beets, yellow tomatoes
- Purple: shredded cabbage, purple carrots
- White/Brown: mushrooms, onion, cauliflower
Add a little protein of your choice — think organic, non-grain-fed chicken, wild-caught salmon, or some chickpeas (a great vegan option) plus nuts for crunch. Finish it off with olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar.
Focus On How You Feel
Pay close attention to how foods make you feel after you eat them. Foods that are highly processed and rich in simple carbohydrates will make you tired. For example, dairy in some people can give them immediate (within 20 minutes of eating) bloating and gas, whereas others may experience a migraine the next day.
The best way to track this is to log your food. Logging will allow you to see if dairy gives you a headache the next day; that if you eat gluten, your joints hurt the next day; or that when you eat sugar, like a cinnamon roll for breakfast, a couple hours later, you’re experiencing brain fog.
Learning how food affects your body takes a couple of things. Here’s how to get started…
1. Create A Food And Symptoms Log
This may seem tedious, but in the long run, it could help you figure out why your body reacts the way it does.
2. Cultivate Self Awareness
When your body is telling you something, stop and think back to what you ate and how you felt. Don’t ignore those feelings or make assumptions. Your “migraine” might be related to what you ate. This is an opportunity to go back through your journal. You may recognize the last four times you had a migraine, for example, you ate dairy.
3. Be Mindful Of Volume
The volume of food should also be taken into consideration. For example, a little bit of dairy may not cause a problem, but a huge ice cream sundae may trigger a migraine the next day.
I try to eat a salad every day. Recently, I drove my college daughter home from California. We decided to stop at Zion National Park and hike the Narrows and then hiked the Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park.
The biggest problem when traveling is getting all those colors in when you do not have a lot of options in the middle of nowhere. We actually set a goal of having one salad a day and decided to go to grocery stores to buy fresh supplies. We had absolutely no room for a cooler since we were moving all her stuff, so we had to do this daily. But the point is, we were intentional about setting a goal, developing a plan, and executing it.
My 20-year-old daughter has grown up in a home with parents who are doctors and has incredible self-awareness. Eating the daily salads was her idea because “I just feel better!” And who wants to feel blah on a trip?
Smart Choice: Variety
You do want to make sure you have variety in your diet. Try not to eat the exact same things, prepared the exact same way every day. I’m definitely not suggesting trying six different recipes every week. You can start with just one new recipe. This is a great way to introduce new foods into your diet.
A simple way to add some variety, color, and nutrition is with smoothies. Below is my recipe for a Brain Smoothie.
Brain Smoothie Recipe
- 1 cup milk substitute (i.e., hemp milk)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon berry powder (i.e., blueberry, blackberry, goji seed powder — easy to find at Whole Foods, Walmart, some local grocery stores, or online)
- 1 cup dark leafy greens (any of the following: spinach, arugula, baby kale)
- 1 teaspoon of hemp seeds
- 1 teaspoon of chia seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 scoop of vegan Fit protein powder
- 4 frozen strawberries or one fourth cup blueberries
- Ice to taste
Add wet ingredients first. Blend well and enjoy.
Eat In Season
Another important thing to remember is to eat fruits and vegetables that are in season in your area. In-season produce typically tastes better, is more readily available, and is less expensive. Farmers markets are another great way to find good, quality produce. Fresh produce also has a higher nutrient content.
Pro Tip: The USDA has a comprehensive list of produce and when it is in season. You can see the complete list here.
Know This: Food can be anti-aging or advance aging at the cellular level. Eat color and lots of whole foods and try to stay away from anything in a box or bag (or that’s processed) as much as possible. That does not mean you can’t go out for ice cream with your grandkids, but it does mean that you do not eat ice cream every night just because it tastes good!
Hitting the road? Don’t miss these 9 Delicious Road Trip Snacks That Are Dietician Approved.