1. Practice healthy eating. Avoid dieting and learn a lifestyle of eating that supports health and is enjoyable, satisfying, & healing at the same time. Get creative with a colorful array of fresh fruits & vegetables (for essential vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, & antioxidants), and experiment with herbs and spices (ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, basil, cilantro, peppermint, thyme, etc.) to tantalize your taste buds while also experiencing certain health benefits. Enjoy the benefits of organic food when possible to decrease your exposure to hormones and environmental chemicals. Also, nutrient dense unprocessed foods including plant-based proteins are important along with complex carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats, and omega 3 fatty acid food sources. Finally, learn ways to be efficient in your food preparation including cooking certain staples in bulk such as healthy grains for efficient access. Enjoy your food!
2. Eat healthy carbs, proteins, fats-All are necessary for health!
a. Strive for healthy carbohydrates that are complex (high in fiber) with a low glycemic index/load. Eating healthy carbs avoids spikes in blood sugar and insulin that typically lead to a cascade of harmful consequences including systemic inflammation that is associated with many health challenges. Low glycemic foods include beans, lentils, brown rice and other whole grains, and many vegetables/fruits. How food is prepared and consumed also impacts on how fast a food increases blood sugar. An optimal eating plan includes at least 6-8 servings of a variety of colorful fresh antioxidant rich fruits & vegetables along with unprocessed & nutrient dense grain & bean sources. Also, avoid consuming foods with refined flour & sugar.
b. Include healthy fats in your diet including monounsaturated fats from plant sources, and omega 3 fatty acids. Healthy fats support many vital functions including how cells communicate. A few examples of monounsaturated fat sources are olive & canola oil, avocados, olives, walnuts, almonds, and sesame seeds. Omega 3 fatty acids are also extremely important and can be found in cold water fish such as Wild Alaskan salmon, walnuts, flax seeds, and high quality fish oil supplements. Saturated fats (animal based fats) should be a minimal portion of your eating plan by limiting butter, whole milk products, beef, pork, lamb, wild game, etc. Also, avoid trans fat sources at all cost along with partially hydrogenated fats that can be found in stick margarine, vegetable shortening, commercial baked goods, pre-packaged snack foods, deep fried foods, etc.
c. Increase your intake of plant-based protein. A good way to lower saturated fat intake is by incorporating soy products, beans, lentils, nuts, and quality grains (bulgur, quinoa, barley, etc) in your diet. Protein consist of essential amino acids, which are essential for optimal brain function, cell generation, and energy metabolism.
3. Eat with awareness & moderation. Avoid overeating, which is increasingly being associated with a number of health conditions, by slowing your eating pace and by eating with awareness-your body will speak to you when its needs are met. Also, explore your relationship with food including potential addictive patterns and avoid eating to “feed” unresolved emotional issues.
4. Satisfy your sweet tooth healthfully. Learn about Rapadura (unrefined & unbleached whole cane sugar), Agave Nectar, and molasses as sweeteners. Savoring quality dark chocolate is an excellent way to satisfy sweet cravings and receive additional antioxidants at the same time. Avoid artificial sweeteners, as well as high fructose corn syrup, which also poses significant health concerns.
5. Drink 6-8 cups of water per day to eliminate toxins and keep your body in balance. Dehydration can lead to a number of health problems and when choosing alternatives for water, look for drinks without caffeine, alcohol, and drinks low in sugar such as hot or iced herbal teas. Fluid requirements are also impacted by one's health status, activity level, and the environment. Finally, increase your antioxidant status through regular intake of green tea.
6. Include a quality multivitamin/antioxidant and an omega 3 fatty acid supplement in your daily regimen. It is true that it is best to get your nutrients from food. The problem is that few of us have consistent access to quality food for a number of reasons including travel, etc. As an insurance policy, a good quality multivitamin/antioxidant can fill in important nutrient gaps and the benefits of OM 3 FA’s are vast including heart protection, decreasing systemic inflammation that is associated with a broad array of chronic health conditions, and some studies have shown anti-cancer properties as well.
7. Include 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 times per week. This level of exercise expends about 200 calories per day, which can also be met by walking 2 miles briskly. Exercise has been shown to have a broad range of health benefits including reducing the risk of premature death, heart disease, high blood pressure, colon and breast cancer, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol. Exercise has also been shown to reduce depression and anxiety. Physical fitness is a composite of cardiovascular conditioning, stretching exercises for flexibility, and resistance exercises or calisthenics for muscle strength and endurance. If one has never been supervised in such activities, it is a good idea to get proper instruction to avoid injury and your healthcare provider should be aware of potential changes in your exercise regimen.
8. Learn to let go and to quiet your mind. The mind is a powerful and important tool that serves many functions. A teacher once said that the “mind is a wonderful master and a terrible slave.” Learn to be a master of your mind by not having your mind be the driver of your “life car” at all times. Learn to quiet your mind and relegate it to the passenger seat or back seat of your “life car” from time to time. A quiet mind is essential to achieving peace and balance in one's life. Developing a daily routine of yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, Qigong, self-hypnosis, prayer, etc. will also impact on the quality of your long-term health.
9. Practice mindfulness & intentional breathing. Mindfulness is intentionally choosing to be present in the moment and experiencing all that it has to offer without attempting to change it. Too often our minds entrap us in the past and future and we miss the only moment there is-the moment of Now. Try practicing mindfulness when you are eating, walking, watching a sunset, etc. Also, breathing states connect to emotional and mental states and learning to shift your breathing state (including relaxed, slow, deep, & comfortable breathing) can shift your mental and emotional state. Effective breathing techniques which can easily be learned, increase parasympathetic system activity (leading to a state of calm and relaxation) and decrease sympathetic nervous system activity, which normally when engaged is associated with elevated blood pressure and rapid/shallow breathing, as well as a variety of long-term physiologic harmful consequences.
10. Practice connection and purposefulness. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, practice connecting to others through your heart, and connecting to your Inner Self/Spirit or if within your belief framework, God/A Higher Power/etc. through avenues that uniquely fit you. You likely will not always have the answers you need in every moment and special gains can arise when one asks the “big questions of life” and listens to the answers that arise in the most unusual or seemingly ordinary circumstances. Such questions as “What is my life purpose?” & “Why am I here?” can deepen your sense of purpose and lead to a life of enhanced openness, acceptance, courage, and gratitude.