Whether it's something physical, emotional, spiritual, or a combination, we may need to be realistic in our goals for meaningful change to happen. The first step is getting started!” ― Dana Arcuri, Reinventing You: Simple Steps to Transform Your Body, Mind, & Spirit
A client of mine recently went through a tough battle with her son who experienced a severe bout of pancreatitis. For those that don’t know too much about the pancreas, basically as soon as food hits your mouth it sends a signal to your brain that the pancreas, and all the organs involved with processing food and beverages, need to start their engines, and get ready to use the food that is on its way. The first stop is the pancreas. The pancreas turns on and generates enzymes, digestive juices and insulin that break down all the foods and get the food ready to be distributed through the gallbladder, stomach, liver, bile ducts, colon and then out with what is no longer needed. The more real and healthy the food, the easier it is to break down and distribute. The more processed and manipulated the food is from the start, the harder the pancreas must work to get nutrients out and moved along. Alcohol does not play well with the pancreas and is the number one cause of pancreatic disfunction in an otherwise healthy body.
Why do I mention this? Throughout our day, it would be surprising to learn how many times we reach for something to eat without thinking about what we are actually eating and how the foods play out inside of our bodies. If we knew more about how our organs are affected by the foods we eat I bet we would be more mindful and respectful of our food intake. A good workout is essential, but it must be paired with good nutrition if our bodies are going to benefit for the long run.
Here are some foods that might be included in your daily consumption, not necessarily good for you but can be made to be healthier so that you don’t lose the item altogether from your menu options:
According to Cynthia Sass, MPH,RD at health.com “these food items are a danger to your health because they make you gain weight through artificial ingredients and loads of salt and sodium add-ins but have alternatives that are just as good…”
Who doesn’t enjoy a good deli sandwich for lunch? Deli meats, bacon, and sausage are examples of what we use as “lunch” meat. Most of the meats go through processes to make them tastier. Processes like salting, curing, fermentation, smoking and added preservatives for shelf life and flavor.” These processes make the meats fall into the category of cancer-causing. The added nitrates and nitrites to food can lead to the formation of potentially carcinogenic compounds.”
By making better choices such as hormone free chicken or turkey, reducing red meat and deli meats from your diet can help. Adding in options like avocado, spinach, hummus, yogurt on burgers or meat sandwiches, chopped fresh veggies on pizza, reduced fat cheeses, choosing egg whites or rolled oats or steel cut oats for breakfast instead of breakfast meats. These change the landscape of food choices and encourage a healthy body.
A healthy way of eating includes carbs. Carbs come in the form of bread, pasta, grains. The body needs the carbs to generate energy. The pancreas uses insulin to help enzyme production and to balance blood sugars. The carbohydrates create glucose which then enter the body’s cells with the help of insulin.
The tricky part about grains is being able to read and understand the ingredient list. To simplify this confusion, stick to breads that promote high fiber, and contain a plethora of vitamins and minerals. The closer to unprocessed grains you can find in your store-bought bread, the better. When it comes to bread stick to Sprouted breads and sprouted rye bread, Sourdough breads, 100% Whole Wheat as the first ingredient, Oat bread, and Flax bread.
How to know? Breads that have 100% Whole Wheat or sprouted flours as the first ingredient and that limit other ingredients, 3-5 grams of fiber and 3-6 grams of protein per slice, and no added sweeteners. The best option is to make the breads yourself because you can control the ingredients. Try not to make bread your go to grain of choice for every day. Grains include fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole wheat products like oats, Farro, Quinoa, etc.
Desserts and Sweets
In a perfect world we would all follow the rule of 24 grams per sugar per day. That also looks like 100 calories of sugar per day or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. Just to give you perspective, one medium apple has as much as 11 grams of natural sugar and let’s be clear, there is a difference between natural sugar and added sugar. Natural sugar foods also contain water, fiber, and micronutrients. Added sugar is processed, added to an otherwise healthy food, and promotes a kind of addiction to more added sugar foods. It is the added sugar that you want to severely limit if not eliminate.
How would your diet change in terms of sugar intake if you only indulged in sweets once per week or only on special occasions? It can be done. It takes a full week to reduce your body’s craving for sweets and when you taste the sweetness again it tastes over the top and almost undesirable. Staying away from sugar completely could look like this when it comes to swapping sugar in recipes: use cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract, vanilla, ginger and/or lemon. Use applesauce as a one-to-one swap in recipes.
Watch out for these sugar names when reading food labels on products you buy or want to buy: sugar, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dayhydrated cane juice, fructose, glucose, dextrose, syrup, cane sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, etc.
If getting through a day without any sweetness is too daunting to think about, why not try 70% dark chocolate as your daily treat? “Each square contains about ½ teaspoon of added sugar and dark chocolate makes you eat less of that chocolate because it is so rich. Dark chocolate can boost happiness, protect your heart and curb cravings of sweet and salty foods.”
Store bought chips have an inherent problem. The oil that is used to create them is, in most cases, omega -6 oil which is a fatty acid oil. Those oils include sunflower, safflower, corn. Another kink in the armor of potato chips or frying foods is the frying process itself. Cooking to very high temperatures has been shown to trigger an increased risk of cancer.
A healthier way to enjoy frying potatoes is to use the air fryer. No oil, little time, great taste. If oil is desired use olive oil or avocado oil. Season with salt and pepper or no salt Mrs. Dash seasoning. If an air fryer is not on hand, bake the chips in the oven using the same plant based oils.
Beverages with sugar
Soda, diet soda, premade canned/packaged lemonade are made with sugar and bad for weight maintenance. The better option is to use sparkling water as your base for the bubbles and add in natural flavors like, lemon, lime, mint, cucumber, ginger root. Water is always the healthiest option, and you can add the same kinds of flavors to the water. Or how about home-made, unsweetened iced tea? Make a large pitcher and you can enjoy the naturally flavored options all day long.
Although losing weight is always a good feeling and a great achievement, being kind to and aware of the organs that benefit from what you eat and how you eat is the biggest win of all. You can help your body help your mind and vice-versa by making it easy for your pancreas to process every bite and sip. Creating the healthy visual from the beginning helps set you up for success.
Photos by Gabriella Clare Marino, Michael Callahan, Fleur Brebels, Emiliano Vittoriosi, Jonny Caspari