In our culture, we often view our health and wellbeing through the lens of what’s not working, attempting to pinpoint a single fault and eliminate it so as to achieve our best health. However, this is very far from what many ancient cultures and traditions have done and still practice today to attain health. Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda are some examples of these systems that prefer to see the being as a whole and investigate how function may be improved and health realized through proper communication between all parts. In Nutritional Therapy, we do exactly this—support each system fundamentally and allow the body to find balance as it knows to do. The following six foundations work together to play an equal integral role in the basis of our health, like pedals on the same flower; we will discover the ways to best build these foundations and allow the body the chance to bring balance where there once was dysfunction. Each foundation outlined will relate to the others for complete health; we’ll look at how dysfunction appears and how to encourage proper function.
A Nutrient-Dense Diet
When diet is filled with processed foods high in artificial ingredients, refined sugar and oils, the body is missing nutrients it craves and symptoms or disease may present itself in some way. The choices we make day to day impact our greater health for better or worse; by using this study of epigenetics to activate certain genes and limit others, we may set up the body for the important work it must perform daily. Carefully select foods to uplift your palate with a variety of vitamin- and mineral-rich whole foods, a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, all prepared well and eaten mindfully; feel nourished at every level, build a strong microbiome, and keep toxic exposure down.
Build this foundation with foods in whole form: local, seasonal, organic produce, and grass-finished, pasture-raised, wild-caught meat and seafood. These foods can not only balance and sustain us but allow us to thrive; for example, sprouting, soaking, or fermenting may increase the nutrient availability and decrease the potentially harmful anti-nutrients such as phytic acid found in grains, legumes, and nuts. Increase nutrient density by eating some foods like carrots or bell peppers raw and some properly prepared through cooking, like steamed fish and roasted root vegetables. In this way we interact with the environment to suit our deeper physiological needs.
By engaging in nutrient dense and properly prepared foods, we eat as if food is our medicine. We eat to nourish cells, tissues, and blood; we eat to heal from food sensitivities or infection; we eat to strengthen this system that needs to be optimally working for so many other processes in the body to take place. The process begins in the brain, nervous system, and mouth, then moves “south,” requiring good communication between organs to release important enzymes at different stages of breakdown. Digestive dysfunction is often linked to stress and likely stems from how we integrate what we take in. Common symptoms are bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, and lower bowel bacteria dysbiosis.
Our microbiome has the amazing capability to heal . Build this foundation by eating in a relaxed state and chewing thoroughly, choosing healing foods and engaging in regular and diverse movement. There is no supplement, tincture, tea, or food that can benefit like movement can. Foods that assist in healing include aloe vera, okra, and bone broth. Boost digestion with pineapple, ginger, beets, fennel, papaya, and lemon water. Increase fiber through chard, kale, spinach, artichoke, and resistant starches like lentils, white beans, soaked oats and rice.
Blood Sugar Regulation
A top indication of imbalance within systems is seen in the way one regulates blood glucose levels. An elevated blood sugar level may occur after a meal high in starchy carbohydrates or refined sugar, or an excess of any macronutrient. It’s followed by a sharp drop in glucose levels as the body attempts to use it or store it. When consuming before food, caffeine elevates cortisol and signals a stress response in which the adrenals work overdrive. As these alarms sound, symptoms manifest like sugar or salt cravings, headaches, mood issues, and weight gain. When high stress and poor diet remain over time, these symptoms become chronic and may lead to further disease. The regulatory functions found in crucial organs like the pancreas, adrenals, adipose tissue, liver, and skeletal muscle are important for maintaining the energy we take in via food and the energy we produce in an even wave-like pattern. Often simple diet and lifestyle changes can significantly improve dysfunction relating to these organs, restore balance, and relieve symptoms.
Build this foundation with regular stress management practices, appropriate quality protein choices for your body’s requirements, by minimizing highly processed carbohydrates, refined sugar, and excess caffeine. Consume high quality foods outlined in the Nutrient-Dense Diet section and select fiber-rich resistant starches that benefit digestion to see a positive effect in regulation of blood sugar as well.
It is unfortunate that in our culture, oils in the diet are often rancid, toxic, and found in abundance in the processed foods we consume. Oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, peanut, and canola aren’t nourishing us the way fats should and in fact may contribute to high inflammation, hormonal dysfunction, poor breakdown of protein as well as symptoms like chronic fatigue, stiff joints, and dry skin. Optimal function of digestion allows enzymes to efficiently break down fatty acids and absorb the nutrients therein which support satiation after meals, skin and nail health, vitamin and mineral absorption, and more. It is truly one important part to the whole; dysfunction in one foundation may be tied to many. As we see with digestion, fatty acids, and minerals, when you begin to align these foundations you may see the pieces of the puzzle come together toward greater collective health. Achieve optimal fatty acid intake by minimizing highly processed industrial seed oils, choosing meats that are skin-on, bone-in, and supporting each foundation, as each is inherently involved with another.
Build this foundation by incorporating high quality and diverse cooking oils like unrefined coconut oil, cold-pressed olive oil, avocado oil, butter, and ghee along with emphasizing Omega-3 rich foods like chia, hemp and flax seeds, and fish oil.
Factors that have a negative impact on other foundations similarly impact the mineral balance of the body, including stress, poor digestion or hydration, and inadequate fatty acid or vitamin intake through diet. Just as movement benefits digestion, weight-bearing exercise specifically has a significant role in healthy bone remodeling and in lowering the risk of osteoporosis. One of the most common signs of mineral imbalance is insufficient calcium. Inadequate magnesium, potassium, or iron may appear as poor muscle contraction or relaxation, poor nerve signaling, and dysfunction in other systems. Minerals act as the “spark” for hundreds of important enzyme reactions to occur, so a fine balance between them must be reached for optimal function throughout the body. Specifically, calcium requires magnesium in a 2:1 ratio as well as vitamin D for absorption.
Build this foundation by consuming a variety of vitamin- and mineral-rich nutrient dense foods and managing stress, as discussed previously. Support all the other foundations to boost the efficacy of minerals in the body and supplement with mineral electrolytes found in coconut water, molasses, and Celtic or Himalayan salt. High calcium foods will have a more difficult time absorbing in the presence of phytic and oxalic acid. Avoid combining high calcium foods like dairy with grains or spinach; rather, eat them separately to allow proper calcium intake.
Common dysfunction around hydration may present as headaches, constipation, fatigue, inability to concentrate, and even exacerbated stress or anxiety. Unfortunately, it is a habit for many to live in a state of chronic mild dehydration, where a few simple adjustments may relieve symptoms as well as assist in restoring balance to other foundations. An additional element in proper hydration is finding a good quality source of water to limit toxic load and retain natural minerals. To dig deeper, research your city’s tap water content and look for pollutants, byproducts, or pathogens through the Environmental Working Group’s website.
Build this foundation by establishing a clean water source such as a natural spring, reverse osmosis or carbon filter and supplement with electrolytes such as trace mineral drops or aloe vera juice. To encourage drinking more water, add a hint of flavor like lemon or lime, cucumber, or herbs like mint or basil. Minimize highly processed foods or refined sugar and be sure to sip adequate water throughout the day to achieve light colored urine. Support of each foundation, particularly a nutrient- and water-dense diet, will positively affect hydration level.
In support of each foundation independently, we are supporting the whole. Focus on improving one or two aspects of each and make a move in the direction of sustainable holistic health.