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Further Applications of the Master Strategy : Nutrition - The Seven Steps to Good Nutrition

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1. Eat a Variety of Foods

The forty to sixty nutrients necessary for maintaining good physical and emotional health include vitamins; minerals; amino acids from proteins; essential fatty acids from vegetable oils and animal fats; and sources of energy from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Most foods contain multiple nutrients; however, no one food supplies all the essential nutrients in the needed amounts. Thus, the greater the variety in your diet, the less likely you are to develop either a deficiency or an excess of any single nutrient. It is recommended that you select your daily foods from each of the major food groups listed here to ensure that you are getting all the necessary vitamins and nutrients.

Vegetables 3–5 servings
Fruits 2–4 servings
Breads, grains, and cereals 6–11 servings
Dairy products 2–3 servings
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, peas 2–3 servings
Fats, oils, and sweets Use sparingly

The average American diet is very unbalanced. Overall, we tend to eat a lot more protein than we need and not nearly enough starches. Starches are also rich in fiber, which aids our digestion and may protect us from some cancers, such as cancer of the colon. Even more problematic is the fact that most Americans, especially fast-food junkies, eat far more fat than they need. The average American consumes 40 percent of his or her daily caloric intake from fat. It is recommended that no more than 20 to 30 percent of our diet come from fat, and that we minimize our intake of saturated fats as much as possible. Saturated fats, which come from animal sources, greatly increase our cholesterol level. No more than 10 percent of daily caloric intake should be from saturated fats. Whenever possible, consume unsaturated as opposed to saturated fats. Olive oil, an unsaturated fat, is both delicious and nutritious and can be substituted for saturated fats such as vegetable oils, salad dressings, or butter.

The relationship between diet and the development of serious diseases has been well documented. It has been estimated that about 60 percent of cancer in men and 40 percent of cancer in women can be linked to diet. Food preservatives, high intake of saturated animal fat, and vitamin deficiencies are likely culprits. High levels of cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. On the other hand, vitamins, calcium, fruits, vegetables, and nonfatty fish appear to reduce the risk of cancer.

2. Eat More Whole Foods

Whole foods for good nutrition include raw or lightly steamed vegetables, fruits, whole grains and cereals, brown rice, beans, dried peas, nuts, and certain seeds. These foods are complex carbohydrates that contain a complex mix of starch, fiber, sugar, vitamins, and minerals. We recommend that you avoid simple carbohydrate foods such as white flour, white rice, refined sugar, sugar-coated cereals, processed fruit products, and over-cooked vegetables. These foods are so refined, processed, or cooked that most of the vitamins and minerals have been leached out, leaving only a little starch and a lot of sugar. These foods are higher in calories and lower in nutrients than the whole foods from which they are made. Complex carbohydrates also contain much more dietary fiber, which aids digestion and reduces the risk of colon cancer.

3. Avoid Caffeine

Coffee, black tea, chocolate, and many soft drinks (especially colas) are very high in caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that chemically induces the fight-or-flight response in your body and depletes it of B vitamins. If you are already having trouble coping with stress or with sleeping, caffeine will just make matters worse. Limit or eliminate your intake of caffeinated beverages if you are under stress or if you have difficulty relaxing, sleeping, or coping with the pressures in your life. However, low to moderate caffeine consumption (for example, one to two cups of coffee daily) can certainly help boost alertness and concentration. This should not be problematic unless you are caffeine sensitive and feel jittery; in that case, avoid it altogether. Green tea, containing a more benign form of caffeine, is an excellent substitute and has been shown to be high in antioxidants which can help slow the ravages of age on our bodies.

4. Avoid Alcohol

People often increase alcohol consumption at times of stress as a means of maladaptive coping. But even moderate alcohol use can interfere with your ability to deal with stress. Alcoholic beverages are quite high in calories but low in other nutrients. Alcohol also depletes your system of the B vitamins, which are vitally important for helping you cope with stress. If you must imbibe, do it infrequently and in moderation, and try to limit yourself to wine, which may, if taken in moderation, help prevent cardiovascular disease.

5. Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

When you are under stress you require more of all vitamins and minerals, especially the B vitamins. Deficiencies in the B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium have been linked to stress-related symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, depression, and fatigue. No single nutrient is the most important; they all work together to help us minimize stress and cope with the pressures in our environment. Thus, taking megadoses of any one vitamin or mineral will not give you an optimal benefit if you are deficient in a variety of vitamins and minerals.

There is controversy among nutritionists about whether we need to boost our diet with vitamin supplements. Some say that a balanced diet supplies all our necessary vitamins and minerals. Others argue that today's supermarket foods are so nutritionally inadequate and overprocessed that you would have to eat three times as much food as your grandparents consumed in order get the same level of nutrients.

If you decide to supplement your diet with vitamins, the question arises, “How much of which vitamins should I take?” Some researchers, such as Linus Pauling, recommend megadoses of certain vitamins (such as vitamin C) because there is a big difference between the minimum amount of a nutrient required to prevent the symptoms of disease, and the optimum amount of that nutrient necessary to maintain vibrant good health and resistance to disease. A reasonable place to start might be with a multiple vitamin containing a balanced stress formula of vitamins A, E, D, and C and especially the B complex. Supplement this with additional C, A, calcium, and magnesium. A daily vitamin formula especially designed to combat stress was proposed by Adele Davis in Let's Get Well (1965). She recommends that you consume the following:

  • 500 milligrams vitamin C

  • 100 milligrams pantothenic acid

  • 2 milligrams each of vitamins B2 and B6

During periods of high stress or illness, she instructs that you take half these amounts six times daily, in conjunction with a daily multivitamin tablet containing vitamins A, D, and E and a diet high in milk, liver, fresh vegetables, and wheat germ. If you are averse to taking vitamin supplements, you can increase your intake of natural vitamins and minerals by adding the following to your diet:

  • Cod liver oil—vitamins A, F, and D

  • Raw wheat germ—vitamins E and B complex, proteins, minerals, and enzymes

  • Rose hips—vitamin C and bioflavinoids

  • Wheat germ oil—vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids

  • Bone meal—calcium and trace minerals

  • Kelp—iodine and trace minerals and elements

  • Lecithin—choline and lecithin

  • Whey powder—iron, B vitamins, minerals, and lactose

  • Weak or compromised immune functioning is a common by-product of chronic stress or a single episode of extreme stress. The following herbal and/or fungal supplements have been shown to have dramatic effects on immune functioning: garlic, ginger, astralagus, echinacea, and the maitake mushroom.

  • For restoration of energy, eliminating fatigue, and combating stress utilize ginseng and astralagus.

  • Strong antibacterial and antibiotic effects have been demonstrated with garlic and echinacea.

  • Protection against heart disease can be afforded by garlic, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce clotting. The following tonics have been linked to lowering cholesterol levels: garlic, green tea, and Ho Shou Wu.

  • Use milk thistle to help normalize liver functions following exposure to environmental toxins or long-term alcohol abuse.

Other foods that fight stress, as recommended in the May 1999 edition of Reader's Digest, include the following:

  • Whole-grain breads speed the amino acid tryptophan to the brain, which helps to increase levels of serotonin, which is thought to have sedating properties.

  • Oranges are full of potassium, an electrolyte that conducts nerve impulses and helps keep your brain's neurotransmitters functioning properly. Other excellent sources of potassium include milk, cheese, apricots, bananas, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and poultry.

  • Fish is a rich source of B vitamins, along with avocados, potatoes, and beef. Insufficient quantities of B vitamins have been linked to anxiety, irritability, and mood swings.

  • Rice is rich in vitamin B1 (thiamine). Some research has suggested that thiamine deficiency may be linked to mental illness, particularly depression. Pork, fish, beans, enriched breads, cereals, and sunflower seeds are also good sources of thiamine.

  • Artichokes and spinach are full of magnesium, which is crucial to your body's ability to combat stress. Other excellent sources of magnesium include wheat germ, soybeans, bananas, and peanuts.

In addition, we would like to mention another herbal remedy, St. John's Wort, which appears to be as effective as antidepressants, such as Prozac, for mild to moderate depression. St. John's Wort appears to elevate mood and increase energy. Oftentimes the reaction to prolonged stress is chronic low-level depression and fatigue. St. John's Wort can help jump-start your system if efforts to pull yourself out of your doldrums have been failing. A word of caution, however: If your depression is severe or has lasted for years, we advise that you consult a reputable health care professional to determine whether St. John's Wort is appropriate for your situation.

6. Eat Frequent, Peaceful Meals

It is preferable to eat frequent small meals four or five times daily rather than two or three large meals, particularly if you are under stress. Frequent eating minimizes hunger; keeps your blood sugar at an even keel, preventing hypoglycemic symptoms; and helps promote weight loss. Give yourself time to eat your meals slowly and calmly. Even if your workday is overwhelming and you are tempted to eat while working to save time, do yourself a favor. Move away from your desk. Go outside if the weather is nice. Go to a different room if possible and take a minimum of fifteen minutes (preferably thirty minutes to an hour) not just to eat but to relax, stretch, and recharge your batteries. Your productivity may actually rise as a result of taking this break and you will end up accomplishing as much as if you had eaten on the run, with far less wear and tear on your body.

7. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Consider the following facts:

  • Forty percent of Americans consider themselves overweight, and 35 percent want to lose at least fifteen pounds.

  • Of individuals age 25 and older, the most recent statistics indicate that 63 percent of men and 55 percent of women are overweight.

  • Eighteen percent of American adults are obese, being more than 20 percent overweight, up from 12 percent in 1992.

  • Eleven million American adults are severely obese, being more than 40 percent overweight.

  • Twenty-one percent of Americans are on diets; the vast majority of these are women.

  • Within a few years at least two-thirds of “successful” dieters regain every pound they have lost, and then some.

The percentage of Americans who are overweight has been steadily climbing. Ironically, the growing pudginess of Americans coincides with the increasing idealization of thinness as a cultural standard. The pressure to conform to societal ideals about weight and body shape can be very stressful, especially for women. Thus the fact of being overweight simultaneously contributes to your stress level, and then inhibits your ability to cope with environmental stresses. For most people, weight is considered a critical variable in any assessment of the physical self. Being obese can profoundly affect your perception of your self-worth, and provides largely negative attributions from those around you.

Genuine obesity increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, gallstones, arthritis, and certain types of cancer. The risk is even higher for individuals who are apple-shaped and carry their weight in their stomach, compared to pear-shaped people, who carry weight in the hips and thighs. A fatty paunch increases risk because the fat surrounds the internal organs, releasing fatty acids that make their way to the liver and diminish its ability to process insulin, eventually causing diabetes. Likewise, fatty acids enter the bloodstream and can contribute to clogged arteries. Fat around the middle also affects how your kidneys process insulin, which appears to be a factor in the development of high blood pressure. For every 10 percent increase over normal weight, men and women have about a 20 percent jump in the risk for heart disease.

Not only does being overweight put stress on your body, but in our weight- conscious society it can threaten your self-esteem. It is estimated that food has replaced sex as the central source of guilt for many individuals. Obesity can also affect how you are perceived on the job, no matter how unfair that may be. One study (Gortmaker et al., 1993) of obesity and earning power for women revealed that in two comparison groups of obese and slim workers (matched for job level, aptitude, race, socioeconomic level, and so on), the overweight women were earning an average of $7,000 a year less than their normal-weight counterparts after seven years on the job.

It is recommended that your percentage of body fat not exceed 15 percent for men and 22 percent for women. Another way to determine whether you are overweight as opposed to obese is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). To figure your BMI, take your weight in kilograms (1 kilogram=2.21 pounds) and divide that figure by the square of your height in meters (1 meter=39.37 inches). Ideally, your BMI should fall between 23 and 25. If your BMI is over 30 you are obese; if it is between 25 and 30 you may be overweight, particularly if your percentage of body fat is higher than recommended.

But for many people losing weight is a difficult, challenging endeavor fraught with short-term successes and long-term backsliding. Why is it so hard to lose weight? And why is it even harder to keep it off once we lose it? Everyone knows people who are constantly dieting and going up and down in weight like a yo-yo. Why do some people put on weight by just walking past the bakery section in the supermarket, while some eat twice what other people eat and never seem to gain a pound? Understanding the answers to these questions is essential if you need to slim down and want to discover which methods will actually work, both in the short term, and more important, in the long term.

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