Nutrition is critical for spoonies (people living with chronic illness). For anyone coping with chronic illness, sustained energy is a significant challenge. Balancing macronutrients – carbs, protein, and fat – along with factors such as fiber and sugar, is important for preventing spikes in blood sugar that inevitably lead to energy crashes. Maximizing micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is also key to healthy eating. Adequate intake of nutrients like iron and B vitamins have been linked to improved energy levels, while others like Vitamin D and Magnesium help reduce chronic pain. In addition, chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia have been linked to high rates of oxidation, so eating antioxidants is important to counteract these effects. Eating fish rich in omega-3 or certain phytonutrients in veggies can have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
In a previous post, I wrote about why many researchers argue that personalized diets are the future of nutrition, rather than broad dietary recommendations or one-size-fits-all diets. Individual variability – genetics, physical makeup (weight, blood pressure, etc.), lifestyle, and gut microbiome (unique gut bacteria in your digestive tract) – are all factors that can determine your unique response to different foods.
Here is why the whole food diet is the only one-size-fits-all diet. There are only benefits to eating whole foods. Whole foods are associated with a lower risk of disease, including cardiovascular, cancer, and type II diabetes. They contain more fiber, which is important for lower blood sugar levels, low cholesterol, colon health, a healthy microbiome, and feeling full, among many other benefits. Whole plant foods contain vitamins and minerals, as well as phytonutrients, which are natural compounds that improve health by acting as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, antimicrobial and anti-cancer agents. Whole foods enable your body to benefit from the synergy of all their nutrients acting together. Research shows that single vitamins and minerals are not as successful as the combination and interaction of multiple nutrients together.
In contrast, processed foods offer few health rewards and many drawbacks. Processed foods are stripped of their nutrients during refinement. Even if the product is fortified with vitamins or minerals, there is no way to manufacture the thousands of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in whole foods or reproduce the synergy effects they have in the body. Processed foods tend to be calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, which is not a good recipe for maintaining a healthy weight. The lack of satiating whole grains, protein, and fiber means you get hungrier sooner.
Food additives and preservatives potentially have a number of negative health impacts throughout the body, including on the brain, and digestive system. Other common ingredients like high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils and trans-fats are best avoided. High fructose corn syrup can lead to high blood sugar, while trans-fats lead to high cholesterol.
Salt, sugar, and fat are the protagonists of the processed food industry. They are addictive. They are added at just the right amounts to make you crave more processed products. And they are terrible for your health. Processed foods have high levels of unrefined carbohydrates that lead to high blood sugar. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Processed foods are often high in unhealthy fats (hydrogenated and excess saturated fats) that can raise cholesterol and lead to cardiovascular disease. Both sugar and unhealthy fats contribute to inflammation. Finally, high salt is the third unhealthy ingredient, which can raise blood pressure and contribute to heart disease.
Basically, it’s just better to just not to go there.
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