Nutrient Density: A Look at What’s In Our Food, and What Isn’t

Heavily processed foods have more empty calories than nutrients.  And they contain added preservatives for packaging, rather than fresh ingredients with nutritional value. Most of today's disease is caused by lifestyle and choices we make. In order to be healthy we must increase our nutrient density and reduce stress and inflammation. Happily, there are many healthful changes we can make to improve our health and well-being.
What is Nutrient Density?

“Any time you eat or drink you are either feeding disease or fighting it.”

This is a stunning statement by Heather Morgan MS, NLC.  In just 14 words Morgan conveys the far-reaching significance of what we choose to put into our bodies.

To understand this powerful assertion in a slightly different way, consider another remarkable statement by Developmental Biologist, Dr. Bruce Lipton:

“Over 90% of illness on this planet today is based on lifestyle and stress, not genetics.”

I find Lipton’s statistic both alarming and incredibly hopeful. How about you?

Alarming, because so many people are struggling with health issues – including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a host of other extreme challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

“Obesity is common, serious, and costly

Hopeful, because we have the ability to make small and large lifestyle changes and to markedly reduce our stress. There are so many healthful options available to us today.

Eating junk food or nutritious food is a choice.  Going Mach2 with our hair on fire or deciding to live with grace and ease is a choice. Replacing negativity with a positive mindset, and giving up blaming for being grateful is a choice. I know this is possible because so many people, myself included, have made the decision to change our lifestyle, and successfully done these very things – and many more.

You Are What You Eat – and also What They Ate

You probably remember this saying: “You are what you eat.” As if this weren’t illuminating enough, our research and knowledge base has evolved to such a degree we now understand this concept at a deeper level. We are what we eat – and also what our food ate, or was fed.

This is a startling revelation.  In essence, it means whenever we’re eating meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy or grains – we’re also ingesting whatever our food was exposed to or fed. We are consuming whatever our meals, drinks, and snacks have been genetically modified, sprayed, treated, injected or processed with. Plant or animal, we are eating what they have absorbed.

Numerous studies confirm that hormones, pesticides, herbicides, and myriad chemicals are widespread throughout our food and water supplies.  We are over-farming our already depleted soil.

Heavily processed foods have more empty calories than nutrients.  And they contain added preservatives for packaging, rather than fresh ingredients with nutritional value.

What Really Counts: Quality over Quantity

Peter Greenlaw, health and wellness expert and best selling author puts into perspective the importance of what we choose to consume on a daily basis. Greenlaw explains,

“Instead of counting calories, we should be making every calorie count.”

In his eye-opening book, Why Diets Are Failing Us, he explains how we can actually put our bodies into starvation mode by eating too many empty calories devoid of essential nutrients. Our bodies conserve what we’ve consumed while storing toxins in our fat cells. We are never satisfied. Our cells are looking for and missing the essential nutrients they need to function. So we eat more and more – a process which leads to obesity.  As a result, many people today are simultaneously undernourished and overweight!

There is so much focus on counting calories, but often the issue isn’t that we are consuming too many calories. The problem is that we are not consuming enough nutrient-dense foods. We are eating lots of calories, but in terms of good nutrition, they don’t count.

Chronic Inflammation Adds to the Problem

In addition to the dangers of toxicity, another contributor to disease is the dramatic increase in inflammation.  Most heavily processed foods are also highly inflammatory. Constant exposure to chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and stress creates an acidic, inflammatory environment in our bodies. Over time, this inflammatory response can become chronic, overwhelming our immune system. Our adrenals become exhausted and we lose the ability to combat the inflammation.

As Kris Gunnars, BSc explains, “Inflammation is the response of the immune system to foreign invaders, toxins and cell injury. Chronic inflammation, involving the entire body, is believed to drive many killer diseases.”

Instead of eating and drinking enough of what nourishes us and fights disease, we’re eating and drinking too much of what inflames us and feeds disease.  And the reality is we simply can’t get enough of the nutrients we need from eating a traditional diet anymore.

An Apple a Day Used to Keep the Doctor Away – Not Anymore

Greenlaw notes that in order to get the nutritional value of one bowl of spinach from 1952, we’d have to eat 42 bowls today. Similarly, to get the same nutritional value our grandparents got from eating one orange, we would have to consume 9 oranges today.

Why and how is this happening?  According to Greenlaw’s research, in 1930 we were producing 40 bushels per acre. Farm production has steadily increased and today we are producing 200 bushels per acre.  With the growth of giant agribusinesses, we are severely over-farming our land and depleting the soil.

Remember the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” According to Greenlaw, that might have been true up until about 1976. To receive the same nutritional value that an apple a day used to provide, today we would have to eat 6-12 apples. Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? Nor does it have the same appeal.

Consequences of Suboptimal Nutrition Confirmed

To combat these dangers, there is a trend toward Clean Eating – foods with fewer and simpler ingredients, sustainably raised and minimally processed.

In 2002, The American Medical Association (AMA) acknowledged that many Americans are not getting the nutrition they need from their diet to fight off disease. That year, the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) published 2 articles by Harvard scientists, Robert H. Fletcher, MD, MSc, and Kathleen M. Fairfield, MD, DrPH.  The researchers reviewed 30 years of scientific papers regarding vitamins and chronic diseases.

Their review found that the diet of most Americans is adequate to prevent vitamin deficiency. They also noted that “suboptimal levels of vitamins are associated with increased risk of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.”  There is a big difference between optimal nutrition and that needed to prevent vitamin deficiency. They concluded that many people consume less than optimal amounts of several vitamins, putting them at increased risk for disease and suggested that adults should take vitamin supplements.

Our Bodies Are Under Assault

We need to be much more discerning about our food and beverage choices.  It is more important than ever to read labels and understand what is being added to our food to increase shelf-life, texture, flavoring, and appearance.

To give you a sense of what is happening and some possible implications, the July 2010 issue of Food Safety News published an article by Lauren Curran entitled “Food Dyes Linked to Cancer, ADHD, Allergies.” There are many additives still being used in the United States that are outlawed in Europe. This is both interesting and troubling.  If nothing else, it shows that healthier alternatives exist, but they need to be made available in the USA.

The Wonder of Our Mindset, Our Choices & Our Body’s 37 Trillion Cells

As an American physician, Michael Greger, MD has written, “I continue to be amazed by our bodies’ ability for self-repair…Our bodies want to be healthy if we would just let them. That’s what these new research articles are showing: Even after years of beating yourself up with a horrible diet, your body can reverse the damage, open back up arteries – even reverse the progression of some cancers. Amazing! So it’s never too late to start exercising, never too late to stop smoking and never too late to start eating healthier.”

As we increase our awareness and better understand the implications and costs of poor food choices, we can make better ones.

Thankfully, the human body is marvelous in both structure and function. We truly are awesomely and wonderfully made.  Our bodies are regenerative by design. Our organs renew. New cells replace old ones. Certain cells are replaced more quickly than others, and not every part of our body regenerates. Still, the processes are fascinating.

In addition to our remarkable bodies, and the power of our thoughts, our planet produces foods as well as micro and macro-nutrients which can supply us with optimal fuel. Nature provides many super-foods which are nutrient dense and have inspiring healing properties. As ancient medicine and alternative healing modalities show, botanicals, herbs, and essential oils also have potent healing capabilities. When combined with clean food and highly bio-available vitamin and mineral supplements, we can give our bodies a heightened ability to defend and repair itself.

The Key to Health and Longevity: Take Care of Your DNA

Fairly recently, cell biologists identified a particular enzyme called telomerase. The function of telomerase is to extend the life of our telomeres. Telomeres are tiny strands at the end of our DNA and they enhance our health and longevity.

Scientists now know that our life experiences influence telomerase activity. So trauma, stress, and poor nutrition among other things inhibit telomerase activity and subsequently shorten our telomeres. This, in turn, contributes to the onset of disease and shortens our lifespan. Happily, the reverse is also true.

As Developmental Biologist, Dr. Bruce Lipton writes, “In contrast, exercise, good nutrition, a positive outlook on life, living in happiness and gratitude, being in service, and experiencing love, especially self-love, all enhance telomerase activity and promote a long and healthy life.”

The Heart of the Matter

One of the most beautiful and wondrous things about investing in ourselves and taking our health to the next level is how resilient we are. The more we put into self-care, the more we get out of it. And the more it blesses those we care about.

When we sow optimal health habits, we reap optimal health benefits. The more nutrient-dense foods we eat, the more energy and vitality we have.  As we opt for more fresh, organic and minimally processed foods, the less toxicity and chronic inflammation we will experience.  It is also easier to keep our body alkaline. The more positive, grateful and loving we are, the happier and healthier we will be. It’s positively scientific!

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