Community Health – How to plan and eat better

This month, I had the unique opportunity of being invited to a talk by a community Health and Wellness Committee. These talks are a great way of getting people together and discussing healthcare best practices. All of our doctors, Dr Nightingale, Dr Jacqueline and myself were involved, and our aim was to raise awareness of the benefit of the transformative power of functional and integrative medicine for chronic conditions.

We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout and success of the event. So much so that our host had to organise a larger venue. Chronic conditions amongst all population groups are on the rise, and there are many factors that cause it. These include, but are not limited to, lifestyle choices, diets, and factors such as stress.

In today’s email, I would like to share a few very simple, although very effective to help you move towards better health.

1. Meal timing – In our practice, we regularly meet people who eat their meals all over the day. Their first meal is usually at around 06.30 to 07.00 am, and their last meal can stretch to as late as 11.00 pm. This gives the body virtually no time to digest food prior to bedtime. Poor digestion leads to poor absorption of nutrients, and is eventually linked with increase in obesity, hypertension and diabetes. A very simple rule of thumb to ensure excellent digestion is to complete all meals within a 10 – 12 hour period. This means, that if you have your first meal of the day at 07.00 am, your last meal should be completed by 07.00 pm. This rule of thumb has had a profound impact on our diabetic patients. We immediately see a reduction in fasting blood sugars, and over a longer period of time, a reduction in average blood sugars.

2. Meal Variety – Unhealthy diets are sometimes the result of a lack of choice and creativity. A weekly meal plan is a great way to go, and it will help you make a list of the items you need to shop for to ensure that you have the right ingredients to prepare your foods. The biggest impediment we have to eating healthy is people’s perception of healthy food as tasteless food. If you carefully meal plan, you can totally avoid this, and you will slowly realise how good food can be healthy and wholesome.

3. Discipline – A fundamental part of recovering from chronic conditions is ensuring that any changes you make to your lifestyle are realistic and sustainable. A lot of people look at weight loss, diabetes recovery or hypertension treatment as a one off. This usually leads to relapses which are in some instances actually leave the person on treatment worse off than before. It is important to realise that sustained slow change is much more effective, and more likely to ‘stick’ with you, than drastic sudden changes. Discipline is built with time, and the right tools, some of which I will share with you at the end of this email.

4. What to eat, what to avoid – This is a question I get asked a lot, and frankly, there is no straightforward answer. All plant based foods have some sort of nutritional value but more importantly reduce inflammation the root cause of many chronic conditions. What we usually lack is selecting the right balance of wholesome and anti-inflammatory foods. Every person who has a unique condition is likely to have different dietary requirements. The below diet can benefit someone who does not have major conditions and allergies.

For breakfast, start your day with a mix of proteins and carbohydrates, fibre rich grains and a few unsaturated fats. An example meal would be a slice of rye toast, oatmeal, a handful of mixed nuts and seeds including almonds, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds and half an avocado.

Mid-morning snack – A fruit smoothie/vegetable smoothie with a blend of one green leaf such as spinach. You can get creative with this, however do note that some fruits do increase blood sugars.

For lunch your main ingredient should be protein based, with only 20% fat and carbohydrates. To ensure you get the best nutritional value, use whole grains rather than processed foods – example, brown rice rather than white, and whole grain wheat flour rather than processed white flour. A bean / lentil curry when cooked properly goes well with either brown rice or whole flour chapatis. It is also good to have a healthy salad containing at least two different green leaves and a variety of different coloured raw vegetables such as carrots, cucumber, beetroot, celery and baby spinach. Also try and incorporate a homemade healthy salad dressing which will make the salad a lot tastier.

4 pm snack – Some people like to drink a cup of tea and possibly a small snack. While this is okay, it is advisable to eat just a tiny bit that will give your day a break, and not have a full snack meal. Also eliminate the use of sugar in your beverages.  

Dinner – Dinner times are usually the most varied. Some people can manage to complete their dinner by 6pm, while others only get around to their meals after 9pm. My earlier advice of having meals within a 12 hour period stands, however, the closer you eat to bed time, the lighter your meal needs to be. Avoid carbohydrates as well as sugary foods as these cannot be burnt during the night. A good example of a balanced dinner would be corn flour tacos with stir fried vegetables such as corn, capsicums, coriander, and cauliflower.

All these above ideas work well if you are sufficiently planned and have the ingredients and foods to make the meals. To make this much easier for you, I have prepared a template which can help you plan your weekly meals, and shop for these items accordingly. I have also included a custom plan for one day, full with recipes to start you off! Click here to access the weekly planner!

About the Author Dr. Shenal