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"Education is... the key to global peace and prosperity."

- Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General

Healthy Food Choices

By Sharda ten Hove / Risa Schonbaum on 02 June 2012

How often have we heard the saying ‘We Are What We Eat’? But do we really consider this when we make our food choices? In today’s world, we are bombarded and overwhelmed with an abundance of food options, and get confused when trying to make healthy choices. Understanding the differences between whole foods vs. processed foods, organic vs. conventionally grown, vegetarian and vegan diets is a step in the direction to a conscious, healthy lifestyle. As everybody has a different body, what can be right for one, can be completely wrong for someone else. We each react to certain foods differently and individually we need to figure out our own perfect diet. The more you start listening to yourself and be mindful of your body needs, the better you will feel and healthier you will become.

Whole Foods When trying to eat a healthier diet, focusing on whole foods, foods in their natural state, is a great place to start. So often we believe we are eating healthy, but in processed and manufactured food, many healthy nutrients have been removed and preservatives or chemicals have been added. Plus there are a list of extra sugars, salts and fats added in processed foods. Eating healthy whole foods has all sorts of benefits. Besides being loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, the nutrients in whole foods help keep your immune system strong and protect your body from disease. Now we are not saying, you need to cut out all processed foods from your diet, just decrease the number of processed foods you eat and increase the proportion of healthy whole foods. The best recommendation we can make is to keep it simple and just eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.

Organic Why have organic foods become so popular? What does organically grown really mean? Organic farming promotes a healthy planet by encouraging natural methods of agriculture, which supports our delicate environment. So whether you are concerned about the health of the planet, your own personal health, or both, organic health food seems the way to go. When fruits or vegetables are organically grown, they are completely free from harmful pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals. These chemicals are widely used in conventional agriculture, which means chemical residues remain on and in the foods we eat basically turning our food to poison. The build up of pesticides and other chemicals in our bodies could lead to numerous health issues such as headaches, birth defects and weakened immune systems. Organic farmers utilize renewable resources that are gentle to the earth, preserving it for future generations. Additionally, studies show that organic foods have more beneficial nutrients and usually fresher than conventionally grown. As organic foods are becoming more accessible with local farmers markets in many towns and certified organic foods readily available at your local grocery store, the cost of eating organic has definitely become more reasonable and the smart choice for today’s health conscious shopper.

Vegetarian/Vegan Most people still do not understand the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan. A vegetarian follows a diet that excludes all meat products, poultry or fish but can include dairy products and eggs, depending on personal choice. Whereas a vegan strictly endeavors not to use or consume animal products of any kind, veganism is more a philosophy and lifestyle choice than just a diet. At Dia, we promote a vegan lifestyle, as it is a healthy and cruelty free way of life. It is clear that we must pay close attention to where our food is coming from as what we eat could have lifelong ramifications for our health, hormones and metabolism.

vegan love

Dairy The debate on dairy is always shocking to people, as many people are not aware of the actual truth of the ill effects on our health. Dairy is a protein-rich perfect food but really only if you are a calf who nature intended it for in the first place. From an evolutionary point of view, consuming milk from another animal seems like a strange food for humans. The majority of humans stop producing significant amounts of lactase (the enzyme needed to properly digest and metabolize lactose, the sugar in milk) around the ages of two to five, which is the age they have been weaned. Human bodies are not made to digest milk on a regular basis and it is far better to get calcium, potassium, protein and fats from other food sources like whole plant foods such as vegetables especially dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and seaweed. Plus, dairy products are now so completely over produced that its production and raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else we do and is wrecking havoc on the planet. And it is all at the cost of the animals. Now we know how difficult it is to let go of that extra latte during your day, however one of the single most effective things everyone can do is just cut down on dairy (and meat for that matter) on a regular basis. If we all participate, we can make a significant change for our own health, the animals and our planet.

But just in case you needed some extra reasons and a boost to start reducing dairy consumption, here are a few more MILKY FACTS:

• Most people in western countries suffer from vitamin D deficiency, which can be linked to high intakes of calcium. The hormone calcitrol is also depressed and not adequately produced in the body as a result of vitamin D absorption. Calcium is not as bone-protective as we have learned. Studies of calcium supplementation have shown no benefit in reducing fracture risk. Vitamin D appears to be much more important than calcium in preventing fractures.
• Too much dairy creates mucus in your throat as well as respiratory diseases. Cow’s milk is the most mucus-forming food we can consume. Casein, the protein component in milk, is a very thick substance and used to make one of the strongest glues known to man. There is approximately 300% more casein in cow’s milk than in human’s milk.
• Dairy may raise cancer risk and has been linked to prostate cancer. It is full of saturated fat and has been also linked to heart disease.
• Dairy products may contribute to even more health problems such as allergies like hay fever, asthma, bronchitis, sinus issues and ear infections.
• All milk, unless it is raw, has been processed and pasteurized which alters its chemistry and means that it is largely unusable for the human body.
• Less dairy, better bones. Countries with the lowest rate of dairy and calcium consumption, like those in Africa and Asia, have the lowest rates of osteoporosis.
Plus there are so many great substitutes for milk such as rice, almond, oat or coconut milk. However regarding soymilk, there is a lot of contradicting information related to difficult digestion and hormonal issues, as such we recommend keeping your soy intake to a minimum. So try making a change to your diet, eliminate a bit of dairy and see how you feel. You might start feeling better and come to the realization it is not as needed by your body in the first place.

Fast Food Oh that enticing smell as you walk past that snack bar with those French fries and pizza cooking in the back. Yes, we are all human and have cravings to indulge in some fast food treat. However, fast food is so low in nutrition, high in fat, calories, and sodium plus regular consumption is a sure fire way of developing many health related problems. Every once in a while, it is ok to give in, but to stay healthy it is better not to make it a regular habit. The next time you find yourself surrounded by only fast food selections, we recommend eating mindfully, paying attention to the descriptions and portion size, and when possible, special ordering food with a healthier preparation option such as broiled instead of fried and asking for sauces or dressings on the side instead of loaded on top.

We suggest being mindfully aware about yourself and what you put in your mouth. Treat food as your fuel for life. If you are what you eat, what sort of person would you wish to be? It is all up to you and in your hands or rather in your mouth.

Read our article on the the effects of Sugar here.