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Q&A on Eating Better

March 9, 2018
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

My patients often ask me for simple guidelines on how to eat for optimum health and well-being.

Key word: simple.

So here are questions and answers—my best simple advice.

Why is healthy eating a mind game?

Eating better is more a mental exercise than the physical act of getting nutrients into your system. Always think of three things:

  • What’s great to eat?
  • What’s terrible to eat?
  • What’s the best way to eat?

Let’s hit that last point first. Many of my patients don’t factor in how aging affects how we digest and absorb nutrients. Not their fault—only recently has important data come into play.

How does age impede optimal digestion and absorption?

From age 20 and onward, we gradually lose our ability to produce the digestive enzymes that are essential for extracting nutrients from our food. By age 60, it’s estimated that as much as 50 percent of those enzymes are gone.

So half of every food-based vitamin, mineral, protein, and carb you swallow does not nourish you. They all just pass through your system.

What to do about that?  Assuming you’re eating what’s great to eat, then change how you eat.

Why is eating slowly, downsizing and…slowing…down…important?

I know, this is like telling someone dying of thirst to just take little sips of water, but you can energize your remaining enzymes by thinking small:

  • Use smaller plates
  • Put smaller portions on them
  • Take smaller bites, more slowly
  • Chew each bite longer than you’re accustomed to

Smaller plates, Dr. Connealy?

It’s amazing how serving size has a powerful effect on satiety. (I told you it’s a mind game).

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A big plate, full of food, sends a message that says, “To be satisfied, eat all of me.”

A smaller plate, also full of food, says the same thing—but you end up eating less.

I know, it feels weird at first to be sitting there, chewing, seemingly forever.

But every active food-processing enzyme left in your system goes into maximum-efficiency mode, from your mouth to the final passing of waste.

What’s great to eat (and drink)?

First, a word about aloe vera, the succulent plant with the gel that people have used for eons to soothe burns and cuts.

This natural sweetheart increases digestion and absorption, and I recommend you buy or make a drink with it to accompany every meal.

And the every meal guidelines are:

  • Whole, fresh, organic foods—lean meats and poultry, organic fruits and vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains
  • Wild-caught omega-3-rich fish like salmon, but no more than twice a week
  • Good fats like avocado and olive and sesame oils
  • Water. Half an ounce per pound of body weight per day. So: 140 pounds? 70 ounces of water—paced through the day. Easier than it sounds

And what’s terrible to eat?

That would be the Standard American Diet, which is damaging, and yes, killing, Americans in record numbers, by encouraging heart disease, strokes, obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease…the list goes on.

In a few words, no high-sodium foods, fast food, sugar, or trans fats. Look to the Mediterranean Diet for guidance.  Read all about it online.

Hope this helps. Keep up the questions.

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