How To Beat Disease As We Age: Foods to Avoid And Embrace

Mindy with husband's family

Mindy (4th from l) —with three generations of  her  family — running on the beach in Riviera Maya. Mindy said her generation is struggling with disease brought on by stress, environment, tainted food and more.

By Mindy Gorman-Plutzer

A few weeks ago, I attended the Integrative Healthcare Practitioners Conference in New York City. Thousands of practitioners from around the world convened to learn from leading experts on topics including, but not limited to genetics, the microbiome, and neuroscience. I attended lectures given by Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. David Perlmutter, Dr. Jeffrey Bland and Deepak Chopra. A common theme for me was that we are a generation struggling with resistant health issues due to myriad factors — stress, environmental issues and a tainted food supply tied to a politically motivated culture (a topic for another day).

I was particularly drawn to Dr. Bland’s talk, “Aging Is Not a Disease.” Dr. Bland, known as the father of Functional Medicine, spoke about the importance of understanding the process of aging, how it’s more than a function of our genetics; that we have the power to alter that gene expression by altering the environmental influences. Those influences are diet, exposure to toxins and lifestyle practices. If done right, aging can be the ultimate preventative medicine.

These nutrition and lifestyle factors send vital messages to our cells and can actually silence the badly behaving genes and turn on the desirable genes. Know that only 10 per cent of disease is caused by our genes, and 90 per cent is due to lifestyle and environmental factors. I’m feeling great relief knowing I can change the course of the aging process by upping my game with the choices I make.

My scope of practice is Functional Nutrition. I believe food is medicine. I believe that a whole foods diet creates and supports the foundation for good health. I believe that our lifestyle choices directly reflect on such a foundation.

Dr. Bland confirmed for me that eating a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet will have an immediate effect on our microbiome — the universe of bacteria and cells that guide the many systems of our bodies. Doing so will help us to look and feel better, enjoy a better quality of life, relatively disease free.

What follows is a list, perhaps a reminder, of the foods we can rely on to help us live the most vibrant version of our life.

Fight Disease: Bring It On

Wild-caught Fish:  Marine fat is loaded with omega-3s and omega-6s, healthy fats that actually can keep you from gaining weight. Enjoy low-mercury, wild-caught fish, such as salmon, cod, steelhead trout or halibut, 2-3 servings per week, to upgrade your body. It lowers your cortisol levels, increases lean body mass, raises DHA and vitamin D levels, both of which are good for the skin and the mind.

Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs): Choose and enjoy healthy oils, such as coconut oil, butter from grass-fed cows, chia seeds, flax seeds and avocados. Even dark chocolate is considered a healthy monosaturated fat. Swap out highly processed oils, like corn and cottonseed oil for medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, a very efficient type of oil derived from coconuts that gets rapidly converted into energy for your brain and body because it doesn’t require a stop at the liver for processing. Use coconut oil for cooking and MCT oil or olive oil for salad dressings and for drizzling on steamed vegetables.

A rainbow of produce: When you eat more foods that detoxify your body, such as cruciferous vegetables, fruits and nuts, you turn on the interactions between your individual genetic makeup and dietary components that result in modulation of genetic expression. Moreover, there’s been some research proving that eating more fruit and vegetables can actually change and improve skin tone. The carotenoids, the orangey-red pigments found in fruits and vegetables, offer the way for a healthier glow. The scientists found that eating unlimited amounts, up to pounds of fruits and vegetables daily, caused a detectable sparkle in patients after only six weeks. unlimited amounts, up to 2 pounds

Choose anti-inflammatory protein: A low-inflammatory diet looks like this: no wheat, moderate protein, moderate fat, minimal sugar, and lots of greens and other vegetables.

In terms of protein, eat about three to four ounces plant-based or anti-inflammatory animal protein at each meal, which will help activate your longevity genes. Ideally, eat meats only from animals fed in their natural habitats: pastured chicken and grass-fed beef, Limit processed meats such as deli meats and sausage. Vegetarian alternatives include lentils, legumes, fermented tofu (tempeh) and seeds. And again, as stated above, wild-caught, cold-water fish, like salmon and halibut, are excellent choices with the added benefit of boosting omega-3s.

The Don’t Eats That Cause Disease

When it comes to what to avoid, I’m happy to report the list is shorter:

Sugar: I advise eliminating all or most sugar and sugar substitutes. In particular, avoid these because they raise your blood sugar: white table sugar, honey, agave, brown sugar, sucralose (Splenda), maple syrup and molasses. Limit carbohydrates to only the slow carbohydrates that won’t spike your insulin, such as sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkin and quinoa. Stay away from hidden sugars in ketchup, salad dressings, sauces, and packaged cereals. If sugar is one of the first six ingredients, avoid it.

Stay off the liquid sugar and sugar substitutes, including soda, diet soda, juice, lemonade and alcohol.

Foods high in sugar are addictive because they trigger the reward centers of your brain. While it triggers release of dopamine, the brain chemical of pleasure, satisfaction and reward, sugar also harms the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotional regulation. While it’s not perfect, the glycemic index rates carbohydrates based on how they affect blood sugar and all sweeteners, except stevia, take blood sugar levels for a ride — they spike and then plummet. Coconut sugar and maple syrup, for example, both have a glycemic index of 54, while brown rice syrup is ranked at 25 and stevia at 0.

Inflammatory foods: Reduce unnecessary inflammation by avoiding foods most likely to cause intolerance. That means avoid gluten and dairy, the biggest culprits. Minimize grains and dairy or skip them altogether if you need to lose weight or have an autoimmune condition. They worsen damage by making you hungry for more. Remember that inflammation is your body’s emergency response system, a normal part of what your body does. When your body is functioning properly, inflammation should stop after 72 hours. But when prolonged, it’s a problem that’s “biochemistry gone wrong.”

Seafood with mercury: Eating too much tuna, swordfish and grouper can cause mercury to accumulate and cause heavy-metal toxicity. The most prevalent symptoms are fatigue, brain fog and resistant weight loss. Look not only at your food, but to your choice of health and beauty products.

Toxic refined oils: Refined oils are usually processed with chemicals dependent on harsh solvents or they’re hydrogenated, which creates trans-fats. Avoid both of these types of fat. Don’t use industrial oils, such as canola, corn, cottonseed, soybean and sunflower. Steer clear of all hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Industrial seed oils are linked to higher rates of inflammation and problems with the hormones that store and metabolize fat.

While much is out of our control, let’s agree to control what we can: the foods we choose to eat and the lifestyle practices we choose to engage in. Nutrition, while an important factor, is just a part of the big picture. Nourish yourself with what can’t be found in the kitchen: sleep, movement, stress management and the human connection.

In addition to being a board-certified health coach and nutritional consultant, Mindy Gorman-Plutzer is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach in Manhattan. She is the author of The Freedom Promise: 7 Steps To Stop Fearing What Food Will Do To You and Start Embracing What It Can Do FOR You (Balboa Press). For more information, go to Follow her on twitter at @FreedomPromise.



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