Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. Said thousands of years ago by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. This I believe holds more true today than before. In this era of fast foods and junk foods, the epidemic of metabolic and lifestyle diseases have skyrocketed. To put in perspective, in the Vietnam War seventy thousand Americans lost their lives but every year five hundred thousand Americans will die from heart attacks, strokes, cancers and other lifestyle diseases.
Even in Malaysia the numbers are increasing sharply. We are the most obese country in South East Asia and have one of the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world. Every hour a person dies from a heart attack in Malaysia, three will have a stroke and three to four will be diagnosed with cancer. Though genes have a role (about thirty per cent) it is our nutrition that plays a big part in this lifestyle diseases.
The question is what to eat? There are so many diets out there that it gets really confusing. At one time eggs were bad, now they are okay. There is a new superfood that will suddenly pop up. So what do we choose, the Paleo diet or the Atkins diet or the Zone diet or the 5:2 diet or Low carbohydrate diet, and the list goes on and on.
What I personally believe, and the two words I would use will be Balance and Natural. I always say ‘do not eat what your grandmother cannot recognize’. Foods from nature if grown and nurtured correctly are always better than manmade food. If you can afford organic or are able to grow your own food even better, though not easy.
The studies from the Blue Zones especially the Okinawans and the Mediterranean give an idea of the type of food to eat. The UK study to reduce cancer says we need to consume at least four to five portions of fruits and vegetables a day. One portion is the size of your palm. I would advocate 3:2 vegetables to fruits if you exercise or 4:1 if you do not exercise as fruits also have fructose which can disturb your Insulin level.
The other important concept to understand is that we must consume all the essential nutrients. These essential nutrients include essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and water. The body cannot make this. Interestingly there are no essential carbohydrates. We need carbohydrates for energy which can be derived from complex carbohydrates. I believe we must really avoid or at least reduce refined carbohydrates and saturated fats. The epidemic of lifestyle diseases is really due to the overconsumption of sugars which in the long run is a poison to our body.
So what can we eat? Balance and moderation is the key. Breakfast could be two slices of whole meal bread with a thin layer of butter and two eggs with tea or coffee without sugar. Lunch two portions of vegetables, with chicken or fish but not fried and a small bowl of rice and water. Dinner could be the same. Can change rice to noodles or chapatti and add some legumes or salads or fruits. Try to avoid any snacking I between meals. If you are hungry just take a few nuts. It is the concept that we have to understand. Whatever we do must also be something for the long term. It consists of changing mindsets and habits. No point following a program that you can only do for a few weeks and give up.
Remember “thy food is thy medicine and medicine is thy food.”