Health Break | Published March 28, 2005 | Written by Michael Archer

Fruits, Vegetables & Whole Grains For Better Health

We have a variety of ways to monitor our nutrition. We look at weight, body fat percentage, measurements of our waistlines, and keeping track of how our clothes fit. These measurements are convenient means to track weight loss, but on the chemical level the preceding measurement methods are not an effective means to monitor nutrition.

When a car runs the energy, the motor produces results in toxins and waste products that are released through the car’s exhaust. In contrast to gasoline, our bodies use fats, carbohydrates, and proteins for energy. The use of these nutrients results in waste products just like the burning of gasoline in an automobile. Most of these waste products are toxins or potential toxins that need to be neutralized, filtered, and removed or they cause physiological destruction.

A lot of these waste products are oxidants, or highly reactive forms of oxygen. These forms of oxygen will react with almost anything, including the cells and tissues of our bodies. When this phenomenon occurs, important healthy tissues can be destroyed and a state of chronic inflammation may occur. These inflammatory states may eventually result in diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity by destroying or altering otherwise healthy tissue.

Our bodies have many mechanisms to neutralize and remove these waste products. The liver can detoxify, the kidneys can filter, and the immune system can remove these waste products. The problem is that, single-handedly, the body’s defenses cannot keep up with the pace. Eventually the body’s defenses will get overwhelmed. Fortunately, Mother Nature in her wisdom has included “anti-oxidants” within our natural foods. These anti-oxidants naturally neutralize the waste products of metabolism. So our own defenses have help to keep up the pace of neutralizing harmful waste products.

The next problem is that we process out the natural health benefits within foods. For instance, whole grains like wheat, oats, rye, and other grains have fiber and many have detoxifying substances, but we remove all that good stuff and make white flour and white bread. After an extended period of exposure to white bread, the products of metabolism react with our pancreas cells, cause destruction, and result in diabetes because our body systems do not have the help of the natural anti-oxidants in whole grain breads.

So getting back to monitoring nutrition, if a person wants to lose weight, they may decrease their caloric intake to 1800 calories a day. This person may eat 1800 calories of doughnuts or 1800 calories of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish. Either way, they should lose weight because their caloric intake is less than their caloric needs, so the tape measure, scale, and body fat calipers will look like their nutritional status is improving because of weight loss. But if this person loses weight by eating 1800 calories of doughnuts, they may actually be increasing their likelihood of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer even though the scale, the tape measure, and body fat measurements look positive.

So what we need to do is put less emphasis on dieting to lose weight and put more emphasis on good solid nutrition. As a society, we need to decrease processed foods and calories and greatly increase fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes, and whole grains. These foods contain the most nutrient dense calories with high amounts of Mother Nature’s natural defenses against disease states.

By making permanent, lifelong nutritional changes, such as decreasing processed foods, increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, and making healthier food substitutions, you will automatically lose weight and increase your quality of life and health without fad dieting. The change to a healthier lifestyle is not easy because our media and society are opposed to it, but with a strong will, much determination, and the commitment of the rest of your life you can achieve weight loss, fight chronic illnesses, and lead a life of much greater quality.

Michael Archer is a clinical laboratory science educator for Mount Nittany Medical Center and Penn State University.