Eating for Optimal Health
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I am always encountering people who want better health. The most common themes include: more consistent energy, improved mental focus, more stable moods, a stronger immune system, better athletic performance, faster healing and recovery times, and a more ideal body composition while also avoiding and reversing disease.
One of the best ways to accomplish ALL these goals at the same time is to make informed food choices which lean towards dietary ideas outlined in The Zone. I have improved upon and clarified the core principles below.
The goal eating in the Zone is to have meals and snacks balanced in terms of protein/fat/carbohydrates according to the 30/30/40 (percent by calories) formula. Most Americans eat something more along the lines of 20/20/60–much higher in carbohydrates than the Zone recommends.
The reason you want to eat protein, fat & carbs in every meal is that many of our dietary problems can be traced to eating too many processed, low-nutrient, “naked” carbs, meaning carbohydrates and sugars without the buffering effects of good fats and proteins. Fat and protein slow the absorption of the carbohydrates and sugars.
Hitting your system too fast with a rush of sugary carbs triggers a big “insulin response” from your pancreas which then leads to the typical sugar-low-fatigue, brain fog, irritability, and… you guessed it: more sugar cravings. Big insulin responses also promote the creation of new fat stores while increasing the risk of developing diabetes. The bottom line: naked carbs and anything that triggers big insulin responses is not good for you.
Barry Sears developed the “block” system to make building meals according to the Zone formula easier. By balancing the number of blocks in a meal, you can be assured that you are “in the zone”. A block of protein is 7 grams, a block of fat is 3 grams, and a block of carbohydrates is 9 grams. remembering the 7/3/9 gram formula for protein/fat/carbs and reading nutritional labels is the best way to engineer your zone meals. Most people find that they have to add more protein and fat to their typical meals to get into the Zone.
Here is the basic recipe for my Power Smoothie that follows the Zone formula.
2-scps Protein Pwdr (TJ’s Soy, plain)
1½ Tbs Lecithin (PCC)
½ Tbs Flax Seed Oil
1 cup Nonfat Plain Yogurt
1 Organic Apple
3/8 cup Organic Frozen Berries
1½ cups Water
Zone Blocks (P/F/C): 5.0/5.3/5.0
For best results, follow my three-hour spacing for five-meals a day recommendation: (7am-10am-1pm-4pm-7pm) . To do this, drink half of the shake first thing in the morning and have the other half about three hours later. The reasoning for this is that larger meals (whether in the Zone or not) will tend to trigger bigger insulin responses and all the negative things that go with it. Reliable studies have shown that people eating two meals a day gained weight, while people who split the exact same type and amount of food into five meals lost weight and felt better.
One limitation in a simple interpretation of the Zone principles is that not much attention may be given to where the protein, fat and carbs came from. In particular, choosing healthy fats and more complex carbs (rather than simple sugars) is key to getting the most benefit.
I chose the anti-inflammatory flax seed oil, (high in Omega-6 fatty acids) and Lecithin (another awesome brain food). In general, choosing vegetable sources of fats is superior to most animal based choices. I use olives, olive oil, avacado, flax seeds, raw nuts and seeds to bring in the fat in the healthiest ways. Wild or truly free range fish and game are the best animal fat choices, but each of these should be avaluated carefully to avoid problems.
For protein, I choose unflavored soy protein because all of the flavored ones will have sugars added. I also picked unflavored non-fat yogurt, to leave out the sugars and because most of the toxic chemicals (pesticides, hormones, PCBs, etc.) we ingest from animal products are fat soluble. So if you take away the fat from your animal products, and most of the toxins are gone too. I recommend that we all buy animal products that are wild or free range or organic, unless they are 100% fat free.
My carbohydrate choices were an organic apple and organic blue berries. These unprocessed, high-nutrient carbohydrate choices bring with them fiber, vitamins, minerals, proanthocyanidins and other healthy plant-based benefits. I consider sugar (white and brown), corn syrup, honey, maple or agave syrups, and even undiluted fruit juices all to be “refined sugars”, and I tend to avoid them completely unless they are in limited quantities and well bracketed with healthy fats and protein.
The next most common carbohydrate to avoid: white flour and refined wheat in general (bread, pasta, pizza, waffles, pancakes, and other baked goods). My reasoning behind wheat avoidance goes beyond the prevalent food allergies, the rise in celiac disease and the rampant genetic modification of wheat crops. My experience with patients and myself is that avoiding wheat completely for 3 weeks leads to weight loss, more steady moods better sleep and improved mental focus.
In review: the benefits of the eating in the Zone include: weight loss, improved athletic performance, consistent energy with no after-meal lows, blood sugar maintenance, increased mental focus and mood stability. If you fall off the zone for a snack or a meal, it’s no big deal… Getting back in the Zone is just a meal away.
Once you feel all the benefits of eating in the Zone, you won’t want to go back.
To learn more about eating in the Zone, the insulin response, five-meal timing, wheat free benefits and my paleolithic diet recommendations (not covered here): You can make an appointment for personalized care or take one of my upcoming health and wellness classes.
Dr. T.R. Morris is a licensed naturopathic medical doctor (ND). He is currently serving as faculty and consultant to the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). The IFM mission is to revolutionize medicine by teaching the latest genetic, nutritional, hormonal and other biochemically-based integrative medicine techniques to MDs and other practitioners looking for new tools to prevent and treat chronic disease. In the past, T.R. served as the medical director of a large integrative clinic and taught (genetics, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, cellular & molecular biology) for 10 years for various medical programs in the Puget Sound. He sees patients in person (or long-distance via Skype consultations) from his home office in Seattle.
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