What does health mean to you?
For some people it might mean being at an ideal weight. For others it means exercising most days, or not having chronic disease.
That’s how I defined health in my 20s. And honestly, at that time of life, I wasn’t giving much thought to my health…
…until I randomly discovered a book called What the Bible Says About Healthy Living.
Partway into chapter 1 my life changed. (Have you ever had one of those pivotal moments that redirects your life? That’s what happened here.) The author was describing a study of an indigenous culture in the Himalayas where the people were known to live an average of 90 years, and often 120 years. “The physicians did not find a single case of cancer, ulcers, appendicitis or colitis. Heart disease and hypertension were unknown among them” (emphasis mine).
Think about that for a minute. Can you even imagine that? Live to 120? Unheard of. No cancer or heart disease? Also unheard of.
The researchers noted that the people ate only the foods that grew in their land – nuts, grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
There was no McDonald’s or Starbucks or Snickers bars.
Only foods that God made.
And the people were free of disease.
That was my light-bulb moment. It stirs my heart even now and tears well up in my eyes at the gift I received that I wasn’t even asking for.
It wasn’t hard to see that I was not eating that way. My meals consisted of PopTarts and Frosted Flakes, fast food and soda.
It also wasn’t hard to envision what my future might hold if I didn’t change what was on my plate. After all, there was cancer and heart disease on both sides of my family. It seemed more a question of “when” and not “if” I would be diagnosed with a disease.
At that moment, I had a decision to make. I could continue down the path I was on, filled with processed food and sugar. Or, I could change direction and begin walking a path filled with more real food that God designed for us to eat.
You can guess what I chose, and that decision has made all the difference, as you’ll soon see. But first…
What is real food?
It’s simple really. Real food is food that God made and is eaten close to the way it grows on land or in the ocean – before food manufacturers have added to it or altered it in any way. It’s food we can visualize. We know what it is when we read it on a label. It grows in a garden, is raised on a farm, or swims in a river.
Why does it matter what we eat?
Two key reasons: Food is fuel, and food is medicine.
God designed our bodies intricately and wonderfully, and he knows just what they need to stay strong and full of life and health – the food he made.
Food Is Fuel
On one level, food has what we call macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Carbs and fats provide energy. Proteins build strong muscles and bones. But not all carbs, fats, and proteins are created equally. Our bodies need right carbs and right fats, not junk carbs and junk fats.
Junk carbs and fats are highly processed and found in candy, soda, donuts, potato chips, boxed cookies and cereals, for instance. If our food choices lean heavy on this side, we might
- experience strong cravings for junk food
- need a nap most days
- have fuzzy thinking
- get sick a lot
- have pain and inflammation
Right carbs and fats, on the other hand,
- give us sustained energy
- help us think clearly
- balance our hormones
- fill us up so we don’t overeat
- and keep us from getting sick
Right carbs come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains (like brown rice, brown flours, old-fashioned oats), beans and legumes. Right fats come from nuts, chia and flax seeds, salmon, avocados, extra-virgin olive oil.
Before my real food epiphany, I was dozing at my desk by mid-afternoon and would get a Snickers bar and a Pepsi to wake me up. In my 20-something mind, chocolate and caffeine were the only sources of energy! Now that I am eating real food, I have energy all day long and don’t give a thought to needing caffeine!
Lack of real food in my life also manifested as persistent allergies and sinusitis, which are signs of inflammation and a weakened immune system. I was miserable most of the time with chronic congestion and got severe colds four to five times a year that lasted a good ten days. That has all become a thing of the past since I started eating real food.
Food Is Medicine
There’s something else even more amazing about real food, especially fruits and vegetable–they are medicine for our bodies. In addition to vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables have tens of thousands of antioxidants and other nutrients that our bodies need.
Antioxidants are like shields of protection guarding our cells from damage by free radicals that cause “rust” in our bodies and lead to disease and aging. The other plant nutrients, or phytonutrients, are the medicines.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “eat the rainbow.” We’re told to eat the rainbow because every different color of fruit and vegetable has a different function inside our bodies. We need them all.
Reds: Fight heart disease, cancers, and diabetes; lower blood pressure; scavenge harmful free radicals; reduce bad cholesterol
Orange and yellows: Enhance the immune system, reduce bad cholesterol, support skin and eye health, promote collagen formation and healthy joints
Greens: Improve the immune system, fight cancer, detoxify the body, lower blood pressure, support eye health and reduce cataracts
Blues and purples: Fight cancer, may help protect against Alzheimer disease, support healthy digestion, improve calcium absorption, fight inflammation and allergens
Whites and browns (even though they’re not in the rainbow, wink): May help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, fight infection and cancer
How many people do you know that take medications for some of these things? Yes, medications are needed sometimes, but it’s also true that when we eat more of the foods that God has made for us to eat, we can reduce our need for medications.
The Rest of My Story
Twenty years ago I was a 20-something young woman thinking all was well with my world because I was married to my best friend, had a career I loved, and had no debilitating disease. If not for learning that real food prevents disease, I might still be on the junk food path, and who knows where that would lead me.
I thank God that he showed me the truth about food and gave me the desire to change what I was putting on my plate. It’s given me a new normal.
From allergies and chronic congestion to clear breathing and no medications.
From several severe colds each year to zero sick days.
From needing a daily nap to having energy all day long.
From painful cramps, mood swings, and an unpredictable cycle each month to no cramps, good mood (most of the time), and right-on-schedule timing each month.
And best of all… God gave me the gift of two daughters after 6 years of infertility and unsuccessful medical intervention. Nutrition is not the key for everyone experiencing infertility, but it was the key for me (along with lots of prayer). If not for changing my diet from junk food to real food, I still might not have children. I thank God that I do!
My Encouragement to You
A new normal is possible for you too, and it all starts with a decision.
Take a moment to think about what you want in life – family, adventure, travel, volunteering, impacting lives. Now consider the quality of life you want to experience. How do you want to feel throughout your life? strong? energetic? loving? focused on others?
Now look at your plate. Will the food that’s on it fuel your body? Will it strengthen you and truly nourish you? Will it lead you toward disease or health and healing?
Choose the path that leads to life and longevity. Take the first step, and keep on going. You’ll be glad you did.
Arinne Dickson is a master-certified health coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. She is healthier in her 40s than she was in her 20s thanks to learning about the power of real food, and she wants you to experience that too! She lives with her husband and two daughters on their family farm in Illinois and can often be found walking in the woods no matter the season. She can be found at http://www.friendinhealth.com or on Facebook at Your Friend in Health.