On nutrition: signals to listen for better health

My husband beeps his tractor as he drives by the house these mornings on his way to feed the cattle. It’s his way of saying he’s thinking of me.

One patient of mine, who is working very hard to plan more meals at home and visit Mickey D’s less often, reports that she feels lighter and less bloated these days – a sign that her body is happy with her new habits.

We have signals all around us. Some that protect us, like traffic lights. Others point us in the right direction, like road signs. Life runs smoother when we obey them. And when we don’t, we suffer the consequences.

Signals can also encourage or prompt us to make changes. This is certainly the case in my own life. I know without a doubt that a higher number on my bathroom scale directly correlates to more frequent snacking on the jar of M&M’s on my kitchen counter.

Our food choices can even make our bodies feel more or less pain, according to new research. Here’s the link: Inflammation occurs when the body is hurt or injured in some way. And inflammation leads to pain.

Some components of food help calm inflammation and others promote it. In other words, experts now believe that our food choices can potentially relieve or worsen certain types of pain such as migraines, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and bursitis.

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish and nuts, for example, are anti-inflammatory; they send signals to reduce inflammation. Vegetables and fruits (especially berries and cherries) also contain an array of substances that calm inflammation in the body.

On the other hand, foods like my precious M&M’s, which are loaded with saturated fat and sugar, can actually contribute to chronic pain. Damn.

And the beef? A recent study in which volunteers ate eight ounces of beef daily for 32 days found an increase in certain inflammatory markers. Yet they also found reduced amounts of other inflammatory signals, signifying potential to reduce pain and inflammation.

What that means is really what we’ve known all along. The healthiest diets are those that include a balanced variety of foods eaten in moderation. In other words, my precious M&M’s are an occasional treat, not a lunch. And we must continue to eat vegetables with our lean beef, fish, poultry, or other protein-rich foods.

Remember that it is the effect of a person’s overall eating habits that has the most lasting impact on health. An all carrot diet is no better for us than an all steak diet. It’s the wonderful interplay between nutrients in a wide range of foods that gives us the most lasting health benefits. And this is the best signal of all.

Barbara Quinn-Intermill is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator affiliated with Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email him at [email protected]

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