Most people have a list of goals they want to accomplish in the New Year – is ‘optimal health’ on your list?
When experiencing optimal health the body is able to provide the mental and physical energy, vitality and resilience you will need in order to fully embrace life with all its ups and downs. Set your own personal goals when it comes to nutrition, exercise, and taking care of your body – and if this is a new goal for you, just take baby steps at first. Each step you take to feel your best not only moves you closer to the goal, it also helps you to become an active participant in the process.
The foundation of optimal health is the food we eat on a day-to-day basis, along with other lifestyle factors like exercise and nutritional supplements. In many countries, people do not have the food choices we have in North America, whether healthy or unhealthy. In fact, some people scarcely have enough food. With our privilege comes self-responsibility for our health because we have the ability to make healthy choices.
Healthy Food: The Foundation for Optimal Health
The Mediterranean diet won ‘gold’ in 2019 for being the easiest to follow, best overall results, and best plant-based diet. In general, the Mediterranean diet leads to a healthier, longer life and has been found to reduce the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, obesity and more. Each meal focuses on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, a few nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra virgin olive oil. Seafood, dairy and poultry are eaten in moderation and red meat occasionally. Say goodbye to refined sugar and flour except on rare occasions.
However, let’s dump the word “diet” and consider the food choices as a lifestyle. A diet implies something that is temporary, whereas healthy food choices should not be considered a temporary approach to better health, but rather something each person does on a daily basis.
The Importance of Water
The human adult body is approximately 60% water; the brain and heart 73%; lungs 83%; skin 64%; muscles and the kidneys and muscles are 79% water. While guidance varies, women are generally advised to consume between 1.6 and 2.1 litres and men between 2 and 3 litres of water daily.
One of the most important books I have read is called Your Bodies many Cries for Water by Dr. Batmanghelidj MD. His research has found that most people are not sick but rather they are thirsty. When you think about it, a dehydrated shriveled up brain will not work very well… Please drink, the brain needs water to help you think.
Important Supplements for Optimal Health
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that it is not well stored in the tissues so it must be taken daily through food or supplements, although foods seldom provide adequate levels. Vitamin C plays an important role in the immune system in controlling infections and healing wounds, it is a powerful antioxidant, and it is needed to make collagen. Vitamin C is used in the formation chemical messengers used in the brain and nerves as well as several hormones including adrenal hormones. During times of stress, the body’s requirement for vitamin C can increase 10–20-fold.
Vitamin D deficiency is a major public health problem worldwide in all age groups, even countries with low latitude, and in countries where vitamin D fortification is implemented. Fifty percent of Canadian children are below the Canadian Pediatric Society recommendation and approximately 40% of Canadians were below the cut-off in winter, compared with 25% in the summer. Stats Canada reported that 20- to 39-year-olds had the lowest (59%) level of vitamin D. In the summer months people use sunscreen and cover up to avoid UVB light, and these practices contribute to the increasing vitamin D deficiency.
Magnesium More than 34% of Canadians have a magnesium intake below the estimated average requirement putting them at risk for various health problems associated with low magnesium.
Some reports suggest that both magnesium deficiency and subclinical deficiency is so prevalent in the population that it is considered a public health crisis. Deficiency of this important mineral leads to many different health disorders, including metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, insomnia, short-term memory loss, irritability, addiction, and headaches.
Multivitamin and Mineral Nutritional status is a fundamental factor in our over-all health including immune health. After middle age, the risk of having a vitamin and mineral deficiency increases because nutrient absorption decreases with age due to changes in eating habits and a reduction in appetite. In addition, many of our soils are depleted in minerals due to soil erosion and agricultural practices. A high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can provide the missing minerals and raise nutrient intake at any age.
Omega-3 fatty acids Statistics Canada says close to 40 per cent of Canadians are not getting enough Omega-3’s. These essential fatty acids are involved in synthesis and functions of brain neurotransmitters and the overall deficiency in the population could be one of the reasons we are seeing an increase in cognitive problems such as learning disorders, mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. Essential fatty acids and have also been shown to lower or blunt stress hormones and reduce inflammation.
Probiotics and or fermented foods The composition of the microbiome and its activities are involved in most, if not all, of the biological processes that contribute to human health or disease.
Emerging evidence shows that probiotics can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and are important for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, probiotics have shown positive results in in the treatment of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, learning disorders, and cognitive function. A healthy gut microbiome is important for the gut-brain and gut-heart connection.
When you are unable to take the time to eat properly during the day, protein powders and green drinks can help provide nutrients to sustain mental and physical energy in the busy times. Talk to the knowledgeable staff at the Vitamin Shop about good quality options for protein powder and green drinks.
Nutritional status plays a significant role in health resilience – and it’s an arena where we have control. A shortage of any nutrient can impact our well-being.
KAREN JENSEN, ND
Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.