Medical science has documented that the precursor for the epidemic
of chronic diseases we are now facing is manifested by inflammation
in our bodies. We also know that living a healthy lifestyle is the
treatment of choice for inflammation. Incorporating most healthy
lifestyle factors into our daily routine is not mysterious—we know
what to do. We realize that to be healthy we need to eat a healthy
diet, exercise, reduce stress, get enough sleep, maintain a healthy
weight, treat occult infections such as periodontal disease, and
avoid toxic exposures.
When it comes to
eating a healthy diet matters aren’t always so straightforward.
There are dozens of diets to pick from, and knowing which one is
right for your particular needs is often confusing. There is little
consistency from year to year, even among doctors and nutritionists,
regarding which diet is best.
are certain basic fundamentals about the food we eat that most
resources agree. There is agreement in general regarding what kinds
of foods are healthiest, how they should be grown and processed, and
that they be fresh and free of toxic chemicals. But, there is no
“one size fits all” when it comes to what each unique person should
consume. Everyone is different. We have different genes, different
lifestyles, different preferences for foods, different toxic
exposures, and different health issues.
Fundamentals of Good
appreciate the widespread nature of the nutritional deficiencies
existing in the standard American diet (SAD). Prior to migrating
from the country to the city, around the turn of the last century,
we consumed fresh, whole, unprocessed, unrefined, and chemical-free
foods. However, after that time we were faced with new challenges
because there was an incredible increase in population needing to be
fed. It was no longer realistic to go out into the back yard and
pick food from a plant, bush, or tree for the next meal.
related to food storage led to establishing the SAD. We responded to
this challenge by developing new, creative, sophisticated
technologies for refining and processing our food. As this
technology improved, we began creating foods that were so deficient
in nutrients that many of them were no longer real food at all.
Nonetheless they store well, taste good, and above all, consumers
purchase them. They may fulfill the basics of the food pyramid and
be good for our economy, but they are still not good for our health.
foods are generally high in calories and low in nutrient density.
This is part of the recipe for the epidemic of obesity and
malnutrition we are experiencing as well as for the development of
many chronic diseases. There have been at least two government
studies completed on tens of thousands of Americans (the Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey, more commonly known as the HANES
studies) that have assessed the nutritional quality of the SAD.
Both of these
studies document the severe and widespread deficiencies in an
alarming number of nutrients in our diet. The levels of many
nutrients were far below the minimum RDA’s recommended by the USDA,
which merely prevent nutritional deficiency diseases such as scurvy,
pellagra, beriberi, and rickets. The only mineral measured that was
taken in adequately by most people was sodium—the one mineral that
we would do better if we consumed far less! Making this situation
even worse, most experts in nutrition believe that the RDA’s are far
below what is needed to maintain optimal health or what is needed
when our demands go up because of illness and toxic exposure.
As an example,
enriched white bread has 25 nutrients refined out during its
production. Five nutrients are added back in. Somehow it is then
called “enriched.” Refined sugar has had nearly all of its natural
vitamins, minerals, and nutrients refined out. Foods with no
nutritional value provide what are called “empty calories.” They are
in reality “anti-nutrients” because they only contain calories. They
provide none of the nutrients the body needs to process those foods
as they are metabolized in its cells. Thus, they consume the body’s
supply of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients in the process of energy
production, which can eventually lead to malnutrition.
The SAD also has
widespread and significant deficiencies in all the B vitamins, as
well as vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, and minerals such as calcium,
copper, zinc, magnesium, chromium, manganese, selenium, and many
more. Ironically, in this era of “fat phobia,” we over-consume the
toxic fats found in animal products and those produced artificially
as trans fats, but are severely deficient in those fats that are
essential for life, those called essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Our bodies cannot
manufacture the EFAs found in certain fish, seeds, nuts, and plants.
Flax seed oil is a good example of a food that is very rich in both
omega 3 and 6 EFAs. It has been estimated that the SAD provides a
mere 5% of our body’s needs for the omega 3 fats, but it provides an
excess of omega 6 fats. Because the ratio of EFAs should be just the
reverse, it is important for adults to consume rich sources of omega
3 fats. I recommend that adults consume two tablespoons of flax seed
oil, six tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds, or 1-2 grams of
high quality fish oil every day. It is also important to know that
EFAs must not be heated, so they should not be used in cooking. A
simple way to use them is to store them in the refrigerator and put
them in salads or on vegetables just prior to consumption.
It is impossible to
be completely healthy if we are malnourished. It is critical that we
take in all the raw materials needed to produce the energy we
require to live our normal everyday lives. Without the proper
building blocks, our cells simply cannot manufacture the hormones,
enzymes, proteins, DNA, antibodies, neurotransmitters, or the myriad
of additional nutrients we need to maintain good health and produce
the energy we need to function optimally.
Which Diet is Right for
There are so many diets to choose from that it is often an
overwhelming task for most people to determine which one is right
for them. Most diets are designed to reducing weight. Healthy people
do well on a balanced diet that includes fresh, whole, unprocessed,
unrefined, organic foods. Eating locally grown foods from farmer’s
markets may offer additional value according to some authorities.
Vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, eggs, small amounts of
fish and meats, and some dairy are good choices for a healthy diet.
Fast foods and
packaged foods generally are not healthy. They usually have high
levels of trans fats, sugars, and salt, and they often have too many
calories. These are the substances that are most responsible for the
epidemic of chronic diseases that we are now facing.
Two thirds of
America is now overweight or obese, and is suffering from an
epidemic of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and complications
of arteriosclerosis such as heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral
vascular disease. This segment of the population should be eating a
diet that is low, not only in calories, but also low in
carbohydrates, especially those that have the propensity to be
rapidly converted into glucose in the body—foods with what is called
a high glycemic index. Foods such as soft drinks, desserts, those
made from white flour, and sugary breakfast cereals should be
eliminated from the diet.
Every effort should
be made to maintain a normal body weight, but it is also wise to
live a lifestyle that will help reduce inflammation in the body. It
is now common knowledge that chemical inflammation in our bodies is
the precursor of the epidemic of chronic diseases we are now facing
in this country. A good program to accomplish this includes 30-60
minutes of hard exercise every day, getting 8 hours a night of
restful sleep, stress reduction, avoiding environmental toxins,
maintaining a healthy weight, and clearing any occult infection such
as periodontal disease.
The Impact of
It should be obvious that adding substances to our diet that can
interfere with normal cellular metabolism is not a good idea. None
of us would willingly add toxins to our diets, would we? If a dinner
guest brought a can of RAID and began spraying it on everyone’s
food, no one would eat it. However, if someone sprays our food
before we purchase it, somehow that is acceptable.
Man is the only
specie on the planet that has had the “wisdom” to poison its food,
water, and air! We have polluted our planet with more than 100,000
synthetic chemicals that have never before existed, and many of them
are outright poisonous. Heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, and
lead, and PCB’s, PVC’s, dioxins, fire retardants, MTBE, fluoride,
and many more toxins are now ubiquitous and are causing major health
There are many
studies documenting the extent of our toxic exposures. One study
completed about a year ago examined 9 people from a wide range of
areas in the US. Fat biopsies were done to measure for approximately
200 toxic chemicals known to be in our environment. No one in the
study had less that 80 of these chemicals, many of which are
carcinogens, neurotoxins, and metabolic inhibitors that put us at
risk for a wide range of diseases.
chemicals frequently interfere with an already stressed out
metabolism. It often takes our bodies hundreds or thousands of years
for evolution to provide the adaptive mechanisms necessary to render
a toxin harmless. While most healthy people have the necessary
metabolic capacity to compensate for some of these biochemical
challenges, sick people very often do not.
It may not be
possible to escape all of the toxicity that has poisoned our planet,
but we can avoid some of it. We can consume organic foods, avoid
living near particular locations such as oil refineries, staying
away from toxic household chemicals, avoid exposure to heavy metals
such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic, and using purified
The Role of Supplements
in Our Diet
The human body has tremendous reserves that protect against disease.
If we practiced healthy lifestyle measures on a daily basis, in my
opinion it is probably not necessary for most of us to use
supplements at all. However, this is a controversial opinion that
I’m sure many healthcare practitioners and supplement manufacturers
would argue with.
There is a
widespread belief that it is important to supplement with
antioxidants because they counteract free radical damage to the body
and protect against inflammation. While the premise is correct,
supplements are not the only way to build antioxidant protection.
The human body can “rev up” its antioxidant levels naturally through
a good diet and regular exercise.
It is well known
that exercise generates free radicals that cause inflammation. Over
time, however, the body compensates for this endogenous production
of free radicals by producing natural cellular antioxidants in just
the right form and in the correct amount. However, when we
supplement with regular high dosages of antioxidants, the body does
not respond to the free radical stress produced by exercise because
there is no need. We then become dependent on an exogenous supply of
antioxidants, which if abruptly stopped for any reason, would leave
us without natural protection.
never be able to replace a healthy diet. Nature has a time-tested
way of combining vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in just the right
ratios and form—food—so our bodies can use what is in it efficiently
and safely. Don’t forget, She’s had thousands of years to perfect
foods that are perfect for the human body.
There are, however,
times when our bodies decompensate because of illness. When this
happens, a healthy diet and other lifestyle strategies may not be
sufficient to restore good health. Few people would recommend
supplements as the main type of treatment for a serious bacterial
infection, fracture, or severe gastrointestinal bleeding. These are
times when pharmaceutical drugs or even surgery may be required.
However, even then, supplements have some value in supporting the
return to good health.
There are also
times when supplementation is a good idea as a preventive measure
and as an adjunctive strategy for other therapies. The most common
indication for supplements is for people who do not incorporate the
principles of a healthy lifestyle into their everyday lives. It may
then be wise to supplement with a multivitamin and mineral,
antioxidants, and certain herbs until a better lifestyle regimen can
In people with
chronic diseases supplements are usually effective at building good
health, and they have the added advantage of being safer than
medicines or surgery. There has been an impressive awakening to the
fact that every year there are hundreds of thousands of deaths and
millions of hospitalizations in the US that are caused by
pharmaceutical drugs. Many physicians are turning to nutritional
strategies before turning to drugs and/or surgeries. It is a good
idea to get the advice of a qualified nutritionist prior to starting
supplements on your own.
As a result, there
is a powerful grass-roots-driven movement that is shifting our
medical paradigm from a predominantly “disease care” model to a
“health care” model. Nutritionally based medical care is growing at
a tremendous pace, and it is only a matter of time before
pharmaceutical drugs will become a backup system that will be used
only after lifestyle strategies have failed. We are going back to
the future in this regard. It was 2500 years ago when the father of
medicine, Hippocrates, stated, “Let food be your medicine, and let
medicine be your food.”
Lifestyle management is the medicine of the future. It is a
wonderful recipe for maintaining good health, vitality, and
longevity. There is an enormous research database documenting the
value of basic lifestyle factors that include eating a healthy diet,
regular exercise, getting eight hours of restful sleep every night,
keeping stress to a minimum, maintaining a healthy weight,
eliminating occult infections, avoiding toxic exposures, and having
meaningful purpose in your life.
circumstances, these are some of the most important factors that
determine whether or not our bodies will develop inflammation—the
factor we’re all now reading about that is involved in causing the
epidemic of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and so many
other chronic diseases that we are now facing. “An ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure!”
About the Author
Len Saputo, MD is a graduate of Duke University Medical School and
is board certified in Internal Medicine. He was in private practice
in affiliation with John Muir Medical Center for more than 30 years.
His approach to healing is based on an integrative style that
includes mainstream medicine, complementary and alternative
strategies, and lifestyle management to restore and maintain optimal
For more than a
decade, Len has guided the development of an integrative, holistic
model of healthcare that is focused on wellness and prevention and
the importance of patient empowerment. In order to accomplish this
mission, in 1995 Len founded the Health Medicine Forum, which he
continues to direct. “The Forum” is a non-profit educational
foundation that has sponsored more than 300 public and professional
events, including monthly presentations, workshops, and conferences.
In 2001 Len co-founded the Health Medicine Institute, an integrative
medicine center in Lafayette, California, that is bringing the model
of Health Medicine into clinical practice.
Len has hosted more
than 450 radio shows and has appeared in dozens of television
broadcasts. He and his wife, Vicki, host "Prescriptions For Health"
every weekday morning on KEST radio at 1450 am. He has also made
more than 50 presentations to hospitals, medical schools,
universities, and community organizations. He has contributed dozens
of articles and chapters on topics in integrative medicine and has
edited six books on a wide range of healthcare topics.
Len has been a
strong advocate of fitness all of his life. In 1995 and again in
2001 he won the World Senior Men’s Singles Tennis Championships and
was formerly ranked number one in the world by the International