The Anatomy of a Healthy Diet
Diet has an enormous impact on our overall health yet choosing the right one for you can be an overwhelming task, even with proper guidance. Before recommending a specific diet for a patient, I will first and foremost take their complete history, including their current complaints and concerns, and perform a focused physical exam. This provides me a portion of the person’s health “story.” I will ask what specific areas of their health they feel they need to work on—do they feel like they need to lose weight? If so, how much? Are they dealing with chronic symptoms they feel may be related specifically to their diet? Do they have a family history of diabetes or heart disease, and do they want to know what they can do from a natural perspective to fend these conditions off?
To get patients on the proper track to determining which diet or types of foods are best for them, one of the first lab tests I recommend is a food sensitivity test; in particular, I like to use a F.I.T. Test, or food inflammation test.
The five most common food sensitivities that I see in my practice are the following:
- Cow’s milk
- Egg whites
- Whole wheat
Unfortunately, most conventional doctors are unaware of or do not typically use this test, so you’ll need to work with a holistically oriented practitioner to have it performed. And thankfully, you don’t need to worry if there isn’t a practitioner in your area—many providers are now working remotely and can see individuals regardless of location.
Fats Don’t Make Us Fat?
Most of the general population considers a diet that is low in fat to be a healthy one. If you walk into any conventional grocery store in the country, you will see the words “low fat” plastered on labels as an appealing selling point. For more than half a century this is what we have been persistently taught, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The consumption of dietary fat has never been the culprit in why we gain excess fat or become unhealthy. As humans, we have been eating all kinds of fat for more than two million years. Our brains are composed of fat, it’s the preferred fuel of the human heart, and it is an essential component of the cell membranes in the body. Omega-fats, especially omega-3s, are essential to our diet. The steroid hormones in our bodies that, among other things, are vital to our ability to maintain proper weight also rely on adequate dietary fat and cholesterol. Additionally, fat also plays a key role in the proper functioning of our immune system.
The saturated and unsaturated fats in our diet consist of two substances bound together: glycerol and fatty acids. During digestion, they are separated, and each follows a different path. Glycerol is easily metabolized and used to make glucose; fatty acids are carried to tissues throughout your body where they help build cell walls, produce hormones, and digest fat-soluble nutrients. Fatty acids can be converted into another substance called acetyl CoA, which is used to create energy. Since fat is clearly an excellent fuel source, the big question is: if fats don’t make us fat, what in our diet does?
Consuming in Excess
Many people mistakenly think that the fat that we consume in our diets is immediately stored as body fat—but that’s not actually what happens. Our bodies first need to take what they need from the macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) we consume before they are physically stored. And the body will only choose to physically store macronutrients when they are consumed in excess, which is determined when a nutrient is no longer needed for immediate energy, reproductive purposes, or for structure and repair. Fat and protein are both used extensively in the body for countless functions and structures. When we eat either fat or protein, the body essentially looks around to see if it could be used to rebuild, replenish, or regenerate us in some way. The hormone leptin is like our body’s fat sensor and is one of the most powerful hormones in the human body. Leptin signals to the brain that we have plenty of fuel coming in from the diet in the form of dietary fat and plenty of fuel on board to burn, helping reduce appetite and kick up the metabolism. Only if there is over and above what is needed structurally does the body seek to convert and store the rest.
Carbohydrates (sugar and starch), on the other hand, make up only about 1% of our actual physical structure, so every single molecule of glucose that is consumed that isn’t needed for anaerobic (quick burst energy) is essentially considered excess and is either stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles or converted by the liver into triglycerides and sent off to become that unwanted body fat. Chronic elevations of sugar in our bloodstream can eventually cause major damage to our arteries and cells as well. The body naturally wants to maintain the lowest amount of blood sugar necessary to meet our essential demands.
The consumption of dietary fat is very self-limiting since it’s the one macronutrient that can truly satisfy the appetite. Our brain actually looks for fat to be satisfied. Our ancestors relied upon fat as a means for survival. Anyone that has consumed a particularly fat-rich meal knows they are left not wanting to eat for many hours afterward. When you think about it, people don’t binge on higher fat foods. We don’t generally see people over-consuming avocados, butter, coconut oil, or heavy cream, all of which are very rich and, subsequently, very self-limiting. People do, however, regularly binge on cookies, chips, candy, dessert, crackers, bread, and other forms of starch and sugar, which stimulates massive amounts of insulin that in turn stores it all as excess body fat.
One of the most important actions we can take to improve or maintain our health is to consume a proper diet, which looks different for every individual. Finding a diet that works for you should start with consulting a professional who understands not only the anatomy of a healthy diet and how nutrients work in our bodies, but also how to create a plan designed specifically for you.
Dr. Frank Aieta, ND, is a board certified and licensed Naturopathic Physician who has had a private practice in West Hartford, CT, for close to two decades. This article is an excerpt from Dr. Aieta’s e-book, Taking Back Your Health, which can be found in its entirety at: draieta.com/ebook.
More info can be found on his website: www.DrAieta.com.