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RIH: Small changes toward better health | weekendmagazine


In order to achieve overall wellness, each individual needs to establish the pillars of health which include eating a nutrient-dense diet, achieving consistent, good-quality sleep, managing stress well and exercising regularly.

Often, for struggling patients with chronic disease, it is very difficult to achieve those goals when even having energy for work and activities of daily living is a challenge. Therefore, it is often helpful to make one small diet and lifestyle change over a 30- to 60-day period of time before starting a new one.


Fortunately, there are many small diet and lifestyle changes that can add up to achieving a life full of healthy habits. Suggestions are listed below. After reading through these suggestions, pick one that resonates the most with you and work on being consistent with it for 30-60 days before implementing the next change. Eating more whole foods is a great place to start, especially right now in the beginning of summer.

Perhaps you already incorporate the following into your life or maybe you used to and could be more consistent now. If you have not tried any of the following historically, which one resonates the most with you or seems the easiest to incorporate into your life?

— Make all your snacks “whole food snacks.” Choose one or more of the following: nuts (ie, almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts), seeds (ie, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seed pudding), fruit, celery or bell peppers with hummus, chips and guacamole.

— Limit sweetened beverages and/or alcohol to one to three servings a week. Instead, aim to drink at least 64 oz. of water, unsweetened tea and/or seltzer, daily. Add berries, cucumbers, lemon or lime to water to make it more palatable.

— Pick a new soup, salad or casserole recipe to try every week using just whole foods. Consider searching the internet for Whole 30 or paleo recipes for inspiration.

— Drink a protein shake or smoothie daily with at least one vegetable (ie, 2 cups baby spinach) or fruit (ie, strawberries, blueberries, banana, mango, cherries).

— Do most of your shopping around the perimeter of the supermarket.

— Add a fermented food like pickles, dilly beans/pickled green beans, sauerkraut, beet kraut and/or kimchi, to at least one meal a day.

— Fill half your plate with vegetables at every dinner. Examples: Caesar salad, Cobb salad, garden salad, roasted broccoli and onions, roasted asparagus, roasted potatoes/onions/mushrooms, diced tomatoes and cucumbers, etc.

— Plan for one to two days per week for grocery shopping and meal prep. It is often easier to eat whole food meals when they are already put together for you. For example: Choose a protein, whole food carbohydrate (ie, rice, potatoes or quinoa) and one to two vegetables to prepare for the week in glass containers to heat for lunch or dinner.

— Purchase produce from your local farmers market or sign up for a CSA share from a local farm.

— Create or maintain a garden and grow your own whole foods at home.

You don’t have a garden yet?

It only takes a small investment to get your own garden started. If you do not have a garden already, you could begin with starter plants in pots this year or potatoes in potato bags. Alternatively, you could pick a vegetable like cucumbers or green beans and start your plants from seed. Check the information on the seed packet to determine whether the seeds should be planted outside or started indoors. If you have some space indoors, you could set up a grow area and purchase a grow light from a local hardware store like Home Depot or online. Timers are available to purchase as well, so you can schedule indoor “sunlight” to automatically turn on and off according to what is needed for your plants. Visit your local nursery or hardware store for supplies and inspiration. Gardening benefits are multifaceted, including knowing where your food comes from, having an active outdoor hobby, learning how to grow your own food and cutting down on food expenses long-term.

How are making these small changes relevant to chronic disease?

As the saying goes, “you are what you eat.” What we eat directly affects the micro- and macronutrients we absorb, how well our digestive system functions, the diversity of our microbiome, and (indirectly) how all our organ systems function. Whole foods are more nutrient-dense than highly processed foods, they contain more macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), in addition to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory molecules like bioflavonoids and polyphenols. We need proteins and fats for proper function of our nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Certain vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper function of our endocrine and immune systems. Research continues to expand on how the health of our microbiome affects our brains, gut and immune systems. So what we eat and how we eat directly or indirectly affects multiple layers of our health, from something as complex as brain health down to something as simple as how much energy we have on a daily basis.

What step(s) will you take this month to improve your health?

Dr. Laurel Erath is a naturopathic doctor at Rutland Integrative Health.



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