From my new book Nourish Your Self Whole: A Guide to Core Dietary Pillars, with Achievable Steps for Vibrant Health
Food is one of the most important influences on your overall health. Many of us erroneously chalk our health trajectory up to our genes, which is the biological equivalent of the luck of the draw. However, scientific research shows that about eighty-four percent of disease is actually determined by our epigenetics.
Among other things, epigenetics can be heavily determined by nutritional, environmental, and lifestyle factors, with food being a top driver. This means that our health is not simply impacted by our innate or hereditary genes acting out. These epigenetic influences help decide which genes “express” themselves, that is, which ones are active or dormant, and ultimately impact our health. So for someone that eats fried fast food every day, they may have genes that are not ideal turned on and active, while another person eating a healthy diet may have those same dangerous genes remain in the “off” position. To sum it up, it’s not just the genes you have in your DNA makeup, it’s also how they are influenced and triggered by outside factors like food that influence your overall health.
As a culture, many of our health indicators are declining because of the impact of these negative epigenetic factors. Chronic disease rates are skyrocketing, and experts believe that changes in our collective food choices and culture-wide eating habits are some of the primary causes. This does not simply impact adults. Chronic disease rates among children between 1994 and 2006 doubled! This is a disturbing trend that cuts across the age spectrum, but especially seems to be growing with each new generation of children.
Why is this? Where food is concerned, diets high in sugar, refined carbs, and highly processed vegetable oils are not compatible with healthy genetic expression. That’s right, genes don’t function well on the heavy doses of these substances that most of us consume. The bad genes that we hear about in the news, such as Alzheimer’s & breast cancer genes, don’t necessarily cause their damage unless specific conditions activate them. When negative gene expressions are triggered, this in turn can cause many diseases and negative health conditions.
In other words, our genes aren’t necessarily our destiny. The choices we make have a powerful influence, but the good news is that bad gene expressions have the potential to be reversed when controllable factors like food consumption are improved.
The bottom line for most of us is that there are too many irritants and toxins and not enough nutrients coming into the body. Nutrients can powerfully counteract the negative stimuli we are pummeled with each day, from air pollution to stress and poor food choices, among others.
One of the most powerful antidotes comes in the form of vegetables and fruits, as they can help clean up and shuffle out many toxins, but all the steps within this book are critical. I will of course be discussing many tips on improving your diet in the bulk of this book. Additionally, the last quarter of the book will highlight other lifestyle and environmental factors that you can improve for maximal health results and more ideal epigenetic expression.
The Proper Fuel for Our Bodies
It’s so important to give your body what it needs to function properly. You wouldn’t put diesel fuel in a premium unleaded engine. It would break down. And yet so many of us do just that to our own bodies by filling them with poor-quality foods.
You’ve also likely heard by now that consistently high levels of inflammation are unhealthy for the body. In fact, rampant inflammation is thought to be a primary factor behind heart disease, cancers, and other serious chronic health issues. (There is a strong correlation between excessive inflammation and negative gene expression as well.) The dietary tips within this book are largely anti-inflammatory. They will help you balance out your immune system, too, restoring your body’s capacity to do what it is supposed to at an optimal level of performance.
All that being said, every body is unique. You will discover for yourself which combination of foods and nutrients help your body perform at its best. There is no “expert” out there who can replace your own innate wisdom when you are tuned into what you really need. When you clean up your diet, your senses and awareness of how your body feels when you eat particular things that either work for or against it will become more astute. You’ll be better able to gauge what you most need. These pillars should be a solid starting point, but listen closely for what works best for you. This does not mean what your current taste buds or emotions want, but what your body systems want and need. Their signals are trying to communicate with you all the time, but the SAD diet (standard American diet) triggers so many disruptive signals that it’s much harder to figure out what is really going on until you give them more priority by cleaning up your health.