13 Ways to Get Healthier
by Eric Madrid MD
There are things we can do each day to improve our health and create a more “disease resilient” version of ourselves. While a person may have a genetic predisposition for a disease, research shows us that a healthy lifestyle, diet, and optimistic thoughts can turn off disease-causing genes while turning on disease-preventing genes. The opposite is also true. Our genes are not our destiny.
In many instances, while under my close supervision, my patients have been able to reduce or eliminate blood pressure, diabetes, and pain medications once they started focusing on wellness. Remember, each person is different so never stop or adjust a prescription medication without first consulting with your personal physician.
Read through this list carefully and share the information with friends and family, so they may also benefit.
1. Eat More Fruits, Vegetables, Beans, and Nuts
Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules advises, “Eat foods that die”. While fresh fruit and vegetables may be a little more expensive, they will save you money in the long run since you will lower your risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Eat at least one carrot, one banana, one apple/orange, and a handful of grapes or cherries daily. Eat beans daily—choose from pinto beans, garbanzo black beans, or kidney beans. Consume greens daily in the form of a salad but limit salad dressing (oil & vinegar is best!). These foods will also lower high blood pressure. For some, chewing raw foods can be a challenge. If that’s a concern for you, consider a green powder drink.
Consume a handful of nuts daily. Nuts such as cashews, almonds, and walnuts and help control appetite and protect the brain and heart. A large 2016 study concluded that a higher intake of nuts reduces risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from lung infections, diabetes, and many other infections.
Also, familiarize yourself with the “Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen” list provided by EWG, the Environmental Working Group
This non-profit group identified the following items on its “Dirty Dozen” list of produce, which have high levels of pesticide residue. If possible, these foods should be purchased as organic instead.
- Sweet bell peppers
The group also identified the “Clean 15” foods, which contain the least pesticide residue. That means you can buy the non-organic form and not worry about pesticide exposure.
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
2. Read Food Labels
The healthiest foods are listed in Tip #1. However, if you buy food that is packaged or canned, you must read the label. Don’t assume that since it states “healthy”, “all-natural” or “fat-free”, that it is good for you. Avoid foods that contain chemicals that are difficult to pronounce.
Pay attention to serving size. Some foods may have 100 calories per serving, however, you may be eating is 4 servings or 400 calories.
3. Avoid White Powders
Do not eat white bread, white sugar, or white-flour food items regularly. These are all processed, bleached, and “fortified” back with minimal nutrients. If you really want bread, eat whole-ground wheat bread.
Also, avoid white pasta. You should consume brown whole wheat grain pasta or vegetable pasta, which has a lower glycemic index and prevents your blood sugar from spiking. When blood sugar spikes, your body releases excess insulin which contributes weight gain.
If you have diabetes, bread and pasta should be consumed very rarely, if at all. If you avoid these foods, you will lower blood sugar significantly. Caution, if you are on insulin or take diabetic medications, your sugar may go too low.
4. Eat Less Meat
In Food Rules, Michael Pollan states “Eat food with one leg, such as plants and vegetables, more than food with two legs (chicken/turkey) and more than food with four legs (cows, pigs).” According to some studies, red meat may increase the risk of stomach and colon cancer. However, if you enjoy a good steak or burger, hormone-free, grass-fed beef is a better alternative and likely reduces potential cancer risks. Increase poultry or turkey consumption.
Eat fish (no legs) once or twice a week as studies show a 52% reduction in fatal heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) in those who do. Alternatively, omega-3 fish oil is a good supplement to take.
5. Avoid Drinking Soda
One 12 oz. can (330 ml) has between 7-10 teaspoons (32-50 grams) of sugar and about 100-150 calories. A 32 ounce (946 ml) soft drink has up to 400 calories and 18-30 (90-150 grams) teaspoons of sugar.
No calorie soda (i.e Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Light, Pepsi Light), which has aspartame (NutraSweet), increases your appetite and ultimately results in weight gain. Some studies show this increases the risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Be cautious with energy drinks (Red Bull, Hi Tiger, Monster, Rockstar) as the caffeine levels can be dangerous, especially for children.
Solution: Drink filtered water, naturally flavored carbonated water, herbal tea, unsweetened ice tea, and kombucha tea. (Kombucha was named after a Korean doctor named Kombu around 415 AD, who treated an ill Japanese Emperor with a fermented tea or cha)
6. AVOID High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Trans Fats
HFCS provides a lot of calories and is used to sweeten thousands of foods, including sodas and breads.
Also, avoid anything that has trans fats (label states hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils). Trans-fats damage your arteries, leading to clogged arteries and heart attacks.
If you need to sweeten food, use raw cane sugar or stevia. Avoid other artificial sweeteners.
7. Cook Your Own Food
Avoid fast-food restaurants. The more you cook your food at home, the healthier your food and ultimately you will be.
Coconut oil is ideal for cooking at high temperatures and is healthier than canola oil. Light sesame oil is also acceptable at high temperatures and has various health benefits.
Olive oil (pure and virgin) are good alternatives but only cook with olive oil if at low and medium temperatures.
Avoid use of vegetable oil or lard when cooking as they are bad for your health.
8. Limit or Avoid Dairy Products
Studies show an increased risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer for those who consume the highest amount of dairy products. If you MUST have cow’s milk, drink organic only. If you are lactose intolerant, drink lactose-free milk.
Cow’s milk is made for baby cows and helps them become big cows. Bloating, chronic diarrhea, asthma, seasonal allergies, and postnasal drip may be worse with regular (>2 times/week) consumption. Eliminate it from your diet for 2 weeks minimum to see if your symptoms, if present, improve.
Alternatives? Almond milk, cashew milk, rice milk, or soy milk
9. Drink Green Tea
However, it is ok to also drink up to 1-6 cups of coffee per day if tolerated. Green tea helps burn fat, lower blood pressure, and helps prevent cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Drink 1-3 cups/day.
If you drink coffee, avoid adding sugar and creamer. Black coffee has ZERO calories. Coffee appears to have many health benefits, including lowering diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s risk.
10. Avoid Alcohol
Men should limit to 2 drinks/day; women should limit to 1 drink/day.
Drinking more than this increases your risk for liver disease and diabetes and breast cancer in women. If you don't drink, don't start. For those who drink regularly, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and milk thistle should be taken to help protect the liver from damage.
11. Sleep At Least 6 Hours Per Night
Those who sleep less than 6 to 7 hours on average eat over 200 extra calories per day, increasing the risk of overweight and/or obesity.
Don’t sleep well? Ask about a sleep apnea evaluation.
Melatonin should also be taken if you have trouble sleeping, starting with at least 3 mg, increase to 20 mg each night if needed. Allow up to 2 weeks for it to start working. For some, it may work sooner.
12. Increase Physical Activity And Get Plenty Of Sunshine
Get 150 minutes/week of moderate exercise, some of it should be outdoors, where there is fresh air.
Try to spend 15 to 30 minutes each day outside with your arms legs and face exposed to the sun. This will help generate vitamin D. Read more about the health benefits of vitamin D
Also, during exercise, use tracking technology like a Fitbit tracker, Apple Watch tracker, MyFitnessPal app, and others. Routine exercise helps increase happiness and improves overall heart and brain health. Exercise also helps prevents dementia and creates new nerve connections in the brain.
13. Forgive, Reconcile, And Move On
Anger and hatred increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke, infections, neck/back pain, unhappiness, and ultimately premature death. Holding onto anger will negatively affect your overall health.
Did you know?
- Eating at least one healthy midday snack decreases the risk of obesity by 39%
- Waiting for more than 3 hours after you wake up to eat increases the risk of obesity by 43%
- Not eating a healthy breakfast increases the risk of obesity by 450%
- Eating breakfast away from home, like at a fast-food restaurant, increases the risk of obesity by 137%
- Eating more than 1/3 of your meals in restaurants increases your risk of obesity by 69%
Note: Supplements should never replace a healthy, balanced diet.
General supplements that should be taken by most.
- Multivitamin –Take 1 tablet daily or as directed on the label.
- Probiotic Supplement - 10 billion units minimum, once or twice per day. Fixing a leaky gut is also vital to overall health.
- Fish Oil (Omega-3) -1,000-2,000 mg once or twice per day. Benefits: Reduce triglycerides up to 50 percent, protect your heart arteries, and brain. Lowers cardiac-CRP. Help reduce joint pain (nature’s anti-inflammatory).
- Vitamin D -2,000-5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Benefits: Studies show less colon cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, heart attacks, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, chronic pain, and more when vitamin D blood level 50 ng/ml or more.
- Magnesium chelate -125 mg up to 500 mg daily. Helps with cramps, muscle spasms, heart palpitations, and migraine prevention.
Other Supplements for Specific Issues
- Melatonin - 3-20 mg each night for sleep-related issues. Note: It may take up to 2-3 weeks to start working.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) - 600 mg once daily or twice per day for fatty liver, those who take daily acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol) or consume alcohol routinely. NAC helps the liver detoxify chemicals from the body.
- Turmeric -500 mg up to three times per day (anti-inflammatory, joint pain, and optimal brain health)
- Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Medicine. 2016;14:207. doi:10.1186/s12916-016-0730-3.
- Mohebi-Nejad A, Bikdeli B. Omega-3 Supplements and Cardiovascular Diseases. Tanaffos. 2014;13(1):6-14.
- Meghan B. Azad, Ahmed M. Abou-Setta, Bhupendrasinh F. Chauhan, Rasheda Rabbani, Justin Lys, Leslie Copstein, Amrinder Mann, Maya M. Jeyaraman, Ashleigh E. Reid, Michelle Fiander, Dylan S. MacKay, Jon McGavock, Brandy Wicklow, Ryan Zarychanski. Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2017; 189 (28): E929 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.161390