Why is your diet so important to the health of your feet, knees, hips, lower back, upper back, shoulders, neck, jaws, and eyes? Because the foods that you regularly eat are the primary determinants of how healthy your blood circulation is. And having a healthy blood circulatory system is essential to having healthy body parts that are resistant to injury and able to efficiently heal when injured. This is especially true if your daily responsibilities prevent you from moving around for long stretches at a time.
In order for all of your body parts to be optimally healthy, they need two basic things:
- A constant supply of nutrients and oxygen.
- A steady flow of blood that can clear away waste products.
Both of these needs are fulfilled by a healthy blood circulatory system.
Because this point is so critical to understand, let’s spend a little time reviewing what happens to a typical meal in your body after it enters your mouth.
Let’s imagine that the next meal you eat will be a plate of rice, beans, and avocado. We can mark rice as our major source of carbohydrates, beans as our primary source of protein, and the avocado as our main source of healthy fat.
When you begin chewing a mouthful of rice, beans, and avocado, six salivary glands in your mouth will release saliva. Within this saliva is an enzyme called amylase, which will begin breaking down the carbohydrates in the rice into glucose.
After you swallow your mouthful of food (hopefully after it is thoroughly chewed), it will travel down your food pipe, also known as your esophagus, until it reaches your stomach.
Once in your stomach, the protein in the beans will be broken down into amino acids, while the rest of the foods will be further liquefied to prepare the nutrients in these foods to be absorbed into your blood.
From your stomach, the mass of partially digested food will continue on to your small intestine. There, your small intestine will receive digestive juices and enzymes from your pancreas, gall bladder, and liver. Your pancreas will release amylase and lipase; amylase here is the same amylase found in the saliva in your mouth, while lipase serves to break down some of the fat in the avocado into triglycerides.
Your gall bladder and liver will work together to release bile, which will also be used to break down fat in the avocado into triglycerides.
So now, if all of your digestive organs and juices have done their jobs, the following changes will have occurred to the rice, beans, and avocado:
Rice: Carbohydrates => Glucose
Beans: Protein => Amino Acids
Avocado: Fat => Triglycerides
These changes are absolutely essential to your health because your blood and cells can only make use of glucose, amino acids, and triglycerides, which we will refer to collectively as “nutrients” from this point on.
From the top third of your small intestine, nutrients will slip through the walls of your small intestine and enter your blood circulation. To enter your blood circulation through your small intestine is quite easy to do, as your small intestine is coated with a thick layer of blood vessels – from the outside, it looks almost as though there are hundreds of long worms surrounding the small intestine, the long worms being your blood vessels.
Once nutrients enter your blood, they will travel directly to your liver. There, your liver will work to package these nutrients up into bundles that can be transported by your blood to all regions of your body.
Once properly packaged up by your liver, your blood will carry these nutrients to your heart, and then on to your lungs. At your lungs, a fresh supply of oxygen will join the nutrients in your blood, and together, they will be carried back to your heart by your blood. At this point, your heart will begin pumping blood that is full of nutrients andoxygen to all regions of your body through the many branches of blood vessels that make up your blood circulatory system.
As your blood vessels carry nutrients and oxygen to different parts of your body, your blood vessels will continuously branch out and become thinner with each branch. Ultimately, your blood vessels will become as thin as the hairs on your head – at this level, we call your blood vessels capillaries.
Why do your blood vessels get so thin? They need to get super thin so that the nutrients and oxygen in your blood will be able to get through their walls to enter your cells. After all, the nutrients and oxygen are intended to nourish your cells.
Your blood vessels also need to be thin enough to accept waste products from your cells; this will also occur at the capillary level. Once nutrients and oxygen are “dropped off” and waste products are “picked up,” your capillaries will begin joining one another to form larger blood vessels, and those larger blood vessels will join together to form even larger blood vessels, until at last, two main vessels (called your superior vena cava and inferior vena cava) will return blood to your heart, and at that point, the entire cycle is repeated.
One key point that you don’t want to miss: during each cycle that your blood takes through your circulatory system, your blood will travel through your kidneys, where it will be filtered to remove some of the waste products that were picked up from your cells at the capillary level. Your kidneys will combine these waste products with water to form urine, allowing for elimination of these waste products from your body.
If any part of your blood circulatory system isn’t working properly, you will begin to develop health problems. For example, if the inner walls of your blood vessels begin to get damaged by unhealthy fats, they will thicken, which will leave less room for blood to travel. This will translate to less nutrients and oxygen being delivered to your cells, and an accumulation of waste products in your cells. Both conditions will increase your chance of developing disease in the affected cells, as well as the risk of injuring those cells if they happen to make up muscles, ligaments, or bone.
If your heart begins to lose strength or conditioning, even if your blood vessels are fine, it won’t have enough pumping power to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your cells at an optimal rate. Also, your blood flow won’t be strong enough to carry waste products away from your cells at a rate that will keep your cells optimally clean.
If your lungs are damaged from exposure to smoke, drugs, or other damaging toxins, your heart and blood flow may be fine, but you won’t have enough oxygen in your blood to keep your cells nourished with fresh oxygen.
And if your kidneys are not working properly, your blood and eventually your cells will begin accumulating waste products.
Your Body is a Whole Being; It Cannot Be Compartmentalized
By now, it should be clear that keeping your body parts healthy by making healthy food choices goes beyond eating specific foods to battle specific health conditions. Because of your holistic design, every food and lifestyle choice that you make has an effect on every part of your body.
A good way to visualize this is to think of your body as being one big spider web. Touch one strand anywhere on that web, and the whole web will waver. Your body is infinitely interconnected, and your approach to keeping your body healthy should take this interconnectedness into account.
What follows are key dietary principles that you can follow to keep all of your body parts as healthy as possible from the inside-out:
Regularly Eat Foods that are Naturally Rich in Antioxidants
In order to understand why eating foods that are naturally abundant in antioxidants is helpful to your health, you must first understand what free radicals are.
Contrary to popular belief, free radicals are not entirely bad for you health. By definition, a free radical is a reactive element that is looking to steal an electron from any part of your body that it comes into contact with. You actually have free radicals in your body at all times. Where do these free radicals come from? The most common sources of free radicals found in your body are:
- Physical stressors like unhealthy fats, food preservatives, and a wide variety of chemicals that are found in most processed and highly refined foods
- Environmental toxins like cigarette smoke, household chemicals, and industrial pollution
- Emotional stress
- Everyday metabolic processes that occur in your body to produce energy
Free radicals can damage your cells by stealing electrons from them, which can initiate inflammation that can lead to scar tissue formation. For example, if enough free radicals steal electrons from the inner wall of one of your blood vessels, the resulting inflammation can lead to hardening of the vessel wall, which can decrease the amount of space that is available in that vessel for blood flow.
But just as free radicals can damage your tissues, they can also damage viruses, bacteria, and harmful substances that make their way into your blood. In these cases, free radicals are an important part of your immune system, as they can serve to protect your tissues.
Free radicals that are formed inside of your cells as a result of regular metabolism are an important part of your natural defense mechanisms. They help to neutralize toxins, destroy waste products, and protect your tissues against harmful microorganisms.
Free radicals can become a significant cause of disease when you produce them in excessive quantities and/or are exposed to large quantities from the environment. When your body is bombarded by excessive free radicals, you have a higher risk of developing a variety of degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Antioxidants found in fresh, minimally processed foods are helpful to your health because they are able to provide the electrons that free radicals are looking for. In other words, antioxidants are able to neutralize free radicals. Once free radicals are neutralized by antioxidants, they become harmless and are eventually eliminated from your body.
An important point to take note of is that large scale studies have found that antioxidants that are taken in synthetic nutritional supplement form will not offer you protection against disease. In fact, they may actually increase your risk of developing health problems.
The antioxidants that can preserve your health are natural vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are most often found in fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds. In other words, taking bottles of synthetic vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium is not the best way to protect your health; you want to strive to regularly eat real foods and food-based supplements that are naturally rich in antioxidants.
So which foods contain the most antioxidants? A study published in the June, 2004 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry ranked the following common foods to be extremely rich in naturally occurring antioxidants:
1. Small red beans, dried
2. Wild blueberries
3. Red kidney beans, dried
4. Pinto beans
5. Blueberries, cultivated
7. Artichoke hearts, cooked
9. Dried prunes
12. Red delicious apples
13. Granny Smith (green) apples
14. Pecans, raw
15. Sweet cherries
16. Black plums
17. Russet potato, cooked
18. Black beans
19. Red plums
20. Gala apples
According to the same study, the most antioxidant-rich foods in four major food categories are as follows:
Fruits: blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries.
Vegetables: beans, artichoke hearts, and russet potatoes.
Nuts: pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts.
Spices: cinnamon, oregano, and ground cloves
Clearly, there are many foods that are not mentioned here that are also excellent sources of health-promoting antioxidants. The general rule of thumb to follow when looking to identify antioxidant-rich foods is this: plant foods that are rich in color are good sources of antioxidants.
Dark green lettuces, kale, spinach, Asian greens, cabbage, Swiss chard, collard greens, organic green food powders, beet greens, herbs like basil, parsley, mint, and cilantro, red beets, carrots, bell peppers, olives, avocados, acerola cherries, watermelon, cantaloupe, mangos, papayas, goji berries, and turmeric are good examples of bright and colorful plant foods that can infuse your tissues with a wide variety of antioxidants.
Organic egg yolks are also rich in health-promoting antioxidants.
Strive to Avoid Foods and Chemicals that are Harmful to Your Body
The main purpose of eating foods that are naturally abundant in antioxidants is to give your body extra protection against free radicals and other harmful compounds. It is only logical then, to do your best to avoid the following foods that can put large amounts of free radicals and other harmful compounds into your body:
- All hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils – these are found in many processed snack foods, so look for them on ingredient lists.
- Deep-fried foods, such as French fries, onion rings, potato chips, and doughnuts.
- Baked goods that contain large amounts of cheap vegetable oils, such as those made out of soybeans, rapeseeds (canola oil), cottonseeds, safflower, and sunflower.
- Margarine and most other commercial butter-substitutes, even if they are labeled as having “zero trans fats.” Even if they claim to have no trans fats, almost all of these products are made out of cheap vegetable oils, which can typically introduce large amounts of free radicals into your tissues.
- Charcoal-grilled meats and animal products that have been cooked at high temperatures. These foods are typically high in heterocyclic amines, which are compounds that are strongly associated with an increased risk of developing cancer.
You should know that in addition to avoiding these food groups, it’s important to avoid overeating on a regular basis. Since free radicals are produced by regular metabolic activities in your cells, overeating can result in excessive free radical formation in your body.
Other foods that you should strive to limit or avoid in order to protect your health are:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and foods that contain it – MSG can act as a toxin to your nervous system.
- Aspartame – like MSG, aspartame can also act as a neurotoxin.
- Sugar – plain and simple, all forms of sugar and sugar-substitutes like honey and molasses put significant stress on your endocrine and cardiovascular systems.
- White-flour products – cookies, cakes, and other baked goods that are made out of white flour can put the same amount of stress on your system as sugar.
- Pasteurized dairy products – the protein in pasteurized milk, ice cream, cheese, and other dairy products is typically not suitable for human consumption. Unpasteurized milk from cows, goats, and sheep that are raised in clean environments can work for some people, but many people – especially non-Caucasians – are usually best served by avoiding all types of dairy.
- Non-fish seafood – crab, lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, and all other creatures that live in water that are not fish tend to accumulate high concentrations of toxins.
Specific Nutrients that are Needed to Protect Your Eyes & Nervous System
Now that you know which major food groups you should consistently choose from, and which food groups you should try to limit or avoid, let’s take a look at which nutrients your eyes and your nervous system require high concentrations of to stay optimally healthy.
This section is provided to enable you to ensure adequate intake of specific nutrients that are especially important in protecting your eyes, nervous system, and the rest of your physical structure if you spend many hours in front of a computer or just at a desk doing non-computer work on a daily basis. But please do not forget the concept that your body cannot be compartmentalized; every food that you eat eventually has some effect on every part of your body.
Nutrients Needed for Healthy Eyes
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
DHA is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that is needed by specialized tissue – your retina – that is located at the back of each of your eyes. Your retina is especially important to your ability to see when there is little light.
Foods that are naturally rich in DHA, and are healthy choices for most people include:
- Coldwater fish, the healthiest choices being wild salmon and sardines
- Cod liver oil and fish oil that are made by a reputable source and processed in a way that ensures optimal protection against rancidity
- Eggs from birds that are raised in a free range environment and allowed to eat foods that are natural to them
Dark green vegetables, ground flax seeds, ground chia seeds, and fresh walnuts are not direct sources of DHA, but are rich in another fatty acid called ALA, which can be converted to DHA if you are reasonably healthy. I generally recommend that most people include at least one animal source of DHA in their diets to ensure adequate intake.
Like DHA, vitamin A is needed by the retinal tissue at the back of your eyes, and is therefore important to your night vision. Many doctors and nutritionists consider beta-carotene to be just as good as vitamin A, since beta-carotene can convert to vitamin A within your body. For most healthy people, beta-carotene does convert to vitamin A. But for people who have health problems, particularly those related to digestive tract weakness and low intake of healthy dietary fats, the conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A is not guaranteed. These people should strongly consider including foods that contain straight vitamin A in their diets.
Foods that are naturally rich in straight vitamin A, and are healthy choices for most people include:
• Organic beef liver
• Organic lamb liver
• Eggs from free-range birds
• Organic butter (mainly for Caucasians who can tolerate dairy)
• High quality cod liver oil
Foods that are naturally rich in beta-carotene, and are healthy choices for most people include:
• Sweet potatoes or yams
• Butternut squash
Lutein is an antioxidant that can help to prevent free radical damage, especially in the following areas of your visual system: lenses, retinal tissue, optic nerves, optic tracts, and an area in the back of your brain that registers everything that you see.
Foods that are naturally rich in lutein, and are healthy choices for most people include:
• Collard greens
• Brussels sprouts
• Organic egg yolks
Lutein is a fat-soluble nutrient, so is best absorbed into your bloodstream in the presence of healthy dietary fats like those found in olives, olive oil, avocado, eggs, coconut oil, and fish.
Bioflavonoids and Polyphenols
Bioflavonoids and polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that studies have shown can help prevent a condition called macular degeneration, which is one of the most common causes of blindness in the elderly.
Foods that are naturally rich in bioflavonoids and polyphenols, and are healthy choices for most people include:
• Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries (bioflavonoids)
• Cherries (bioflavonoids)
• Pomegranates (polyphenols)
Nutrients Needed for a Healthy Nervous System
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in keeping your nervous system healthy. And the health status of your nervous system is the primary determinant of the health status of all of your joints, muscles, and other soft tissues.
Your body can manufacture adequate amounts of vitamin D when your skin is exposed to UV-B rays in natural sunlight. Here are some essential details that you should know about meeting your daily needs for vitamin D by exposing your skin to sunlight:
- The higher you live above sea level, the greater exposure you have to UV-B rays.
- The higher you live above the equator, the less exposure you have to UV-B rays. For example, if you live in Canada, Europe, or the lower 48 states of America, you receive little to no UV-B rays from early autumn to late spring – during this time, you need to rely upon dietary sources of vitamin D and existing stores of vitamin D in your tissues to meet your needs.
- The darker your skin color is, the longer exposure time you need to UV-B rays in sunlight to produce vitamin D. Lighter skin color allows deeper penetration by UV-B rays, which decreases the amount of sunlight exposure that is needed to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D.
- Pollution and clouds decrease the amount of UV-B rays that can reach your skin.
- The older you are, the harder it is for UV-B rays to produce vitamin D in your body due to natural degenerative changes that occur in skin over time. In general, elderly people need to rely more on food sources than sunlight for their vitamin D.
Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can be stored in your fat tissues. And if enough of it accumulates in your system, it can become toxic. This is why you must be careful if you choose to take vitamin D in supplement form. The only way to ensure that you do not develop toxic levels of vitamin D is to do a blood test with your doctor.
If you live in a region that has a warm climate year-round, and you get plenty of sunlight exposure on your skin, you do not need to purposefully eat foods that are rich in vitamin D. When UV-B rays in natural sunlight produce vitamin D in your body, the production of vitamin D stops when your needs are met. In other words, it is impossible to develop toxic levels of vitamin D from sunlight exposure alone.
Foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D, and are healthy for most people include:
• Wild salmon
• Other fatty fish like mackerel and herring
• Organic eggs
• Cod liver oil
For more information on how to ensure optimal vitamin D status, have a look at the following:
All B vitamins play a role in keeping your nervous system healthy, but vitamin B-12 is arguably the most important B vitamin to your central and peripheral nervous systems. This is because B-12 is needed to produce myelin, which is a fatty sheath that insulates and protects all of your peripheral nerves, your spinal cord, and your brain.
Foods that are naturally rich in vitamin B-12, and are healthy choices for most people include:
• Beef liver
• Wild salmon
• Organic eggs
• Free range birds like chicken or turkey