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Thriving vs. dying: A simplistic approach to health

Posted: February 10, 2012 - 1:01am

“Let thy food by thy medicine.” - Hippocrates.

This statement has been my mantra.

In our household its importance is heightened by a multitude of factors; but frankly, it truly is a matter of life or death.

Whoa.

Extreme.

It sounds that way, doesn’t it? But it’s not at all different than the messages nutritionists, doctors and scientists have been touting for years - eat right and thrive.

Sounds simple.

Yet, as I sit here and taste the tartness of my latest batch of homemade yogurt, I realize eating right is no longer as easy as it seems and the benefits go way, way past the taste buds.

In today’s society, it’s nearly impossible to escape additives, hidden sugars, starches and chemicals. They’re buried in the ingredients list, or sometimes not listed at all. For a growing number people, these hidden ingredients are wreaking havoc on their insides, upsetting the fine balance of the internal ecosystem and causing a host of digestive diseases that renders individuals weak, malnourished and facing surgery for the removal of diseased bowel. Eating foods that are touted as “fortified” and “enriched” has proven to be a bad match for many.

In an effort to banish the “bad” and heal the damage, my family has recently done a major overhaul on our diet. It’s restrictive. It’s confusing. It’s full of hard-to-follow recipes made with surprising ingredients. But, it’s working and frankly, it’s really the way we all should be eating.

In a nutshell, the diet cuts out all processed and complex foods — no refined sugars, starches or additives. According to my research, the diet has provided relief for people suffering from digestive diseases to autism. Debora Gordon, with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, wrote that followers of the diet have found remission from thier symptoms - some indefinately. Some report that the adoption of the diet helped when medications could not.

You see, there's a war waging in our guts — between the good guys, the bad guys and the food they fight over. When the bacteria in our bowels becomes overpopulated, their waste products increase. The body attempts to protect itself by secreting mucus to line the sensitive intestinal cells. Damage due to toxins and mucus covering these cells inhibits absorption of complex nutrients. Hence, that “food” stays in our gut and fuels bacterial offspring. Over time, this cycle becomes so vicious that it can reduce the human digestive tract — a finely tuned biological machine — into nothing more than a slip-and-slide where everything moves right on through.

The diet, based on basic biology, works by stopping the vicious cycle that can happen in our bowels when bacteria, the food we eat and our body's own defenses get out of balance.

It also takes homemade to a whole new level; we make our own yogurt, cream cheese, flour and juice using only whole foods. Absolutely everything is made from scratch — everything.

This way, all additives and chemicals are excluded and the body (not the bacteria) is provided with the nutrients needed to thrive.

We’ve only been on the diet for a few weeks, and the adjustments inside and out, have not been easy. Elaine Gottschall, the grandmother of this diet, once wrote:

"So often those first weeks are so very perplexing and worrisome. But when you think that you are giving the child what is probably the most nutritious diet in the world — the kind of food to which man's biological machinery is truly compatible with, and when you think that the entire world of trillions of microorganisms (bacteria and yeast) are undergoing dramatic transformations, hang in there, try not to worry (you are doing only good) and you will see the light at the end of the tunnel."

I'm not here to promote a diet or claim that any one approach is a cure-all, but I am here to suggest that perhaps there’s something behind all this hype on healthy eating. I am saying that the long prep times — the deep cooking and steaming and the perpetual pile of dishes that stacks up after each meal like the sink itself burped plates, silverware, pots, pans, grinders, juicers and blenders onto every available surface — is absolutely worth it.

Because thriving is so much better than dying.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.

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