An interesting report has just been released called ‘Health of Britain in 2008 – Perspective on Nutrition 2008’.  In the report the spending habits of 25,000 households were analysed.  It was found that although people are snacking less and eating less salt, at least one in eight people are not eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.  Five portions is the minimum we need for a healthy diet.  From a Chinese Medicine perspective vegetables and some fruits should provide at least 40 – 45 per cent of our daily food intake! 

I’ve noticed from talking to patients that vegetables are probably the most neglected part of the Western diet and some people, especially young teenagers, can go for days without eating any at all.

An interesting study shows the importance of vegetables.  It took place in Japan between 1966 and 1982 and 270,000 people were involved.  The participants ate green or yellow vegetables such as carrots, tomatos, chicory, spinach, broccoli, leeks, turnip leaves and pumpkins every day.  The results of this study found that merely adding vegetables to the diet substantially reduced the risks of cancers, heart disease and many other terminal illnesses. At the same time aging slowed down by a huge 10–15 years! Fatigue was also considerably lessened, as were other stress disorders such as insomnia and irritation. 

Many other studies have also researched the reduced risk of many cancers and other diseases from eating vegetables and fruit.

These studies show that the long-term positive ramifications could be considerable when we make this simple switch.  I often take cooked vegetables into work in a pot to eat at lunchtime but find it difficult to get well-cooked vegetables if I go out to eat at lunchtime. 

What’s on your wish list that would make it easier for you to eat well?

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Which is most important the way we eat or what we eat?   Until the other day I would have said what we eat.  But now I’m not sure that’s always true.  A few days ago a patient told me that she had woken in the night with excruciating abdominal pain.  It was so sharp that she was doubled over in agony – an emergency.  Her husband was thinking of calling an ambulance.  They thought it might be serious, even appendicitis.  Finally she passed a lot of wind and it was better! 

We discussed what had happened.  Recently, to improve her diet, she had started bringing in a hot meal for lunch.   She had eaten organic vegetables, rice and duck with miso soup in a pot that day.  Better than the salad (too cold) and sandwich (too much wheat) she had previously eaten in a café. 

She now stayed in the office to eat.  Although the food was better, she no longer relaxed when she ate as she had in the café.  When eating in the office she ‘threw’ the food down her and got on with work.  There wasn’t enough time to digest the food and she was tense when she ate it.  This caused the wind.

Her meal might have been organic and nourishing but was it better for her?  Maybe the break and relaxation was just as important?  She’s now thinking about how she can get both.  he wonders if a relaxing sandwich and salad was better?  What are your thoughts about this?

Hello to all readers! This is the start of Angie and John’s blog, which is for practitioners, patients and anyone else who wants to tune into tips to help them to stay healthy.

Some of the lifestyle tips will come from Angie’s book ‘77 ways to greater wellbeing’ which is due to be published in December 09. Others tips will be based on news items, current research and other areas we think might interest you. We’ll also answer any of your questions – especially if they’re about lifestyle.

It’s Angie speaking now. Our first tip has been triggered by recent research carried out at Kaiser’s Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon. It found that a simple way for patients to double their weight loss is to write down everything they eat. The research was one of the largest ever carried out with 1685 obese patients participating.

One of the authors of the report noted that, ‘Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records’. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer’.

When I saw this I thought, ‘At last, research to back up what most of us practitioners have known for a long time!’ And we might add that when patients write down what they eat it not only helps them to lose weight but also to eat more healthily.

When we think a patient’s diet is affecting their health many of us acupuncturists ask new patients to write down all the food and drink they consume, for a week or two. This helps us to understand what they are eating which in turn gives us insight into how their diet is affecting their health. Any dietary suggestions we discuss with them are based on what they realistically eat – rather than any theory. If you are a practitioner, you, like me, may have had some surprises when you’ve asked people to do this.

I remember one patient who on my request wrote down what she ate for a week. She came back saying, ‘This has really helped me to eat well, I’m going to do it for another week’. So enthused was she by doing it that she carried on writing down everything she ate for a whole year!

She would bring in piles of paper on her less and less frequent visits and in the end seemed to just need acknowledgement that she was doing well. She knew I wasn’t going to be able to read about every peach slice, green bean or bowl of muesli. It was just the writing that kept her diet on the ‘straight and narrow’. Finally (and you may say it took a long time – but what’s a year if it’s changing a lifetime’s bad habits) she could sustain a healthy diet and no longer ‘needed’ to write anything down.

I’ve noticed that other patients change their diet just by the process of recording what they eat. One patient wrote down everything he ate and realized that he hardly ate any vegetables at all. His constant diet of take-away meals had very little ‘living’ food in it but he was oblivious until he saw it in writing. Once his lack of vitamins and minerals stared him in the face he began the process of changing to a healthier diet – it would never have happened if he hadn’t written down what he ate.

Another patient stopped snacking when she wrote down what she ate. This was due to the pure embarrassment about all the chocolate biscuits she ate. She later told me she didn’t want to lie and pretend she didn’t eat them – so she stopped eating them altogether! She felt so much better without them she made it a permanent change.

So how do we make a diet diary? There’s no set way of doing it. Some people just scribble down everything on odd sheets of paper. Others carry a notebook around wherever they go. The important thing is that they write down everything that enters their mouth – every morsel of food and every drop of drink – and of course every snack. Often it’s the snacks people want to deny! The day and date is also important. Anything else is an embellishment. The main thing is that the diary has to be truthful – so if you decide to write a diet diary or ask someone else to make one, the truth is part of the deal.

So what is it that we should eat? Many of you have a good idea of what constitutes a healthy diet. Chinese Medicine certainly understands the huge importance of diet in relation to health. We’ll go into it more in the next tip.

By the way if you’re interested in the research I cited above it’s called Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial and is in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine Volume 35, Issue 2, Pages 118-126 (August 2008).

Over the coming months, we – Angie and John Hicks – will be adding some interesting lifestyle tips for anyone interested in acupuncture: ranging from the students on our courses at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine in Reading, UK through to the general public looking for more information on the benefits of acupuncture and chinese medicine.

So please enjoy our blog and we look forward to your feedback here and we welcome any contact you would like to make with us at the College.

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