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A sense of immediacy makes it easier to eat well

Published March 12. 2011 09:00AM

In "The Great Emotional Escape," an article about how to handle difficult emotions by Valerie Reiss in the February issue of Natural Health, Christiane Northrup, M.D. and author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, says "getting a handle on your emotions and learning elegant ways to name them, claim them and express them is probably the most important thing you can ever do for your health."

Northrup does make an important point. My only objection is her use of "most" preceding important.

Just like a middling team meeting the mighty champion, I believe most people "get up" for the internal upset that accompanies major emotional upheaval, like a breakup, a firing, or an untimely loss of a loved one. So while I agree that dealing positively with these emotions and not denying them helps your health, I still feel something else has a greater effect.

Cultivating a sense of immediacy.

If that phrase is a little too abstract for you, consider the latest concrete research on cigarette smoking. University of Minnesota researchers have found that the genetic damage resulting from smoking and often leading to cancer does not take years, months, or even days.

They determined that phenanthrene, one of the PAHs (polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons) in cigarette smoke that can lead to lung cancer, becomes toxic in the blood stream and causes DNA damage 15 to 30 minutes after smoking a single cigarette.

Would anyone ever smoke that first cigarette if he or she was totally attuned to what happens in the body not years or months or days, but minutes afterward? I would like to think not.

Eating junk is essentially the same. You're doing significant damage to your body with every bad meal significant enough that after researchers at the Imperial College of London studied the effects of fast food on the heart last summer, they suggested placing low-dose dispensers of statins, drugs used to lower LDLs, at fast food restaurants in order to reduce the immediate increase in the risk of heart attack that occurs after consuming the likes of cheeseburgers, French fries, and milk shakes.

But cultivating a sense of immediacy toward food doesn't mean you need to focus on the negative as a way to avoid it. It also allows you to see the positive, motivating you to eat better and allowing your diet to help rather than hurt your health.

For years, for instance, doctors didn't know why Eskimos had such a low rate of heart disease even though they consumed so much dietary fat, about 50 percent of their daily calories. So in the 1970s scientists observed the Inuit people of Greenland and found much of their consumed fat was coming from "fatty" varieties of fish like salmon, herring, and sardines all high in omega-3 fatty acids, a fat that we now know promotes heart health and reduces the likelihood of death from cardiac arrest.

In fact, subsequent studies of omega-3 fatty acids, a fatty acid essential for the development of babies' brain, have found omega-3s to lower triglyceride levels, lower high blood pressure, and reduce the stiffness and swelling produced by rheumatoid arthritis.

Ingesting the flavanols in cocoa also seems to reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular disease.

A study performed at the University of California San Francisco and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology this summer found that subjects drinking a high-flavanol cocoa drink twice a day for 30 days received many heart-related health benefits. The drink dropped systolic blood pressure, improved blood vessel function by 47 percent, and more than doubled the number of angionenic cells circulating in the blood, cells that repair damaged blood vessels and help maintain healthy blood vessel function.

Other research has once again linked drinking green tea to slowing the growth of cancer cells. This finding, published in the academic journal Phytomedicine based on research conducted by scientists at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, was superseded surprisingly by another: the polyphenols in green tea bind with toxic compounds and protect brain cells.

Because of this, the Newcastle researchers believe that regularly drinking green tea could reduce the odds of developing Alzheimer's as well as other forms of dementia.

Studies like these only serve to reinforce that old cliché: you are what you eat.

Notice the immediacy in that statement.

You are what you eat right now not next month or next year or when you grow old and retire. Get attuned to that and you'll find yourself wanting not just foods that taste the best but foods that allow you to function your best, too.

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