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Trying to eat better can be as simple as slowing down and eating the rainbow

Let’s face it; if you’re like most people, you want to be as healthy as you possibly can. Chances are that if you’re trying to get healthier, one of the first areas you think about is your diet.

What you eat has a huge impact on your overall health, how you feel, your mood, energy levels, and even your immunity. The link between diet and health is so strong that the Chinese say that if a person isn’t feeling well, they should first try healing through their diet, and only if diet doesn’t work should they try acupuncture and herbs.

Sometimes, it can be hard to know what you should eat. You’re bombarded with messages about new diets that work wonders and miracle foods that heal everything. The reality is that the right combination of foods is different for each person. However, while the specific foods that are right for you may be different from that of your best friend, there are some guidelines for eating better that work for everyone.

Here’s my best advice based on Chinese food therapy, Western medicine, and my experience in the clinic:

Go slow. Inhaling your food in two minutes between meetings or while you’re running out the door isn’t healthy. This is all about digestion, and in order to get the most nutrition from your food, you need to digest it fully. This starts with slowing down and taking the time to chew your food. You actually begin the digestive process in your mouth through the breakdown of carbohydrates by chemicals in your saliva. If you’re gulping down your food on the run, your digestion is suffering.

Plan your meals and snacks. People who are busy or tired tend to grab what’s handy, not what’s healthy. If you know that you’re going to be too tired to make an elaborate meal when you get home from work, plan ahead and have something nutritious pre-made or easy to heat up, instead of another frozen pizza or dinner from the drive-through.

Stop eating before you’re full. It takes a while for your mind to catch up with your stomach. Some experts recommend that you stop eating when you’re 80 percent full. Doing so is associated with weighing less and living longer.

Pay attention to what you’re drinking. Soda and fruit juice are full of sugar, but many people don’t realize how much. That’s because the sugar is dissolved into liquid, so manufacturers can pack a lot of it into your drink without it being visible. A 12 oz. can of cola has about a quarter of a cup of sugar. That’s a lot! Why is sugar a problem? Because taking in high levels of sugar promotes inflammation, leads to weight gain, and increases your risk for diabetes and high blood pressure.

Eat lots of colors. Eating a wide variety of colorful foods, especially in the form of fruits and vegetables, ensures that you’re getting a wide range of nutrients. When you’re thinking about what to eat, just work your way through the rainbow; red peppers and tomatoes, orange citrus and squash and carrots, yellow beans and onions, all kinds of greens, and blue and purple berries. You get the idea.

Get cooking. This actually means a couple of things. First, by cooking your own food, you’re using simple ingredients and have control over what’s going into your meal. Second, in Chinese medicine, cooking your food, instead of eating it raw, energetically warms it up and makes it easier to digest. It takes a lot of energy for your body to break down very fibrous foods, but cooking them even just a little breaks down the fibrous cell walls and makes the nutrients more available for you to digest and absorb.

Don’t skip breakfast. I know, a lot of people tell me they just aren’t hungry first thing in the morning. However, eating just a small amount of food helps to level out your blood sugar, decreases food cravings, and lowers the risk of you grabbing a sugar-laden doughnut mid-morning.

Get clean. When you can, choose local and organic foods. Also, become label-savvy. If you’re considering buying a food that has unpronounceable ingredients, put it right back on the shelf. It’s full of stuff that’s not exactly food. A better choice is to eat foods in their original form. (e.g., corn on the cob instead of corn chips or corn sweeteners).

Go for the rough stuff. Many years ago, after a colonoscopy, the doctor told me to try to get about 25 grams of fiber a day. At the time I thought I was getting plenty, but that sounded like a lot. However, if you’re eating mostly plant-based foods and whole grains, you’re probably coming close to that goal. Fiber is important because it moves food along through your intestinal tract. It also helps to lower your cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and your weight. Fiber also feeds the symbiotic microbes in your microbiome.

Whether you struggle with funky digestion, poor energy, or other health issues, your diet is a good first place to start turning things around. If you need a little help determining what specific foods are best for you, a practitioner of Chinese medicine can make recommendations based on your body type, your health history, and the healing traditions of this amazing healing system.

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com