There are certainly a great many foods that boost vitality, while others leave it wanting. If we were to put nutri-vitality on the menu, what would it look like?
What is eating for vitality, anyway?
Naturopaths and healthy eating experts advocate a way of eating that allows the body not merely to function but to reach optimal health, unlock its full potential and better still, fulfil it.
That hinges on your food choices, and also everything that happens before and after you eat. It’s about choosing foods wisely (healthy, unprocessed, in season, local and organic if possible) and paying heed to all the actors involved in their production. And lastly, eating them with this awareness of the food, the ingredient, the (artisanal) fare elaborated and the human value that makes them what they are.
Because mindful eating is not just about taking the time to chew your food in an environment where you have peace and quiet. It does include that, but goes beyond it. Eating for vitality is about giving your body the right foods, the most rebalancing ones possible (to keep the acid-alkaline balance right). It’s also about giving them to a body that we take care of, that we honour, and to a mind and psyche that we take equally good care of. To abide by this principle, naturopathy is based on these three pillars: diet, physical exercise and emotional regulation. Some add in sleep. Around these pillars, there are a great many principles and golden rules. The key terms in healthy eating circles include but are not limited to the following:
The key factors in a diet full of vitality
It’s the top key factor. It’s impossible to eat well and get the most out of the nutrients in your food if you don’t enjoy it… See for yourself! Eat your meal in a calm, cheery atmosphere, in pleasant company, or alone but in a fulfilling atmosphere, and you will eat more slowly and digest it better. If we were to watch digestion happening live under MRI, we would see that all the digestive organs have improved, more free-flowing metabolism in a fulfilling environment, which would not be the case under stress. And regardless of who is keeping you company, for enjoyment to take centre stage, put creativity, colour and diversity on your plate. And of course, you would end up bored of even the most fancy-looking dish if you ate the same at every meal. Eat differently from each day to the next, be led by the season and your cravings, switch between cooking methods, and you will have every chance of preparing balanced meals, without setting yourself up for deficiencies.
As you know by now, processed foods are in the firing line! The more processed foods you have on your plate, the more adulterated it becomes and the more empty calories it ends up comprising. Ultra-processed food is a pale copy of itself, stripped of all its properties. Watch out for and steer clear of highly-modified foods, whether they are ‘concentrated’ (bad tomato sauces and chicken stock) or ‘expanded’ (potato puffs and crisps).
Focus especially on fruit and vegetables, because they are high in essential vitamins and trace elements. The organic variety is preferable. Fruit and vegetables should be the mainstay of your diet, supplemented with cereals and legumes. Animal protein is not essential, but is a welcome addition if you enjoy it. However, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals provide the most vitality and energy. They single-handedly boost the immune system and pamper the microbiota, not least when you eat them in fermented form, because they supply a significant quantity of probiotics that keep the intestinal flora healthy.
Isn’t it said that nature abhors a vacuum? Well yes, it does, but more than anything it adores homeostasis. In other words it is always seeking balance. And to strike this balance, our bodies are constantly trying to rebalance the pH of the liquid around our organs and tissues. If you eat too much acid (red meat, fried food, sweet foods, alcohol, etc.), your body will strive to compensate with alkalinising substances. If it doesn’t find them in your diet, it will tap into its reserves: bones, teeth, hair, etc. It’s up to you to give it what it is beseeching you for through an alkalinising diet (especially with fruit and vegetables of all kinds, white meat and fish rather than red meat and offal). An acid imbalance leads to underlying inflammation which disrupts metabolism (enzymes, hormones and all the substances secreted by the body are thrown off balance). Bear in mind that to promote balance, the contents of your plate should provide a little less than 50% protein, a good one-third vitamins and minerals, and a quarter fibre, fats (especially omega 3s) and carbohydrates (fructose rather than glucose). All of which should be salted sparingly, but sprinkled generously with pepper (the piperine in pepper is a great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory).
120 degrees Fahrenheit is the maximum temperature to cook food at whilst retaining all of its nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals. Higher than that and the vitamins get destroyed. The longer the cooking time, whether in water or not, the greater the loss. Opt instead for steaming in a basket, which requires a shorter cooking time and bypasses the dissolution of minerals in water.
Raw or cooked?
Take advantage of the summer and your holiday to buy your fruit and vegetables from the market. Do so daily to get variety in as well as an array of colours, depending on what you feel like eating and the weather. The warmer the weather, the more you will need (and therefore crave!) water-laden fruit and vegetables such as melon, watermelon and cucumber. Switch between raw and cooked foods so as not to tax your digestive system too much with raw food, especially if you have a soft spot for meat carpaccio and tartare. Vitamins and nutrients, not least certain enzymes, remain intact in raw meat and fish. Another plus point is that they need to be chewed for longer, which is beneficial to digestion. But eat them no more than two to three times a week. The same goes for fruit and vegetables in terms of benefits, so go ahead and include them in all your meal plans. This applies as long as you buy the good-quality variety via a short supply chain (local and organic), keep them in a cool place, and most importantly eat them soon after purchase (within a week). Eat them at the beginning rather than end of a meal, for better assimilation. When they sit at the top of the stomach, they ferment and slow down digestion. At the beginning of the meal, raw vegetables stimulate digestive function.
There’s no point in eating a lot in a bid to eat healthily! Remember the well-known saying that advocates leaving the table still a little hungry… These days it’s common to have lost the feeling of hunger as well that of satiety. We eat according to a social schedule during office hours or at family gatherings, and the collective setting is part of what makes food enjoyable. But don’t forget to heed what you are feeling! If everyone else at the restaurant table wants to have an aperitif, starter, main course with wine, dessert and all… Take time to feel what is right for you, rather than doing what the group does for fear of being out of step or feeling like an oddball. Perhaps everyone is ordering meat dishes? See what your gut is saying and be fully aware of how you feel when you read the menu. If you are undecided, your body will send you the right signals…
From time to time and on an intermittent basis. To be done over one or two weeks by having three meals a day and nothing in between: lunch around noon, an afternoon snack at around 3 p.m., dinner around 8 p.m. and then nothing else until lunch the next day. A break of about 16 hours allows the digestive system to be revitalized, and with it the entire metabolism.
Does “intuitive eating” ring any bells with you? Two American nutrition experts, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, have led a crusade against dieting. Conversely, they advocate answering hunger signals, no longer categorising foods as “good” or “bad” and encouraging people to diffuse the conflict in their relationship with food, such as it is, to create or recreate a correct and balanced relationship with food and intuitively move towards nutrition for vitality. QED (see the intuitiveeating.org site).
Listen to it! Not just in the restaurant when choosing what to order! But simply depending on what gives you vitality or makes you feel tired. Even if you are not allergic to them, some foods slow down your digestion, literally knocking you out after a meal. Make a note of them to gradually cut down, or cut them out entirely. Be sure to time your meals carefully. Here too, your stomach will have something to say! In the evening, avoid fatty and sugary foods and those that contain too much protein. After finishing your meal, wait more than an hour before going to bed. If you go to bed on a full stomach, before digestion has even started, you feel weighed down, sleep is difficult and, ultimately, the assimilation of nutrients is suboptimal. To get the most out of a healthy diet, don’t forget to take a nap after your meal. You know that early afternoon slump? It’s down to your digestion which, being energy-intensive, sends you the signal that it would be very useful for you to enter sleep mode… Even for a power nap.
Incorporate them into your daily routine by always having a stash in your kitchen cupboards or fridge! They are so high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and trace elements that they have a great many properties, and help prevent many of the “diseases of the century” (obesity, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases, etc.). Don’t overlook goji berries, blackcurrants, kale, pomegranate, blueberry, spirulina, klamath, chlorella, turmeric, ginseng, royal jelly (though not for cancer patients, since royal jelly gives cancer cells a boost!), sprouted seeds and soya (except in case of hormone-sensitive cancer).
The enemies of vitality
Crisps and fizzy drinks
Or junk food to be precise, empty calories… And so on. Simply put, these foods provide your body with nothing of any merit. Even though they are certainly pleasurable for some, and take others right back to their childhood (in a nice way). Whether it’s crisps full of bad fats, mass-produced pizzas, fizzy drinks or fruit juices that masquerade as healthy but are just packed with sugar, we suggest you slam on the brakes…
It’s essential to divide up your meals, starting with a good savoury, protein-rich breakfast. The body does not need sugar in the morning, so this provides enough to enable the metabolism to switch from sleep mode to awake mode. Then head into a balanced lunch (animal or vegetable protein, vegetables, legumes), an afternoon snack (where something sweet does fit in), and a light dinner, made up essentially of vegetables, cereals and legumes. However, dividing up your meals is not the same as snacking, so don’t get the two mixed up… Snacking is a disaster because it turns humans, whether omnivorous or vegetarian, into grazers! This gives the digestive system little respite. Remember that as far as the digestive system is concerned, even a small snack is like a proper meal, and boosts digestion for a cycle lasting about two hours.
Nope, they are no better than the full-fat, full-sugar versions (they are nothingburgers)! Low-fat foods are straight-up fraudsters that trick the brain, induce enzymatic chain reactions and trigger imbalances. Obviously, they break the momentum of vitality… Watch out for aspartame, better known in the form of “sweeteners”. The brain thinks that sugar is being supplied to the body, which gets a message to respond to the (artificial) spike in blood sugar. This triggers the secretion of (real!) insulin to assimilate the sugar (which is not really there because the aspartame is a decoy). As for low-fat products, they are often pumped full of water and do nothing but cost money without bringing anything to the table.
While alcohol is associated with getting the party started, it destroys vitality. You don’t need reminding that alcohol intake presents a great many health risks… Contrary to what you might hear about the “French paradox”, even moderate consumption is in no way beneficial. Official recommendations: no more than 10 drinks per week, no more than two drinks per day. Because even in “reasonable” quantities, alcohol increases the risk of cancer (liver, colon, oesophagus, stomach, mouth and throat), cardiovascular disease and mental illness. Alcohol does cause cognitive disorders such as memory loss, all the more if the diet is not a balanced one.
It’s not hard to grasp – some good artisanal, regional or local cured meat from time to time is a real pleasure rooted in the natural heritage of its place of origin. But eating cheap, mass-produced cured meat that’s overloaded with salt and antibiotics turns this delectation of honest fare into slow-acting poison. As for the health benefits, how can I put it…?
Eggs – yes… And no
Eggs often get reviled, and deemed a recipe for disaster for those with high cholesterol. But they are nothing of the sort! Eggs are an excellent source of protein and can be eaten every day, or almost (up to six eggs a week). Avoid cheap eggs from battery hens at all costs, opting instead for organic ones from free-range hens.
Yes, we had to end on that note. That number one enemy of any health kick! With or without good nutrition, stress, which goes hand in hand with disturbed sleep, prevents the body from getting the most out of the nutrients in a meal designed for vitality. So relax and enjoy your meal!
With thanks to Lisa Salis, Marielle Alix, Céline Vaquer and Cindy Montier for their good advice.