As an integrative medicine physician, I am always looking for ways to partner with patients to help them reach their health goals. In my practice, I encourage patients to combine lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition with conventional medicine to get healthy and stay healthy. 

Nutrition is key to the health and well-being of the entire family. Dietary information can at times be confusing and contradictory, leaving us uncertain about what to eat for their best health. However, modern science does have a clear understanding of optimal nutrition for human health, and it really is simple: Eat more nutritious, whole foods and eat fewer processed and packaged foods. 

What works best is to keep it simple! You don’t need to make perfect food choices all the time to improve the health of your family.

Eat More Whole Foods

Both children and adults should eat more whole foods. These  are typically located on the outside perimeter of the grocery store and include vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, poultry, whole grains, beans, dairy, nuts, and seeds. Whole foods are bursting with nutrients that help protect us from several health conditions, including heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. 

Whole foods taste great and leave you satisfied and less likely to go for processed and fast foods. 

A well-rounded meal for you and your family can include protein, healthy fats, and unprocessed carbohydrates. Proteins include meats, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, and nuts. They are necessary building blocks for growing muscles and bones, and are filling, leaving less room for those snack cravings. Healthy fats (Yes! The USDA now confirms that fats can be healthy!) include nuts, nut butter, olive oil, and avocado, to name a few. These are delicious, decrease hunger, and lower the risk for heart disease, obesity, and cancer. Unprocessed carbohydrates, such as whole grains, wheat, oats, rice, beans, lentils, and fruits, are full of fiber and many health-promoting nutrients. Eat these foods more often. 

Eat Fewer Processed and Packaged Foods 

These foods include sugary cereals, chips, pasta, pizza, cookies, candy bars, ice cream treats, and fast foods. They are high in carbs, calories, and may  also contain additives such as sugars, salts, preservatives, and colorings. These foods may be tasty, but they will not improve your health. Studies show they can increase hunger and cause wide fluctuations in blood sugar. Processed foods are known to impair a child’s school performance, causes irritability, and fuel the obesity epidemic. 

Processed foods are often found in the center of the grocery store. The added chemicals and added sugars in these foods negatively affect behavior, especially in children, and increase abdominal pain and bloating in children and adults. Processed drinks such as sweetened beverages are particularly problematic for health and metabolism. Sodas, sports drinks, and specialty coffees can rapidly elevate blood sugar and triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood). Processed carbohydrates and added sugars contribute to diabetes, fatty liver disease, and obesity. So we want to eat and drink these foods less often. 

Eat Now, Not Later

Modern nutritional science makes it clear that knowing when to eat and when not to eat can offer tremendous health benefits.  Benefits include having lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, inflammation, excess body weight, and it can even slow the aging process. This process is called intermittent fasting, but it is better referred to as timed restricted eating, or TRE. 

TRE involves eating in an 8- to 10-hour window on most days — for example, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — and then fasting overnight. Fluids like water, tea, and coffee are fine to have during the fasting window as long as they are sugar-free. Science teaches us that eating provides fuel, and fasting helps to repair the body, both of which are essential! TRE helps my patients supercharge their health. However, TRE is not recommended for children, and it may not be compatible with some medical conditions. Please check with your primary care provider. 

TRE is not recommended for children and may not be compatible with some medical conditions. Please check with your primary care provider. 

Improving your nutrition and your health can be far less complicated than you might expect. Start by eating more of the healthy whole foods and eating less of the processed and fast foods. Then consider eating in an 8- to 10-hour window most days. Remember: Keep it simple to get healthy and stay healthy!

Dr. Chris Link

Dr. Chris Link is an integrative medicine specialist practicing in Jefferson City. He partners with patients to improve their health by emphasizing nutrition and lifestyle. This approach is restorative and often limits a patient’s dependence on medications.