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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Building Health, One Bite at a Time

Mar 06, 2011 03:50PM ● By Kim Childs

Before there were pharmacies, there were berries, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. These foods nourished cave dwellers, says Arlington nutritionist Charlie Smigelski, and they’re still vital for maintaining healthy bodies today. “We are what we eat,” says Smigelski. “The groceries that I’m consuming today really do represent the foundation for how I’m repairing and restoring myself for tomorrow.”

He explains that our bodies thrive on adequate protein to build and maintain muscle throughout life, while fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Fruits also help to create a healthy intestinal ecosystem, which affects much more than digestion.

“Fruit fibers nourish all the friendly bacteria that have a lot to do with keeping your intestinal cells happy,” Smigelski says. “In turn, this keeps your brain happy, because there are as many serotonin receptors in your gut as there are in your head.”

Those fruit-nourished bacteria also support immune system functions that originate in the intestines, he notes, citing Tufts University research that suggests antioxidant-rich berries can improve aging brains by cleaning out free radicals. “It’s stunning that you can improve brain function in somebody just by giving them half a cup of berries every day,” Smigelski remarks. “There’s no pharmaceutical agent on the planet that can do that.”

Good fats are also essential for physical and mental health, he says. Omega-3 oils from fish, flaxseed and walnuts can offset anxiety and depression and regulate heartbeat, while the gamma linolenic acid in omega-6 oils moistens the skin, increases beneficial cholesterol and decreases harmful cholesterol. Sources include raw sunflower or pumpkin seeds and evening primrose oil capsules.

When it comes to carbohydrates, Smigelski prefers sweet potatoes and legumes to bread and pasta. “All we are saying is, give peas a chance,” he quips. One reason is that legumes are a great source of magnesium, which regulates the body’s anti-inflammatory processes. “People not getting enough magnesium have an accelerated rate of bone loss, cholesterol hardening in their arteries and belly fat accumulation,” says Smigelski. “They may also be at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s.”

To help all these nutrients reach their destinations, Smigelski recommends fitness practices such as yoga or Tai chi to keep one’s life-force energy moving well throughout the body.

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