At Peace With My Bacteria: How to Achieve a Truly Healthy Lifestyle

According to the World Health Organization, health is a positive state of physical, mental and social well-being and absence of disease. Nutritionist and somnologist Marina Kogay always tells her patients that eating good food and sleeping well is the way to be healthy and live happily. Ms. Kogay recently gave a public lecture at ITMO University on dieting, weight loss, microbiota and the link between sleep and depression.

Recent years have marked a growth in the trend toward “active aging” as a way to live longer and healthier. But what does our health depend on? As statistics show, most people believe that 88% of a person's health is determined by healthcare, and only 10% is determined by their lifestyle. Meanwhile, about 50% of a person's health is determined by their lifestyle, 20% is influenced by their environment, 10% by genetics and only 10% is determined by healthcare.

Marina Kogay’s “Health Pill”

The “Health Pill” consists of several components: nutrition, physical activity, sleep, microbiota, and stress management.

Nutrition

We often understand “healthy nutrition” as simply “more vegetables and fewer potatoes”, but it is much more than that. “Healthy nutrition” is defined as a combination of three elements: balance, rational approach, and the quality of food.

There are six basic groups of foods such as vegetables and fruits (fiber), starchy foods (carbs), foods containing proteins, dairy products, and foods containing fat. To ensure a healthy lifestyle, WHO recommends eating lots of fruits and vegetables daily to help your microbiota flourish. Starchy foods (such as rice, cereals, potatoes, pasta, bread, etc.) contain carbohydrates, which is a major source of energy for your body. Foods containing proteins (eggs, meat, and fish) are essential for a healthy growth. Dairy products are a source of proteins, too, while foods containing fat are a good source of energy. Your body also needs fats to create hormones. As you can see, it is very important to maintain a balanced and varied diet.

Each group, in turn, contains high-quality and low-quality products that differ in the amount of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. So, in the “Fruits” group, fresh fruits, berries, dried fruits are high-quality, while packaged juice is low-quality. In the “Vegetables” group fresh vegetables, greens, and freshly squeezed juice are high-quality; vegetable chips are low-quality. In the “Starchy foods” group, whole grains, whole grain bread, and pasta are high-quality, while white bread, white rice, fast food, fried potatoes, and chips are low-quality. In the “Proteins” group, fresh meat, poultry, fish, cheese, cottage cheese, eggs, and legumes constitute high-quality products, while processed foods and fast food constitute low-quality products. In the “Dairy” group, fermented milk products are high-quality, and products with sugar and flavors are low-quality. In the “Fats” group nuts, seeds, unrefined oil, and butter constitute high-quality products, and margarine and hydrogenated fats are low-quality products. You can eat both high-quality and low-quality products as long as you fit them into your calorie goals.

Every Diet Has a Beginning and an End

Harvard scientist Frank Sacks along with a team of colleagues have conducted a study on how diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates affect weight loss. 811 overweight adults were divided into four groups, each following one of four diets. During the trial, they consumed 750 calories less than their total energy expenditure. The amount of weight loss after 2 years was similar among participants assigned to different diets. So, it doesn’t matter what you eat, it is only the amount of calories per day that affects your weight loss. But remember that every diet has a beginning and an end, but healthy eating is forever.

Physical Activity

Everyone’s activity level is basically determined by the number of steps per day: those hitting less than 5,000 steps a day have low physical activity, 5,000-7,000 steps a day suggest a medium level of activity, while those hitting more than 10,000 steps have a high level of activity. However, it is highly recommended to walk for at least 40 minutes a day. Daily physical activity and walking are factors that promote weight loss. But it’s not that simple. The thing is, when doing resistance or strength training, your body uses carbs, while when you exercise moderately but regularly, your body gets energy from fats instead of carbohydrates, leading to weight loss. Exercises strengthen your muscles. Muscle mass needs more energy than fat mass, therefore the more muscular you are, the easier it is to expend the energy you’re taking on board. So don’t think of exercise as the best way of losing weight; it is just a way to make your muscles stronger.

Why Your Workout Isn't Working

You're working out every day but still not getting any thinner? This is because abandoning unhealthy habits often causes stress and tension, which prevents weight loss. That’s why it is important to comply with three criteria: regularity, moderation, and pleasure.

Sleep and Detox

We spend one-third of our lifetime sleeping, and for a good reason. When we sleep, our body removes toxins from its system, produces T-cells which maintain our immune system, relaxes from its daily activities and recharges. Most of the hormones and chemicals in our body are produced while we are asleep. Without proper sleep, our cells build up toxic waste, our immune system becomes sluggish, and cellular damage begins to occur. Unsurprisingly, there is a link between sleep and depression.

Microbiota

In 2008, the project "Human Microbiota Genome" was launched. The scientists focused on the genotype of bacteria in the human body and their impact on human health. The researchers found out that the human biome falls into one of three types of enterotypes, human gut ecosystems that have discrete effects on people’s health. What bacteria live in your gut depends strongly on what you eat.

Why We Need Bacteria

Russian biologist Ilya Mechnikov was the first to put forward the theory that bacteria affect human health. Today scientists know that bacteria are a very important part of their ecosystem. They help us digest and process certain foods as well as fight off mental disorders like depression. So it’s really bacteria that help you stay healthy and look good.

Who Wants Chocolate?

You see, it’s your bacteria who want chocolate. If you’re binge-eating chocolate, that means that your bacteria like chocolate. But the good thing here is that we can change our microbiota in two weeks. If you don’t eat your favorite food for about two weeks, you microbiota will change and your bacteria will probably like something else.

Stress-Management

Food is an indicator of our wellbeing. People often eat not because they’re hungry, but because they need to compensate for their inner problems, such as stress, anxiety, lack of love and compassion, etc. So starting a diet won’t solve your problems. Just eat well, sleep enough and exercise to be fit and healthy.

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