From on high, five tips for healthy living

It was a weekend-long conversation that I found both fascinating and frustrating.

The four of us — Alan, Lois, Grace and I — were backpacking Easter weekend on top of Virginia, in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. If there’s an activity that lends itself to long, extended conversations, it’s backpacking. You wake together, you have breakfast together, you hike all day together, you have dinner together, you crawl into your respective tents and listen to one another snore together. It is the ultimate in togetherness. While I was aware of Alan’s interest/obsession with nutrition (including a two-year stint as a fruitarian and his days as a carrot juice magnet) and gathered that his girlfriend, Lois, a nurse, was likewise inclined (she was), Grace was a wildcard. Until she pulled from her backpack a 25-pound bag of fresh food. (Note to non-backpackers: That’s a lot of weight; most backpackers rely largely on dehydrated foods that way a fifth as much.) Though nearly half Alan’s age, Grace was up for discussing his every nutritional nuance, from dehydrating watermelons to waiting 30 minutes to brush your teeth after sucking a lemon because you could brush away your citric-acid-softened enamel.

It was a lot for this mainstream consumer to comprehend. Too much, in fact.

“Grace,” I finally said, “this all sounds good but I’m a simple man. Can you distill this down to a handful of suggestions for treating your body right?”

Grace was only too happy to oblige. For whereas nutrition is a hobby for Alan, it’s Grace’s profession. Grace Duling is a nurse by training and, as I discovered mid-trip, a Health Coach/Certified Case Manager for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, which also sponsors this blog. Essentially, that means that people with BCBSNC insurance can call Grace for help on everything from how to manage their diabetes to, I reckon, how long to wait to brush after sucking on a lemon.

Here are Grace’s five suggestions for treating your body better:

1. Drink water The body is amazingly designed and made up of about 60 percent water. (The amount of water varies by tissue or organ: lean muscle tissue contains 75 percent water by weight, blood 95 percent, body fat 14 percent, bone 22 percent.) Many functions in the body use water to carry out important processes such as digestion, elimination, absorption of nutrients and hydration of joints, ligaments and vertebral discs. Water also provides moisture to keep tissues in the ears, nose and throat from drying out. During a person's normal day, one loses water and it needs to be replenished. Your body is designed for water.  Most people need about 2 liters of pure water a day and sometimes more depending on the situation, circumstances and environment.  For instance, active people who exercise need more water than an individual who is sedentary.  You can get this from drinking water or from fresh fruits and vegetables.  Remember that one needs to be drinking water throughout the day not just when thirsty.  Being thirsty is already a sign you are slightly dehydrated and sometimes hunger pains are actually your body's cue for wanting water.  Water is the best source for staying hydrated.  For more on hydration, visit Mayoclinic.com.

2. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables The typical Standard American Diet is lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. I mean the kind fresh from the garden. Buy organic when possible or at the very least follow the Environmental Working Group's rules of the The Clean 15 and The Dirty Dozen.  The USDA advises eating 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and there are plenty of other credible sources, which also state the value of adding these to your diet.  It's important that we eat as much of these natural sources as possible because they provide so many benefits for our body such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Eating them helps us prevent certain diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and keeping us at a healthy weight. We also feel better when eating whole, fresh sources of fruits and vegetables. We have increased energy, our body's function better, we sleep better and even lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.  What's not to love?

3. Lean meats (no added hormones or antibiotics) or lean sources of protein Our bodies have organs, tissues, muscles  and bone that are all made from cells that require proteins. These proteins are made up of substances called amino acids and we get them from our diet by eating sources of lean meats or meat alternatives. Examples of this would be chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, fish, eggs or alternatives such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds or even soy (if you are an individual that can tolerate it).  Dairy products can also provide a source of protein but not all of us can eat dairy.  So take your pick as there are lots of options. The idea is to include protein in one's diet.

4. Reduce sugar These days sugar is prevalent in just about everything we eat that is manufactured or processed.  Sure it makes things taste good but sugar doesn't really provide us any nutrient benefit and it's actually addicting in some ways. Eating sugar can give you a quick burst of energy but usually it's short lived and then your body comes crashing down. This makes you feel tired, grumpy and just plain "yuck". Sugar is empty calories that more times than not causes excess weight gain, contributes to Diabetes, Heart Disease and other unwanted ailments. Most people don't realize how much sugar they are consuming. Statistics tell us that these days Americans are averaging 2-3 pounds of sugar consumption a week as compared to only 5 pounds a year a century ago. That's astounding!  Simply put the message is to reduce sugar in all natural forms (honey, maple syrup, white, brown or cane sugar) and avoid/eliminate artificial forms of sugar (aspartame, saccharin).

5. Take a complete multi-vitamin We all have busy schedules and sometimes we just don't eat like we should. Supplementing daily with a whole food source (natural, not the synthetic) multi-vitamin is a good idea. Active individuals or people who choose alternative dietary choices may also need to supplement with Complex B-Vitamins to be sure they are getting all the B-vitamins especially Vitamin B-12 which is important for healthy nerve function, blood cell function and overall energy.

Photo: Grace Duling and her provisions for the weekend: Fresh food is great on a backpacking trip — if your back can handle it.

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