The Proactive Patient
Lisa Hall
Table of Contents
Excerpt - Healthy Living
Excerpt - Patient Rights and Responsibilities
Excerpt from Chapter Two
Head it off at the Pass
A healthy diet should be doable and affordable. If you set the bar too high, you may get discouraged and find solace at the nearest fast-food restaurant. According to internist Celia Lloyd-Turney, MD, the biggest reasons for failing to maintain a healthy lifestyle are cost and time. But a healthy lifestyle is attainable, say Ivy Larson and Andrew Larson, MD, authors of The Gold Coast Cure. Their all-inclusive lifestyle plan reduces the inflammation that causes conditions such as asthma, allergies, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis. The program also reduces cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. The Larsons’ mission is to make a healthy lifestyle possible for the average busy family with budget constraints. They accomplish this with healthy, time-saving recipes in their Whole Foods Diet Cookbook and with a thirty-minute workout in their book Firmer, Fitter, Faster. Their Web site,, features video clips packed with helpful tips on nutritious food choices and efficient exercise routines.

Healthy foods do not have to be expensive. Beans, nuts, tofu, tempeh, ground flaxseeds, whole grains, and canned salmon are excellent examples of inexpensive whole foods (food that is processed as little as possible). Frozen fruits and vegetables are also great sources of nutrition. While selecting a bag of frozen blueberries during a recent trip to the grocery store, I was pleased to see just one ingredient listed on the bag—blueberries. No preservatives or sugar, just blueberries. The grocery store is not the only source of inexpensive healthy food. A wonderful program called Angel Food Ministries makes healthy food available at affordable prices. They sell a box of food that would normally cost sixty dollars for thirty dollars. This nondenominational program is open to anyone regardless of income and operates out of churches in communities across the country. For more information, visit Many communities have food banks for people who cannot afford to purchase the Ministries’ food or who do not have Angel Food Ministries available.

If you are committed to preparing healthy meals, here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind while shopping for and preparing food:
  •  Aim for five to nine servings per day of fruits and vegetables. This is easier than it sounds. You can consume several servings in a healthy salad or in a marinara sauce with vegetables.
  • Eat a rainbow of colors. No, this does not mean M&Ms or Skittles! Try to select whole foods in as many different colors as possible. Think strawberries, blueberries, oranges, melons, different-colored bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash.
  • Buy organic, if possible. If your budget will not accommodate organic foods, the next best thing for produce is a fruit-and-vegetable wash to remove pesticides.
  • Select food with the fewest ingredients and ingredients with the fewest syllables. You will find most of these products in the outer perimeter of your grocery store. Try to avoid ingredients ending in “ose.”
  • Eat meat sparingly. It takes three or four days to break down in the body, stressing the liver and other organs. Meat—particularly red meat and processed meat—has been linked to increased risk for several cancers, especially colon cancer.
  • Select the healthiest protein sources possible. Animal proteins carry a number of risks. Farmers treat conventionally raised farm animals living in cramped quarters with antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. When these antibiotics are passed on to us in our food supply, we risk becoming antibiotic resistant. Free-range farm animals are allowed to roam and do not need antibiotics. Grass-fed animals are also healthier because they have not been fed animal by-products. Hormone-free farm animals are much safer for us to eat since they haven’t been given the hormones that can increase our cancer risk. Look for terms such as “grass-fed,” “free-range,” “certified antibiotic,” and “USDA certified organic” when selecting meat products. Meat-free protein sources abound in the form of tofu, tempeh, and beans.
  • Select fish with low levels of mercury and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.Omega-3 fatty acids have a number of health benefits, but high mercury levels can cause symptoms such as lethargy, inability to concentrate, irritability, and numbness and tingling in the extremities. For a listing of both in a variety of seafood choices, visit
  • Select the healthiest dairy products. Dairy has long been considered a source of calcium, which has been shown in some studies to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. But most of the alternative practitioners I consulted and some of the allopathic practitioners believe that the risks associated with dairy outweigh the benefits. The concerns they cited include antibiotic and estrogen levels in dairy products, fat content in some dairy sources, adverse effects on the immune system, and changing properties as a result of pasteurization and homogenization. But there are ways to enjoy dairy while modifying the risks. Fermented dairy sources such as yogurt and kefir are healthier options. Hormone-free dairy products remove the estrogen issue and low-fat products reduce the unhealthy fats associated with many dairy products. If you do not have a dairy-rich diet, there are other steps you can take towards osteoporosis prevention. Tobacco products and soft drinks erode bone tissue. Eliminating these products can help reduce osteoporosis, along with weight-bearing exercise, adequate vitamin D intake and calcium-rich plant sources, particularly leafy green vegetables.
  • Know your fats. Not all fats are bad. The worst is trans fat, found in fried food, cookies, crackers, chips, and shortening. Saturated fat, found in red meat and vegetable oil, is also unhealthy but not quite to the extent of trans fat. A much better choice is polyunsaturated fat, found in flaxseed oil, fish, and walnuts. Monounsaturated fatty acids are the healthiest, and you can find them in olive oil, canola oil, almonds, avocados, and dark chocolate.
  • Eliminate white flour in favor of whole wheat flour or white wheat flour. Replace unhealthy starches with whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta. These foods add fiber for fullness and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • Plan ahead. Prepare a list before you go to the grocery store, determine what you will eat before you become ravenous, and review nutritional information for restaurants online before you go to them. Advance planning can make the difference between a healthy meal and a binge.
  • Watch sugar and sweetener intake. Try to limit products containing corn syrup. Replace granulated sugar with lower-calorie, less-processed turbinado sugar. Consider the dangers of artificial sweeteners: Aspartame has been linked to a number of neurological disorders; saccharin testing has revealed bladder cancer in laboratory rats; and sucralose, the newest artificial sweetener, may cause side effects such as skin rashes, dizziness, and intestinal cramping. Stevia and agave nectar, both natural substances, are safer alternatives. The major soft drink companies are developing diet drinks sweetened with stevia; although the stevia is less toxic, the drinks will still contain additives and coloring though.
  • Stay hydrated. Water makes up 65 to 75 percent of the body and is necessary for them to function properly. To maintain a proper level of hydration and flush away toxins, you must drink six to eight glasses of water per day. Plain water is the most efficient way to replace lost body fluids, followed by unsweetened fruit or vegetable juices diluted with water or seltzer water. With a plethora of water choices available, which should you choose—mineral, distilled, sparkling, or artesian? According to Linda Rector-Page, author of Healthy Healing, all of these choices are all healthier than tap water, although she recommends distilled water for healing (Rector-Page 1992, 63). However, several of the physicians I interviewed maintain that municipal tap water is safe and that the amount of toxicity is negligible, far less than in soft drinks.
Ideally, you will receive most of your vital nutrients from healthy foods. Supplements are just what the term suggests – they supplement your diet. They are an adjunct therapy designed to complement a healthy diet. But even a healthy diet needs support, because some nutrient levels are nearly impossible to achieve with diet alone, particularly the omega-3 family. Joseph Brasco, MD recommends a daily regimen of vitamin E and fish oil supplementation for a better ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to the less healthy omega-6 fatty acids. He also recommends a daily probiotic supplement for everyone. In his book, The Probiotic Diet, Dr. Brasco describes how the vast majority of autoimmune disorders originate in the gastrointestinal tract. When there are not enough healthy bacteria present, the GI tract becomes a gateway to inflammation. Daily probiotic supplementation helps feed healthy bacteria to the GI tract. Of course, a healthy diet is also key to a happy gut. As a holistic practitioner, Martha Whitney has seen the path of destruction left in the gut by unhealthy foods. Too many over-processed, highly refined foods cause the mucous build up that is a hot bed for so many illnesses. The good news is that Martha has seen a great deal of improvement in those who are willing to adopt a healthier diet.

If you are getting annual physicals, then your doctor will check some of your vitamin levels, such as B-12, as part of your evaluation. Your standard evaluation may not include testing for Vitamin D levels, even though recent studies show that many of us are deficient. In fact, Dr. Phillip Watkins has found that eighty percent of his mitral valve prolapse and autonomic disorders patients are Vitamin D-deficient. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to conditions such as osteoporosis, depression, diabetes, cancer, heart disease (Holick 2007), and more recently, multiple sclerosis (Goodin 2009). If you are interested in Vitamin D testing, you may need to request a specialized test from your physician.

If your diet is not rich in antioxidants, you may want to consider a supplement. According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidants may slow or prevent the development of cancer. Additionally, a recent study found that the antioxidants in one glass of wine per day may lower the risk of Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer (Preidt 2009). Reviews are mixed on antioxidants as a preventive for heart disease, but the American Heart Association recommends getting antioxidants from food rather than from supplements. It cites red wine and grape juice as sources of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. 

Taking Charge of Your Own Health
Inside Taking Charge of Your Own Health
Organize Your Medical Information
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