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The Pillars of Health: Diet - Vecinos

Marianne Martinez
  • April 27, 2020

By: Kenny Parmenter, LCSW-A, LCAS-A


Last week I wrote about what is self-care. We learned the difference between the content, recommendations we are given or things we do for self-care, and the process how we learn to value and prioritize self-care. Over the next 5 weeks I will lay out more of the content and process of self-care by discussing the 5 pillars of health: Diet, Exercise, Sleep, Mind/Body connection, & Breath. You will find many different descriptions of the pillars of health out there. These I have taken from my work at Pacific Quest, a horticultural therapy program for troubled youth and young adults.

Diet: We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” We are not talking about Violet from Willy Wonka turning into a blueberry, but the long-term effects of what you put in your body and how it impacts your health. Our bodies are also effected by things like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar crashes. Have you ever gotten a headache from dehydration? Or not been able to resist one more cookie? Sugar addiction is real, folks!

The CDC recommends fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free/Low-fat milk, lean meats: poultry & fish; beans, eggs and nuts; reduce saturated fats/trans-fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugar. Zimmer (2012) states, “stay on the periphery of your supermarket, the middle contains processed food and periphery contains the fresh produce, dairy, and meats.” Stay within your daily caloric limit, which varies for each person & body type. Add some color to your plate: dark leafy greens, lean white meat, whole grains, and fruits make for a well rounded meal.

Think back to the old days when people did not have access to canned food and processed foods. I imagine their digestion and arteries were in much better shape. Processed foods were introduced in the 1910 and later in the century scientist realized those who could not afford or find fresh food (i.e. lower SES population, Native Americans) began to see negative health consequences. There is a chemical reaction in preserving food known as the Maillard reaction, which has negative consequences of the loss of vitamin C and B1 as well as the production of acrylamide. We know now that Native Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes than their Euro-American counterparts. Appalachia is also proportionately more effected than the average population. The Appalachian people are 1.4 times more likely to have diabetes. Individuals in the lower socio-economic status are more likely to fall victim to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Many of these people live in food deserts, lacking access to healthy fresh foods.  When you grow up eating fast food on a regular basis, you enter adulthood at a disadvantage. It is harder to learn to eat healthy if it was not taught to you as a child. Or maybe your family could not afford organic whole foods. This is one area of our lives where we can take control and choose to improve our health.

Eat fresh whole foods and reduce the risk of long-term health consequences. If that is not in your current budget, look into community food resources and community gardens and assess your priorities. In the long run, eating healthy will save you money due to improved health outcomes.

What if you’re not used to cooking whole foods? How can you learn and change your habits? During this pandemic you may have some extra time on your hands to try some new cooking techniques. Check out: and

It is important to consider what you eat. Eating sugar and carbs can cause us to gain weight, whereby cutting the calorie-dense, high-carb meals and sugar can help us lose weight. This also affects your metabolism. The more unnecessary food you eat, the more your body’s ability to process that food slows down. Next week we will discuss movement & exercise.