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11 Doctor-Approved Healthy Eating Hacks

June 08, 2022

When it comes to what and how you eat, thinking about the big picture is often much more important than sweating small details. Take it from an integrative medicine expert and the tips he shares in his new book of recipes: Wellness is simple and sustainable. We’ll show you how.

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How to Focus on Big-Picture Wellness

As consumers we love to hear that bold gestures like elimination diets, cleanses and miracle supplements can transform our bodies and our lives. Doctors know better. “We like clear-cut, black and white solutions — this is good, that is bad; eat this, not that. It makes decision-making simple and easy. However, the real world is much more nuanced,” says Gary Deng, M.D., Ph.D., the medical director of integrative medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

“For example, a little bit of sugar is harmless. In fact, our body will generate sugar even when we don’t eat any,” Deng explains. "On the other hand, too much sugar over a long period is indeed harmful. Another example is that if you are sedentary for a whole month then take a long run, it doesn’t do you much good. On the other hand, if you exercise regularly most days, taking a break for a day won’t do you any harm. Focusing on the big picture instead of minutiae is important. Plus, it frees us from unnecessary anxiety.”

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Making Smart, Sustainable Choices

Deng combines his clinical experience as a physician with his own passion for home cooking in The Wellness Principles, his just-published guide to healthy living. It showcases 100 infinitely adaptable food and drink recipes along with an array of insights concerning how and why they’re good for you. Find out his expert instructions on incorporating those tips and tricks into your meals and practices.

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1. Plan to Finish Eating Three Hours Before Bedtime

No matter what you’re eating, it’s worth your while to wrap it up (literally and figuratively) well before turning in. “It takes about three hours for most of the food to exit the stomach and enter the intestines,” Deng explains. “If you go to bed with food in your stomach, it irritates your nervous system and also raises the risk for reflux at night.”

That extended period of time when you’re not eating is precious, as scientists are discovering. “Research tracking breast cancer survivors showed fasting for fewer than 13 hours per night was associated with a 36% higher risk of breast cancer recurrence,” Deng says. “It is probably because longer overnight fasting drops our glucose levels and makes us sleep longer; both help our health.”

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2. Sip Room-Temperature or Warm Drinks

Though chilled food and beverages are refreshing on hot days, they don't do our digestive systems any favors. “We have a set body temperature for a biological reason. The enzymes in cells and other vital cellular functions work the best at our body temperature (around 97-99 degrees Fahrenheit or 36-37 degrees Celsius),” Deng explains. “When cells experience extreme temperature, be it too hot or too cold, they are not in their healthiest state.”

If you experience indigestion or acid reflux, forgoing iced beverages could cut your body some slack. “When we drink cold beverages or eat cold foods, the cells in our digestive tract are chilled and stressed. They don’t do their naturally assigned jobs very well in that condition. Warm fluids and solid foods make them happier.”

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