01/30/2013 01:04 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2013

What's That Food Doing in There Anyway?

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of nutrient-dense, plant-based whole foods. But what difference does it really make? Perhaps you've heard of the term inflammation? It's become quite a popular word, and you can even take measure of a body's inflammation with a blood test. But how do you know if you have it, and what does inflammation have to do with food? Let me try and explain.

Whenever we eat food, our mouths begin the digestive process through our teeth and saliva, which contains enzymes that begin breaking food down. The food then goes into our stomachs, where the digestive process continues, then into our small intestine and then into the large intestine. At each step along the way, various minerals, nutrients and calories are extracted from the food, and then (hopefully) absorbed into our bodies.

When we eat foods that are minimally processed, and resemble their original form, our bodies know exactly what to do to break these foods down. But when we eat a meal full of highly processed foods, it is more difficult for our bodies to work with the new forms these foods take. We still take up the calories, but it is much more difficult to absorb the nutrients. Because many of these foods have a lower density of minerals and nutrients, over time, our bodies start to think we are starving, and begin to hold on to all the calories coming in, in hopes of finding some useful nutrients in those calories.

The net result is weight gain.

Similarly, when we eat highly processed foods, through a process which is still undefined, they lead to irritation in our bodies, which is termed inflammation. Inflammation is a little difficult to identify, but usually presents itself in various symptoms.

Now, here is where it gets tricky -- because every person will have different symptoms. A very common sign of inflammation is fatigue, another is irritable bowel. More signs of inflammation include acne, infertility, sleep disorders, psychiatric disorders, concentration issues and "brain fog," and the list continues. The reason it's so long is that you will always react differently than your friend will to the stress on your body.

Now, the cool thing about all this is that it is fixable! But it's going to take some planning, thought and focus on your part. We've touched on this before, with regards to food. It's uncomfortable to be hungry, right? One strategy for success is to always carry food along, even if it's a bar. There are tons of bars out there that have recognizable ingredients and will get you over that hungry time, without sabotaging your efforts. If you're caught, with no food in hand and no kitchen in sight, stick to foods that look like themselves. All fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish and beans are fair game. In addition, in order to feel better, it will take recognizing all those symptoms that you have been putting up with for the past few years, and deciding that it's no longer okay to struggle through each day.

Over this next week, I invite you to look at the foods going into your body. If your eyes and brain don't know all the ingredients, it's likely that your body won't, either.

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