All of the tissues in a human body work better when well hydrated. (Courtesy photo)

The key to a healthy diet: Protein and water

Diets come and go. Advice on water, supplements, energy drinks, and food choices vary like the wind.

Diets come and go. Advice on water, supplements, energy drinks, and food choices vary like the wind. There are two key principles, however, that have withstood the test of time in our clinic:

Protein and water should make up most of your diet. Here is why. Fats and carbohydrates (sugars) are also essential parts of diets, yet almost everyone gets an excess of both. It takes effort to get protein—but if it is consumed in the morning, protein carries most people through the day’s activities longer than the other choices. It is protein that builds muscle, provides the longest-lasting energy supply, and helps the immune system resist infection. Protein allows bones to build mass and helps tissues repair injuries.

Most of the efforts to measure how much protein you should or should not eat have failed. Nobody measures for a long time or has a clue how many grams of protein are in each portion of food. Our experience is that if you make protein—especially lean protein—a central part of your diet, you will have the right approach. (By lean protein, we mean the type without excess fat: lean meats, pork, chicken without the skin, fish, and some beans.) We use carbohydrates and fattier foods as a garnish or to complement our protein dishes.

The hard part is what to reach for when you are hungry between meals. The world is full of fatty fast foods and, worse, sugary ones. The brief high from an immediate sugar fix is both addictive and destructive. Every disease known to man—from tooth decay to fat deposition—has been linked to poor dietary choices. In addition, the gut microbiome adjusts itself to our dietary intake.

Eating fatty foods induces fat deposition, while consuming sugar promotes the overgrowth of destructive bacteria—bacteria that communicate to the brain the desire for more sugar. But if you can reach for protein instead, the snack will fuel your efforts—both muscle and brain power.

And a high protein snack will carry you to your next meal without the rollercoaster of the sugar high and crashing low.

Which brings us to hydration. All of the tissues in our bodies work better when well hydrated. When your tongue and lips are dry, your body is diverting precious fluid to your brain and other key organs to maintain life. And most people are dry much of the day. They sleep and often mouth breathe, losing water at night. They drink coffee without other fluids, and the caffeine further dehydrates. They drink alcoholic beverages, which increases urination without compensating hydration.

Water is the ideal beverage. No calories, no sugar, pure taste, and an optimal source of hydration.

Try drinking water as a pre-beverage drink—a full glass of water before a beer or a cocktail. A glass before each meal reduces caloric intake. A glass before bed reduces nighttime dehydration. There are very few athletes who need to replace electrolytes, despite what the advertisements say. Yet there are millions of people who, if they drank water more often, would save untold dollars while improving their performance.

Those two obvious sources of health—protein and water—will improve your life if optimized. Try them in quantity and live long to prosper.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.

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