Food is wonderful. It plays many roles in our lives such as sustaining life, entertaining us, satisfying us. Needless to say it is extremely important in lots of ways. But one of my favorite aspects of food has been the science behind it, and how it works with or against us in maintaining healthy lives. In fact, I get asked, almost weekly, “What should I be eating?” or “Is this good for me?”. So I thought it would be a good idea to put it all out there and share everything I’ve learned about nutrition and how food works in the human body. This is just the first post of many that I will be writing, as there is too much information to condense down into a single post.
It is understandable that there is a lot of confusion about staying healthy, dieting, and eating foods that are good for us. A new trendy diet is out almost every week, advertising on tv and the internet can be misleading, there are all sorts of FDA regulations and food laws (some good, some bad), and food production is more about money than it is about doing right by the people who are eating it. So needless to say, there is a lot of misinformation about how to eat, and it is difficult to know what the right answer is. Now, I’m, from California so sometimes I forget that the produce, livestock, and agriculture available here is not necessarily available everywhere else. But eating well is something that everyone can do with a little extra effort. And we should all make the effort because the more that people demand better food, the more the system will change to give us what we need. From my experience and from what I’ve seen about how the food production system works, It’s cheaper to make food that is engineered and produced for shelf life and consistency rather than for optimal health and nutrition. And while I do understand the laws of economics and that feeding billions of people is no easy task, we should not accept lowered standards. Just because something is made to be edible does not mean that we should be eating it. Any way, I’m getting off track! Sorry for the rant…back to business.
It seems like more often than not we are being told what NOT to eat than what TO eat. I always hear about, even in nutrition classes, what to stay away from. Fats are bad, sugar is bad, carbs are bad, calories are bad. The discussion never leads to the part of what to actually eat, and to be completely honest, most of what we hear is a lie. So, I’m going to outline two principles on eating healthier
- What to eat:
Remember a minute ago when I said that most of what we are told is a lie. Our bodies need salt, fat, carbs, calories, etc. to function. We also need protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, phytochemicals, water and a buffet of other nutrients to stay healthy. And I will be dedicating a full post on each one and why they are important as the scope is too wide to cover in one post. But for now, just take away this idea: life is balance, and good eating is balance. For instance, apples are really good for you. They have a ton of fiber, good sugars, water, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that help fight cancer and bad cholesterol. BUUUUT, if I were to eat nothing but apples for the rest of my life, I would die of malnutrition fairly quickly. The answer is, and always comes back to, balance. Eat a wide range foods. Doesn’t matter if you are vegan, vegetarian, gluten free etc. Eat as many different things as you can. That will ensure that you get plenty of all the nutrients you can. And when I say “As Many”, I mean it! A couple of desserts, some candy, cheese or whatever else you have been told to stay away from every now and then is not bad for you as long as you do it in moderation, and as long as it is something fresh and of good quality. Which brings me to a sub-point. Know where your food is coming from. If you can, buy from local farmers or food producers, not only does it support local business, but it also ensures that you are getting the best quality and nutritious food. If you have to get imported food, thats ok too! Potatoes grown in Idaho are still great, even if you live in Arizona. The important part is to know where your food is coming from so you can make better decisions. Another thing to keep in mind is the very popular ritual of taking supplements like vitamins, protein, calcium, etc. One may ask, why worry about it if I can just get all my protein from a powder or all my vitamins from a capsule? Consider this: an orange has about 50 mg of calcium. A capsule of calcium is roughly 600 mg. Thats about the same as eating 12 oranges. Would you really feel good after eating 12 oranges? Also, the fact is our human guts are designed to digest nutrients out of the food we eat. When we digest a pure form of calcium (or whatever), our guts treat that supplement like an invader, much like it would poison or other foreign substance that it has no idea what to do with by getting rid of it. So in fact, the benefit of a supplement is not as much as we might think it is. Now, I’m not going to tell anyone to NOT take supplements because from what I’ve seen people have strong feelings about that. But, like I said before; BALANCE 😉 There may be a little light math involved, but you can Google how many vitamins are in this and how much protein is in that, and compare that to the capsule you are taking. Try getting all your supplements from food, and see if that doesn’t make you feel and look waaay better.
2. How to eat:
Something that we don’t really think of that much is HOW to eat. And although “chewing” would be a perfectly fine answer, that’s not really what i’m talking about. First off, Portion control is incredibly important. If I were to over eat as many nutritiously dense and diverse foods as i could fit into my stomach, I wold be doing my health a disservice just as great as if I were eating really crappy foods. Imagine the luggage return at the airport. A few bags at a time are fine. But if stacks and stacks of bags are being thrown out, everything would go haywire. It’s the same for the human body. Too much food intake, and our body doesn’t know what to do with it all which can lead to serious health problems over time. As a rule to go by, I always keep in mind this: don’t eat until you are full, eat until you’re not hungry. That means to eat more slowly, and listen to your body as you are eating. It will tell you when it is done, there’s nothing wrong with leftovers…actually I prefer some things the next day like fried chicken or pizza..but that’s just me i guess. In addition to portion control, it is also really important to eat enough times throughout the day. If you are waiting until you are starving, you aren’t doing it right. Believe it or not your metabolism increases the more you eat. So if you eat smaller meals 5 or 6 times a day, your metabolism will be constantly working to burn through the steady stream of food it is receiving. Do you know who eats one big meal at the end of the day? Sumo wrestlers! They take all their nutrition at the end of the day in order to bulk up. After the human body gets used a cycle of starvation and feeding, it will begin to hold on to nutrients because it needs something to burn during long days with out any food intake. It’s kind of like a bear in hibernation. They need all that fat and blubber to burn during the winter while they’re sleeping. Which is fine for bears…but not so much for humans.
Well, thank you to all those who read through all that! I will be delving more into nutritional topics in the future to cover subjects in detail like what carbs really are, facts and myths about fat, etc, etc, etc. but for now, think of this as a primer. Talk to you soon