Nutrition

A Quick Look at Nutrition

There is a lot to discuss when it comes to what kinds of foods to eat, how often to eat them, and how each food will affect the body. This article will provide a brief overview of some things to consider before filling the shopping cart with all the “goodies” that actually may not be so good for the body.

CrossFit gives a nice simple guide for nutrition in its article titled “What is Fitness”. The following is from the excerpt “World Class Fitness in 100 words: Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.” It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  But, there’s a little more to it.

This can be a touchy subject, especially here in the South where food is king. The main point of this article is to make some small adjustments that can make a big difference. Things like using olive oil instead of butter for cooking. That scenario demonstrates a substitute, but there are times when it may be necessary for replacement, such as replacing poor carbohydrates with healthier ones. No, it’s not going to taste that same, but the taste buds can adjust and the body will be better for it.

What to Eat?

There are three primary categories of nutrients found in food: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Vitamins and minerals are also important nutrients to the body, but eating a well-balanced diet of protein, carbs, and fat will ensure the body gets plenty of vitamins and minerals.

Protein

Protein is found in several different foods, like meat, dairy, eggs, legumes (beans/peas), tofu (which comes from soybeans, a legume) and grains. Even fruits and vegetables contain trace amounts of protein. So, it should be easy to get plenty of protein since it’s in so many foods, right? That might be true if all foods were created equal, but that would be too easy and this article would be pointless.

The truth is, not all foods are created equal when considering protein content. There should be an emphasis on quality sources of protein, with quality defined by the presence of essential amino acids. In that regard, the best source for these quality proteins comes from animals, so red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese are all considered quality sources of protein. To take it a step further, it’s better to consume protein from animal meat than from dairy. This is primarily because many people will have issues in the digestion of dairy, specifically the lactose (carbohydrate) and casein (protein).

Also, it’s generally advisable to steer clear of legumes (unfortunately, peanuts are considered a legume). Like dairy, legumes can be difficult for the body to digest (think bean/fart jokes) and offer relatively low amounts of protein compared to carb amounts. Grains are similar in causing issues in digestion, but should be avoided much more diligently than legumes. The bowl of beans or 2 scoops of peanut butter is far better than the 2 bowls of cereal and sandwich every day. Yep, it’s pretty bad. Without getting too in depth here, suffice to say that the protein amount is poor compared to other preferred sources, the fiber can be obtained in fruit and vegetables, same with vitamins and minerals, the digestion problems are real (talk to someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance), and lectins (the defense mechanism found in grains) are serious and harmful to the human body. Coincidentally, combining legumes and grains can often create a more complete protein, by combining the amino acids of each. For the body’s sake and the goal of achieving a healthier lifestyle, combine these two, put them in a box instead, chunk it in middle of the ocean and throw away the key.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are found in almost every source of food. In the context of this article, carbs are divided in two groups: simple carbs (sugar) and complex carbs (starch). Carbs are useful to the body because cells use them for energy immediately or store for use at a later time. The body carries out this task through regulating the blood sugar (glucose) level. Carb consumption can cause a spike in the blood sugar level, or failing to consume carbs can lower the blood sugar level.

It’s important to keep the blood sugar level within a healthy range and not get it too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Either can be fatal, but in the short term, hypoglycemia is much more serious. Most adults won’t have an issue with hypoglycemia, especially with the way grocery stores are stocked these days. However, there has been a growing epidemic of obesity in this country over the past several years. So, for the majority of people, the goal is to restrict carb intake to quality foods like vegetables and fruits. Vegetables are preferable since the sugar content is typically lower and the vitamin/mineral content is greater. Fruits are okay, but the ultimate goal here is to consume more vegetables than fruits. The “no sugar” part means, other than the sugar in fruits and vegetables, don’t eat sugar. Not even fake sugar. Nope, not even just a little bit. That’s the simplest way to put it.

Many people associate grains with carbs, using the two terms interchangeably and even failing to recognize vegetables and fruits as primary sources of carbohydrates. The food pyramid is likely partially to blame for that. But, here are a few more words about grains in case it wasn’t clear before. Slap an invisible “Warning: Do Not Eat” label on all grains and move on. There are better carbs out there, guaranteed.

Fats

Despite what a few fad diets proclaim, some fats are important nutrients for the body. The body takes these fats (think Omega-3 and Omega-6) and uses them to improve blood circulation, brain function, and fight inflammation.

This is a controversial topic, with many factors to consider including the chemical makeup of the fatty chain, the body’s ability to digest, and complementary foods consumed. Again, to keep things simple, it’s advisable to stick with consuming unsaturated fats like those found in avocados, olive oil, almonds, and fish oil. Saturated fat has its benefits and will be unavoidable in most diets, but can be problematic in certain forms and situations. However, it gets much clearer when discussing transformed fats. In fact, before locking that box already full of grains and legumes, go ahead and throw trans-fat in there along with any other hydrogenated fats. It’s an unnatural modification to the chemical makeup of fatty acids. There’s nothing good about it, period.

There’s an abundance of healthy nuts and seeds, which should adequately address the body’s fat needs. Not to mention fish oil supplements, cooking oils, and avocados. Find a way to sneak these into the shopping cart.

How Much to Eat

The advice above doesn’t do a good job of spelling this out. Furthermore, there are many sources out there telling people how many calories to eat in a meal, a day, or how many times to eat, serving sizes, protein-to-carb ratios, etc. The truth is: it really depends on the individual. For people who are really active, it will be necessary to consume more calories. People with more muscle mass will  typically require more calories. Again, the goal is to make those quality calories. It’s common for a person to consume half a bag of Doritos, a turkey sandwich, a can of soda, and be hungry again in 2 hours. There’s a bunch of calories in that meal, but they’re crappy. It’s less common for a person to eat a 6oz. steak, 4 cups of vegetables, a handful of almonds, and get hungry again in 2 hours. Bottom line: fill up on the quality foods mentioned in this article and that should prevent anyone from experiencing most issues caused by consuming poor quality calories.

General Tips

Before going into the grocery store, have a game plan. Shop the perimeter. That’s where stores keep perishable foods, the ones needed for a healthy and balanced diet. There are a few things to grab in the aisles, but don’t get caught going up and down each aisle. That’s a waste of time in looking for quality foods. Those aisles are filled with largely grain based foods and preservative packed substances that are questionably labeled as food. Food should rot. Some of that stuff found in the aisles of grocery stores can be left out for days, weeks, and even months without showing the slightest sign of decomposition. That’s not normal. Not for food.

Get used to visiting the grocery store frequently, since the majority of these foods are perishable within a few days. Also, make time to prepare meals. It can be difficult to prepare food every night with a busy life. Cooking up meals on the weekends and storing them properly can be an effective routine to save time and avoid the fast-food pitfall. Finally, don’t underestimate the fact that small decisions about diet can make a big difference.
Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein
http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_sugar
http://www.livestrong.com/article/27398-list-complex-carbohydrates-foods/

Additional Reading:
http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fats/#axzz292YF0ju7
http://crossfitimpulse.com/why-grains-are-killing-you
http://www.marksdailyapple.com/beans-legumes-carbs/#axzz292YF0ju7
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/75/5/951.2.full