Let’s take a moment to cover some nutrition basics to refresh your memory. It’s important for you to know and understand these basics and come to the realization that there are no “bad” foods. However, there are better choices.
Food provides the fuel our bodies need to function properly and contains essential nutrients that are vital for our survival. Proper nutrients in the proper combinations have specific functions and work together to carry out these functions. Let’s take a brief, but informative, look at nutrition.
Food is divided into three categories or macro-nutrients called carbohydrate, protein and fat. Each are broken down (metabolized) further by the body into smaller elements that have certain functions.
- Carbohydrates are broken down to GLUCOSE that supplies the central nervous system and body with energy.
- Proteins are broken down to AMINO ACIDS that help the body with repair and maintenance and to build the many hormones we need for various functions.
- Fats are broken down to FATTY ACIDS to also supply the body with energy and to carry out many of the body’s chemical and hormonal activities.
Macro-Nutrients are also composed of smaller nutrients called micro-nutrients or vitamins and minerals. Let’s take a look at macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients and learn what they do.
Sugars, starches and most dietary fibers (although fiber is not a nutrient) are considered carbohydrates and your body’s principal source of energy. Think of the best carbohydrates as anything grown from the ground and not found in a plastic wrapper or box.
Your body converts starches and sugars into a substance called glucose, a sugar that is transported by the blood to the cells for energy. Any glucose not used immediately by the cells is converted into glycogen (many glucose molecules linked together) and stored in the liver and muscles or it’s stored as fat if your intake of calories exceeds energy expenditure. Obviously, the latter is not what you want.
Consider the fact that it only takes about one half cup of glucose each day to keep your body functioning properly. Most of that glucose goes to feed your brain. Have you ever wondered why you may have developed headaches and had trouble concentrating when on a diet? Understand that your brains preferred (and only) fuel source is a ready supply of glucose derived from carbohydrates! A great reason NOT to go on a NO carbohydrate diet.
Simple carbohydrates are sugar related. There are many different forms of sugars including fructose, glucose/dextrose, maltose, lactose and sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol. If it ends in “ose” or “ol” you can interpret it as sugar.
Simple sugars are found in many processed foods including soups, spaghetti sauces, fruit drinks, frozen foods, cereals, yogurt, bread, condiments, canned goods and, of course, soft drinks. Many sugary sweets are high in calories and low in nutrient value and contain loads of high fructose corn syrup. These are commonly called “empty caloric” foods since they contain loads of sugar that pack no nutrient punch.
Sugar also occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. The difference is that fruits, vegetables and dairy products are packed with vitamins and minerals (micro-nutrients) that your body needs to thrive. That’s what you want! Don’t be afraid to consume moderate amounts of fruits even though many contain simple sugars because they are packed with vitamins and minerals, along with an ample supply of water and fiber. Consider them nature’s candy!
Complex carbohydrates are the starches. Starch is the storage form of carbohydrates in plants, comparable to the glycogen in humans and animals. The major sources of complex carbohydrates are found in whole wheat breads, rice and pasta and vegetables such as potatoes and also in legumes (beans). You’ll consume anywhere from forty to fifty five percent of your daily calories from carbohydrate sources on this system depending on your particular needs.
Complex carbohydrates contain a higher amount of nutrient value (vitamins/minerals) as well as water and dietary fiber. They are less fattening, and it takes more energy to digest them. That’s a very good thing! The “C” carbs have no nutritional value and make you fatter. Oh, you don’t know what the “C” carbs are? Cookies, Cakes, Crackers, Candy and other Crap!
Composed of various combinations of 22 known amino acids that construct the basic materials of life, proteins are needed to make the enzymes and hormones necessary to carry out specific functions in your body. It’s the primary material for building and repairing muscle tissue. Proteins also build the antibodies that fight infections that threaten our survival.
If the protein content of a certain food supplies all 9 essential amino acids it’s known as complete. Sources of complete proteins include foods such as meats, fish, dairy and poultry products. Proteins in foods such as grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits are deficient in one or more essential amino acids and are known as incomplete and a huge reason why vegetarians must learn how to combine foods to produce complete proteins.
I’ve studied the recommended intake of protein from many leading authorities on the subject. Some say one half gram per pound of body weight and some say up to two grams per pound of bodyweight (and many more recommendations in between). The bottom line is the goal of the individual and their particular needs.
I don’t think you can go too wrong eating up to one gram of protein per lean pound of body-weight as long as it comes from low fat sources. You’ll be eating anywhere from twenty to thirty five percent of your daily calories from protein sources on this system.
Many experts warn of eating a diet too high in protein sighting complications with the kidneys. I’ve never heard of any healthy person having this problem occur. However, if you have kidney issues, consult with your doctor about eating a diet higher in protein. Women seem to have the most difficulty eating a sufficient amount of protein sources than do men.
Fats, also known as lipids, come in liquid or solid form. Fats are broken down (metabolized) to fatty acids and used as a source of energy. And please understand this now…FATS ARE NOT BAD. They’re necessary and healthy if consumed in small amounts and from the right sources.
Fat keeps the skin and hair healthy and regulates blood cholesterol levels. They’re instrumental in hormones that help control blood pressure, form blood clotting material and control inflammation. In addition, fats are especially important for the proper growth and development of infants. And, fats are used as ‘ushers’ to bring in certain fat soluble vitamins for various functions and enhance the flavor and aroma of foods (don’t we know it)!
Many nutritional experts advise that if the fat won’t melt at room temperature, don’t eat very much of it, if at all. This is saturated fat and it can create the build up of plaque within your arteries that causes heart disease and eventually heart failure and/or stroke. These same experts say that saturated fat intake should not exceed 10% of your total caloric intake each day. Presently, I’m not convinced that this is the right prescription.
Even though I’m not a 100% proponent of Dr. Barry Sears “Zone Diet”, I do believe he has some very important information to share about food and it’s affect on our bodies. He believes that we should drastically decrease vegetable fats or omega 6 fatty acids while increasing fish oil or omega 3 fatty acids in order to decrease what he terms “silent inflammation” that fosters a disease environment in our body.
That advice I do agree with although at present, I’m not convinced that a person should omit whole grains from their diet. In fairness to Dr. Sears, his Zone Diet allows for some whole grains but he warns of its pro-inflammatory response to it and you do have to make some adjustments as to the prescribed amounts per Dr. Sears.
I think our response to inflammation is individual and depends on the ability or difficulty of properly assimilating complex carbohydrates or whole grain products. Everyone experiences inflammation as it’s a natural response to either what we eat, the physical damage suffered after a strenuous workout, sickness, or from our environment. How our body responds to these is very important to consider. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Sears that we should omit processed foods from our diets. Eat foods that are as fresh as possible and omit or seriously limit those that are bagged, canned, or wrapped!
Of the few supplements I recommend at the time of this writing, probiotics (discussed later) and fish oil are two that may drastically prove to be keepers for good health. I do recommend that you read Dr. Sears books along with other books about nutrition so as to broaden your perspective on the subject. We simply don’t take the time to learn about food and how it affects us on every level.
Read food labels and stay clear of trans fat or rather any fats that have been hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is a process that basically makes foods thicker and helps them last longer. Trouble is, it also thickens up your arteries. You’d be doing yourself and your family a great service by staying clear of this poison.
You may believe you’re doing yourself a healthy favor by using processed butter (margarine) and other fats because it’s lower in calories than regular butter, but the hydrogenation of these products may cause much more damage to your arteries (atherosclerosis) than you know. My advice is, even though butter for example is saturated, just eat less of it and stay away from processed food.
Although fat has received a bad rap in the past, it is just as necessary as proteins and carbohydrates when it comes from the right sources. It’s just that the typical American diet consists of over thirty-five to forty percent of the stuff. If fat makes up anything lower than thirty percent of your daily caloric intake, that’s fine, as long as it’s coming from favorable types.
In actual fact, since fats are found in many protein and carbohydrate sources, you don’t really have to go looking for them. It’s in the stuff you already eat! The best sources are from flax-seed and fish oils, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts and other sources referred to as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. I personally add flax-seed and Omega 3 oils to my foods or protein shakes.
Remember that extra calories from carbohydrates and proteins can be converted into fat too and that’s the big reason the government advised pyramid’s “high grain, low-fat diet” craze didn’t pan out.
Next time, we’ll be looking at The Five Daily Actions for Great Nutrition. I can guarantee that if you adopt the following five into your life, you’ll have a healthier body, more energy, a better sex life, and just plain feel better!
So, stay tuned in readers!