You are what you eat.
First off, I want to be clear that I am not certified in any manner to dispense nutritional information. The following is my personal opinion, nothing more. This post will be talking about food, supplements and in general about nutrition. I have gone back and forth about whether I should do a post on this topic, but in the end I feel it is something worth talking about. The more reading, listening I do on nutrition, the more I realize how important it is, not just with respect to exercise, but also our day to day living. And, this blog is about fitness and health. So why am I posting this? I guess because of my passion to see people healthy and enjoying every day to the most they can. I know how it can be myself, how discouraging it can be to not perform well even though you feel you should. Also, there is a ton of misinformation floating around out there, on TV, on the food we by, from our doctor’s, our governments.
Hopefully this will add to the good information out there and if one person read’s this post, and because of that they have a positive experience, then my job is done.
I’m going to first describe what the components of nutrition are, then I think I’ll save the somewhat controversial stuff for the end.
What is it?
Nutrition is the study of food and how the body uses it. Nutrients are chemical components of foods that are essential for energy, growth, cellular repair, and regulation of metabolic functions.
That’s some serious stuff. Essential for energy, growth, cellular repair and regulation of metabolic functions. Basically we are what we eat. I’m not great at analogies, but I’ll use the car one again. You are the owner of a real nice sports car, let’s say it’s a Porsche 911. You’re out for a drive, and you need to fill up the gas tank. You are at the only gas station around for 100 km’s, and they are out of premium fuel. You have no choice but to fill up using regular grade fuel. You know the impact of that. Your Porsche is just not going to run well. It will have less power and performance. You push the accelerator to where you normally do to accelerate, but it’s not responding like it usually does. If you continued to do this over a longer period of time, there could be permanent damage to the car, and I believe you may even void your warranty.
Our bodies are not really any different. When we eat, we are fueling our bodies, carrying out the processes defined above for nutrition. We are taking in food to allow our body to repair itself, to function, to build energy stores for our next workout, whatever it may be. When we push on our on accelerator, we want the body to respond well, not sluggishly.
Breaking down nutrition
I think most of us understand the common breakdown of nutrition, or essential nutrients. Here they are in no particular order:
Carbohydrate, fat, protein. These are energy nutrients because they provide energy for the body. You can also refer to these as macronutrients.
Vitamins, minerals, and water. These do not provide energy but play a critical role in our health. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients as they are needed in small amounts to support normal health and body functions.
Potatoes, rice, pasta, bread. I think most of us understand what foods we eat are Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be broken down into two groups; simple and complex. Unfortunately, most of us will consume a disproportionate level of simple carbs to complex carbs. We need carbs because it is an important energy source for working out, for the brain and nervous tissue. Carbohydrates break down in glucose which is used in production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for energy.
Two types of carbs
Complex carbs, or the good carbs, are things like fruits, vegetables, pasta. These provide us with the natural sugars and along with that, they provide us with the fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Complex carbs are the carbohydrates you want to have in your daily food intake.
Sugar, honey, syrup, high fructose corn syrup (stay away from this if you can), I’ll talk more about high fructose corn syrup later, are simple carbs. These are found in their raw form, or like high fructose corn syrup are found in processed foods, things like fruit drinks, soft drinks.
Fat is one form of lipids. Fat is when a lipid is in solid form at room temp., and oil is when the lipid is in a liquid form at room temp. Contrary to popular belief we need fats! Fat is essential for a healthy diet. Fat is one of our sources of fuel for the production of ATP. Also, fat is used for production of hormones, healthy skin, feeling of fullness from meals, and for the transportation of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
We also want to consume fat as part of our diet as we need to consume essential fatty acids. These are our Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids you hear about. They are essential because our body cannot make them. Typically, omega 3 fatty acids are found in foods such as fish, leafy green vegetables, flaxseed, canola oil. Omega 3 fatty acids will tend to reduce inflammatory responses and also help reduce risk of heart attack. Sources of omega 6 fatty acids are foods such as safflower oil, peanut oil, vegetable oil, and corn oil. A great source of both fatty acids is hemp oil, hemp hearts and hemp seeds.
Types of lipids
Saturated: This fat is mainly found in animal products; beef, chicken, butter, milk. Generally it is wise to keep saturated fat intake low. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but if you choose a high quality brand, one that hasn’t been over processed, it is a beneficial fat to have in your diet.
Monounsaturated: Mainly found in olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil. Can improve blood cholesterol levels, helping to reduce heart disease.
Polyunsaturated: Can be found in canola oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Also improves blood cholesterol levels.
Fat is bad, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, fat got a really bad rap back in the 80’s. Without going deeply into details, studies were done in the U.S. to determine the raise in heart disease. Due to flawed studies, the reason was determined to be due to high fat diets. This was the beginning of the fat free, low fat labeling on processed foods. Here is another reason to eat small amounts of processed food. So people who were eating these processed foods were getting less fat which may have been ok since most of the fat in processed foods are saturated, or worse, hydrogenated fat. But, sugar, or more specifically, high fructose corn syrup was used to replace the fat to keep the flavor level where it needed to be.
The good news is I think more and more people are starting to understand the difference in fats, and that they need to consume fat to be healthy. I’m hoping this trend will continue.
The major role of protein is to build and repair body tissues, such as tendons, muscles, and ligaments. It is not a primary source of energy, except when your body does not have enough carbohydrates or fat due to starving, dieting, or over training. So let’s think about that. How can a diet high in protein be good for me? Well, it really isn’t. Once you understand how the body chemically creates energy, you realize that protein does not play a part in that roll. So if you have drastically lowered your carb intake and replaced it with protein, you are going to have a real hard time exercising and performing, and in my opinion, it’s not a healthy thing to do.
Sources of protein
Plant protein, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains are excellent sources of protein. Also, if you are someone who is consciously trying to make an effort to lessen your carbon footprint (farming meat has a huge negative impact to our environment) or you are not comfortable eating animals or animal products for your source of protein, these are your sources. When eliminating meat and animal products from your diet, remember that you need to be aware that you need to mix and blend these products to get the full complete branch chain of amino acids, the building blocks of protein you need. Hemp products such as hemp seed, hemp hearts although a plant does have the complete branch chain amino acid profile. Yay for hemp!
Animal protein (meat, eggs, fish, dairy) all have the complete branch chain amino acid profile.
How much to consume of each?
Generally, from a 2002 recommendation by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine finds the acceptable macronutrient distribution range, or AMDR, for each category is as follows:
Carbohydrates: from 45% to 65%
Fats: 20% to 35%
Proteins: 10% to 35%
For myself, I have the following breakdown:
These are recommendations. You need to understand you activity level whether that is working out, or day to day activeness. Listen to your body. How long does it take to recover? Do you have the energy you need? Does your hair and skin look healthy? These are all indicators of how your diet is made up.
Remember! Educate yourself! Too much of anything is not good. As an example, too much protein can cause kidney problems long term.
Now let’s take the time to go over our micronutrients; water, vitamins, and minerals.
Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary for good health. The body cannot make vitamins, and therefore are supplied through your diet and through supplementation. Vitamins are necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat. Vitamins also play an important role in our body’s day to day functions, and if not adequately supplied, can have a long term negative impact. Also, if you are not taking in adequate levels of vitamins, you may exhibit signs that may get you to the doctors and diagnosed as something totally different. An example is a B12 deficiency may manifest itself in signs of lack of energy, weakness, easy bruising, possibly being misdiagnosed, and mistreated.
Minerals are important nutrients that serve a variety of functions. Sodium and potassium assist with levels of body fluid, calcium and phosphorus are needed for bone health, and iron is important for the transport of oxygen. If you are someone who is very active, you will lose minerals due to sweating which in extreme cases can be dangerous.
About 70% of your body is made up of water. Water is used in pretty much all functions of our body, from aiding in digestion, cooling our body, assisting with chemical reactions, carrying oxygen through blood, lubricating joints, etc.
Because of this, we not only lose water when we sweat, we lose it through water being used to aid in these body functions. A good indicator of your body water level is your urine. Ideally, the colour of your urine should be pale yellow, or clear. Keep in mind if you have taken a vitamin supplement, it may alter the colour (B vitamins will create a yellow urine).
Water consumption is very important, especially when you are working out. Since exercising increases body temperature, and also the process to create energy consumes water, we start to use more water than when we are at rest. A good practice is to consume about a mouthful of water 10 minutes in, then every 10 minutes. Remember, if you are already feeling thirsty, you are already running a water deficit.
And if you are one of these people who don’t drink water when exercising, you run the risk of long term damage to your body, and the short term risk is having a cardio event. When you do not have the proper amount of water in your body, your blood thickens. Now, your heart has to work harder to supply the blood needed, increasing the load on the heart. Not a good idea. It still baffles me why someone won’t drink water when working out. I just don’t get it.
Now for some controversy
I have covered quite a bit so far, and have tried to steer clear of controversial issues when talking about these things. But now is the time, and I would feel like I have done you a disservice if I didn’t talk about these things. So let’s start with processed food, including soda’s and fruit drinks.
Today there seems to be more and more processed foods, and I think more and more people are eating these foods, instead of creating the dishes with the raw ingredients. We all know why, it’s easy, fast, and convenient. I also think there is this notion that if it’s being sold to us, it must be ok because the companies that make the food, and the government’s that allow it to be sold has our best interest at heart (take a look at this article about privatization of water). Remember, a corporation’s main objective is to increase share value each quarter, not necessarily to provide the healthiest product.
So with the drive for cheaper production costs of food, sugar was replace with high fructose corn syrup, a product that is sweeter than sugar on the sweet scale, yet instead of less being used because it is sweeter, more is used. Why, because the amount of salt can be increase, thus making the food even more addictive. Generally, a diet high in sugar will potentially manifest itself in diabetes, disrupt your hormones, lead to overeating and other harmful effects. I’m not going to go into great detail about the impact of sugar, and high fructose corn syrup to your body, but if you would like to learn more, watch this talk by Dr. Lustig.
Lastly, I would like to cover supplements. Understandably, supplements are controversial due to lack of regulation, due to incomplete studies on benefits, and yes, due to corporate lobbying. But, if you take a deep look at our food, even raw food that is grown thousands of miles away, grown with increased amounts of fertilizers, basically the corporatization of farming, it’s not what it used to be nutrient wise. Food we buy in the grocery store just isn’t as nutrient dense as produce from a conventional, local farm. Because of this, personally, I believe supplementation is needed. As to how you supplement, I leave that up to you to decide.
One option is to get your blood checked for your levels of various vitamins and minerals. This should be a good indicator of what you may need to supplement. If buying supplements, try to purchase a quality brand, not a well-known brand if you know what I mean. The big companies from what I have researched use fillers in their products that may be dangerous. Go to your local health food store, and consult with them. That’s why they are there, to help inform you.
That was a lot
Did I cover everything I wanted to? No. I could go on longer, but I would probably lose your attention if I haven’t already. It’s a close topic to me, and I get very passionate about it. My goal is that you walk away from reading this, not with all the answers, but a peaked curiosity about what you are eating, and about vitamins, minerals. I’d be happy if even the most you got from this article was the dangers of sugar to our bodies, and how eating smarter will benefit you.
I want to end on a positive note. More and more people are making better choices when it comes to food, nutrition. Local grocery stores are now including natural sections where you can get alternatives to dairy and meat, hemp products, organic products, healthy oils such as coconut oil. Maybe this is the pendulum swinging back the other way. Let’s hope so.
Every time we make a purchase we are voting. We are voting on what we want to buy as food. Companies will adapt to how the people vote. As an example, if more people bought organic products, there would be more organic options, and it would be cheaper. It’s not easy, we all have budgets we need to work within. Be sure to include your health and welfare when you are putting that budget together.
Yours in health,