Nutrition 101 : The Basics To Choose Wisely
If you look back and examine the trends of health-conscious eating in the past 30 years. You will see that when it comes to what we “should” be eating. Experts have changed their minds more than we care to keep track of. We have been told to focus on healthy grains. Then advised to avoid fat. Or admonished to focus on high protein. Then the guideline was to eat like a caveman, and the list goes on
Add this to the multitude of “experts” who stand behind specific philosophies like the Zone or the Ornish diet. It’s no wonder people have NO CLUE what to do. They have no idea where to start when it comes to optimizing their diet. The questions become: what really constitutes an optimal diet. And what kind of system can we create to design a frame-work of decision making?
Nutrition 101 : What Is Food?
Fundamentally speaking, food is energy.
We use the calories in food in conjunction with vitamins and minerals as co-factors. This balance must be maintained in the context of need. Thus the more calories you consume, the more nutrients you need to help run the energy conversion process.
Every cell in the body requires energy to power specific tasks. These tasks range from detoxification, hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis, to regeneration and repair. Even digestion and waste removal all require energy to power their actions. This is why when it comes to sitting down to a meal, thinking about what you’re eating is such a profound aspect of your decision making process.
To tailor a diet to each person’s individual need would take a consultation with a professional. Plus that’s not the point of this article.
I want to give you a guideline of how to best make decisions that optimize your health when it comes to deciding on what you should eat
What will it do to my blood sugar?
I think this is a fundamental and priority-based decision. Simply because most of the western world is slowly becoming a walking symbol for insulin resistance. You know my philosophy on carbohydrates. Not only do you have to earn them. But genetic and activity considerations also comes into play.
ANY carbohydrate will raise blood sugar and as a result insulin levels. The challenge is determining which ones make the most impact. Sugar is the biggest offender especially if it enters the blood stream as glucose. Hence not relying on enzymatic activity for its break-down cells immediately absorbs glucose. Post training this is so not as issue for muscular individual, but if you are carrying a spare tire of any magnitude there is no physiological need for a blood sugar spike, its harming you under the surface! Starch can be in the same boat when it comes to offending blood sugar, sometimes worse if it’s in the form of gluten-containing, nutrient-depleted grains.
Where does this leave us? In order to make the best choices you should refer to the following criteria:
Low starch vegetables has a high ratio of fiber and nutrients compared to the content of carbs present. Moderate starch vegetables like sweet potato, beets, or carrot are still reasonable but you have to watch the serving size. Low-sugar/low-fructose fruits have their place in a seasonal context. It is more than likely that a save bet for most people is to avoid fructose altogether. Lastly SOME gluten-free grains might be acceptable for some people who have the genetic ability to process carbs, but grains often irritate the digestive system and piss off blood sugar control mechanisms. Other than around your training, it’s better to pick other options.
Does it contain quality protein?
Many foods from both animal and plant origin contain protein, but not all protein is created equally. Protein from high quality animal food contains a better amino acid profile for building muscle. Additionally animal protein offers a higher biological value which influences nitrogen retention (maintaining an anabolic state). This is an area where meat consumption is superior. Indeed, most forms of vegetable proteins are accompanied with large quantities of carbohydrate. If you want them isolated from what is in the rest of the food they will be solely available in powder form. Getting quality protein at each meal is important to not only stay anabolic, but to supply your body the amino acids needed to make enzymes, hormones, and structural components.
What kind of dietary fat does it supply?
This point warrants a post in and of itself. Since fat has made a comeback in the health food sector. Nevertheless it’s still by far the MOST misunderstood aspect of optimizing your diet.
To give you the basics, there are 3 types of fats you should include in your diet; saturated, mono-unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated. Under all circumstances, avoid trans-fats!
The ratios have been long debated as to how much of each you should consume, and there is probably not one absolute answer so here’s my take.
If you are on a carb restricted diet make sure you include a decent amount of saturated and mono-unsaturated as they are good for energy metabolism. In addition, saturated fat and cholesterol help maintain rigidity with cell structure.
Poly-unsaturated should be included at lower quantities as they are sensitive to oxidation. Still, these have specialized roles to help optimize cell function, cognitive behavior, and inflammatory modulation.
Avoid toxic omega 6 oils from commercial use and NEVER cook with poly-unsaturated fats.
Fats are the best source of energy for human metabolism. They also help provide the raw materials for all sex hormones, and don’t influence blood sugar.
It’s important to note that eating high carb and high fat at the same meal is not a good idea as insulin promotes fat storage in the wrong environment.
What is the nutritional status?
With this description I am not referring to calories or macronutrient breakdown. I am referring to vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
These are the specific nutrients that run the machine that is our body.
All chemical reactions that take place in our bodies require vitamin co-factors. Likewise, minerals are building blocks for structural components in our bodies. And antioxidants and phytonutrients influence genetic expression while protecting us from excessive damage potential free radicals might create.
They also have specific benefits under circumstantial conditions. For example, brassica vegetables help hormone metabolism in the body. In the same vein, turmeric and ginger help modulate inflammation processes. And specific bitter foods help optimize digestion processes. Look at a food with colorful pigment that was grow in mineral rich soil is always a great place to start.
So where does all this leave us? It’s actually a simple criteria
- Start with a foundation of low starch, high fiber vegetables with different colors
- Add in quality proteins from wild or properly raised conditions
- Utilize high quality fats as a primary energy source and as a way to enhance nutrient absorption from other foods in the form of good oils
- Avoid any high starch or high sugar foods when not eating to fuel exercise
Consistency is key with diet. The more time you take to research and consider your options, the better your decision making criteria will be. We are the sum of our choices up to this moment in our lives. So, my question is:
How do you want your body to operate given what you feed it?