Diet and Nutrition – Quality not Quantity
“Diet” really doesn’t refer to a new trend or something you have to buy to lose 10 lbs, the real definition of the word diet is simply what we eat and what makes up our nutritional needs outside of water, the most vital part of our body’s nourishment. Nutrition refers to the essential nutrients the foods we eat provide to our body. Humans all over the world eat a huge variety of foods and we can certainly be considered omnivores, meaning we are able to healthfully eat both plants and animals. Humans developed as a hunter gatherer species and native people all over the world have diets that range from almost entirely animal fat to exclusively vegetarian and everything you could imagine in between. The main consideration for a healthy diet is to consider what our bodies are actually designed to eat by nature, which is actually just natural foods. If we look at what has kept people healthy throughout history, we will see what we should be eating to remain healthy now.
Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods:
You will know processed foods when you see them. These are the ones in packages with lots of advertising, look nothing like the natural foods that may or may not even be in them, have lists a mile long of things that almost nobody can read, contain artificial ingredients like taste enhancers, preservatives, and other chemicals. To make a long story short, many of the things that are in processed foods aren’t actually food at all and don’t do us any good. Our bodies are not equipped to process many of these things and many of them are toxic to us. The fact is that by eating these products, we are essentially allowing our bodies to be used as test dummies for all this artificial stuff that isn’t really food that scientists are coming up with in laboratories. Most of these processed foods are also very low in nutrients and high in calories, so they provide very little actual benefit for our bodies in terms of health.
Whole foods are also pretty easy to identify. These are the ones that have very minimal packaging, very few ingredients, probably all of which you can read and are familiar with, and come in their natural form. These foods are usually situated along the outside of the grocery and likely need to be refrigerated to prevent them from spoiling. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, seeds, whole grains, and beans, as well as natural meats, eggs, and dairy products all fall into this category. These foods that are purchased in their natural form have the full amount of nutrients in them and you will get the most nutritional value for the number of calories you are eating. Processed foods have only been around for a short amount of time and in that time the increase in all lifestyle related diseases has increased exponentially. We are the living proof that our ancestors were healthy because the survived to have children. Humans all over the world continuing to eat a diet of whole foods free of processed foods show extremely low evidence of lifestyle related diseases, so if we know what keeps us healthy and what doesn’t, why not choose the healthy stuff?
Organic and Free Range vs. Conventional
The next step in healthy eating is moving to organic and free range foods and staying away from mass produced conventional foods that are often produced in unnatural ways. To be considered organic, foods must be grown without using synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, industrial solvents, chemical food additives, and cannot be genetically modified. These regulations also apply to animal foods like meats, eggs, and dairy. Many organic foods taste better, have higher nutritional content, and are thought to be safer to eat than foods containing many chemical additives. The term free range refers to animals and generally means that the animals are able to walk and move freely outdoors in order to eat their natural diet and get exercise. Just like humans, if animals do not eat their own natural diet and do not get adequate exercise, they become unhealthy. Eating unhealthy animals is only likely to contribute to the deterioration of our own health.
Many studies on organic and free range vs. conventional food are inconclusive of effects on health, but the fact remains that all of these technologies are very new and that people have been becoming more and more sick since food began being produced in non-organic ways. By choosing to eat foods that we are unsure of the effects of, we are essentially allowing our bodies to be used in a very large experiment and we will likely only see the effects after a long period of time. Just think, up until not long ago, many medications with horrible side effects, terrible chemicals, and even tobacco were considered safe and even good for your health. Only time can tell the true effects of some things. Since we know that organic and free range foods have been safe to eat for all of human history and that our bodies remain healthy when eating them, why not choose what we know works to keep us healthy?
Macronutrients and Micronutrients
What we really gain from food is the nutritional value. This is made up of the three macronutrients, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals. Macronutrients provide us with calories that we need to fuel our body as well as the needed building blocks to repair our body’s tissues. Micronutrients play important roles in all of the intricate chemical processes of our body. These are required in very small amounts and some our body stores for use when necessary and some need to be consumed regularly in order to have adequate amounts. We need both macronutrients and to stay healthy, so it is important to eat a diet that is mixed and balanced.
Healthy Eating Tips:
- Drink plenty of water and be sure you are well hydrated, especially before meals
- Make vegetables and fruits the bulk of your diet to ensure micronutrient needs are met
- Eat a colorful diet, fruits and vegetables of different colors contain different nutrients
- Include protein in every meal, it helps us feel satisfied
- Focus on what you should eat and you will naturally avoid other foods
- Plan ahead to have healthy food available and only eat when you are hungry
- Eat 4-5 SMALL meals per day rather than less frequent large meals
- Use spices in your food, they contain valuable micronutrients
- Eat local and in season fruits and vegetables to get the most nutrients for your dollar
- Leave skins on fruits and vegetables when possible, they contain healthy fiber
- Avoid sugary foods, they are digested quickly and easily processed into body fat
- Dont skip meals, it causes our metabolism to drop and can bring energy levels down
- Just eat real organic and free range foods, not processed food like products
In today’s world of global connectivity, shared culture, and the ability to transport food worldwide, we have more food options than ever before. No matter what type of diet you choose, be sure to select foods that are processed as little as possible and organic if available. Along with a fitness routine, a healthy diet is a key foundation to overall health and can be part of the cure to many common lifestyle related ailments and weight management issues. Choose wisely and stay healthy!
Work with your health care provider and browse our Merchant Directory of other options to include the assistance of a Nutrition expert, Personal Trainer, Holistic Health Services, Lifestyle Coach, or to find Healthy Food options.
Sources: Michael Pollan In Defense of Food, Mayo Clinic
Author: Tony Montijo, BS Kinesiology, CPT, CES