Wednesday, March 17, 2010

General nutrition guidelines

You will often hear that nutrition’s role in changing your appearance is 80%. I disagree. In my opinion, nutrition and exercise play equal roles, provided of course we only talk about appearance.

Nutrition’s role is indeed 80% in another very important aspect: our health.

It is so logical, that I shouldn’t even write about it. Whatever we put through our mouths, determines our well-being. End of story.

Recent studies even show that nutrition plays a more important role than genes in determining whether illness will manifest itself. Think about that next time you consume something unhealthy.

Let me say one more thing that should be common sense: only natural foods are healthy (meaning foods that occur in nature). Any food that comes from manufacturing or processing should be avoided. However, this doesn’t mean that all natural foods are healthy. Many substances in nature are harmful (or even poisonous) for humans.

Having said all that, let’s scrutinize the subject of nutrition. It can be broken down in three basic questions: what, how much, and when. In this post, we will only talk about the first one.

So, here are the three macronutrients (they are called that way because we eat large quantities of them – on the contrary, the ones we ingest small quantities of are called micronutrients).

The name comes from the Greek work ‘protos’ which means ‘first’. It is obvious then that it should play the first role in our nutrition, meaning that it should be included in every meal. It is the building block of our bodies, and helps in repairing every tissue (muscle, skin, nails, hair etc). The best sources of protein are meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy.

Everybody knows that they are bad for us (which isn’t exactly true), but everybody eats them in the end. I have put them second on purpose, because they are the next most important macronutrient after protein. They are the most dense energy source, and play a very important role for many functions of our bodies.

The key however is to choose only healthy fats, which are: animal fats, eggs, whole dairy, butter, fish fats/oils, olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocadoes.

I know that animal fats (which belong in a category called saturated fats) are considered unhealthy, but this view is wrong. These fats are a natural food, they are packed with useful energy, and they are very tasty. In the future we will discuss this subject further, but for the time being remember this: don’t avoid animal fats.

On the contrary, you should avoid the following fats: margarine, vegetable oil, hydrogenated fats, trans fats (which are used in every fast food chain), and of course everything fried.

Carbohydrates (carbs)
They are an energy source too. They are divided in simple and complex carbs, or they are grouped as fast and slow using the so-called glycemic index. In practice however, both classifications show how fast the carb is absorbed into the bloodstream. Simple/fast carbs are absorbed quicker, and thus produce a spike in blood sugar, which is not a good thing.

Simple carbs include sugar (glucose), honey, fruit (fructose), and white flour and all its products.

Complex carbs are the following: whole-grain products, grains, oats, rice, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, legumes.

Now that we are done with the theory, let’s move to the important stuff: of all three macronutrients, the only one that is not essential is carbs. If we look at the evolution of humans, we will conclude that we have been eating carbs for a relatively small time period (since agriculture began). The exception of course is vegetables and mostly fruit, which have been a natural food for man (and many animals) since the dawn of time.

Alas, in the last few thousand years, carbs have become the base of our nutrition. Coincidentally, since then humans have become weaker and less healthy.

Rest assured, we will talk about this extensively, however keep in mind that carbs should be minimized. We must surely eat fruit and vegetables, and to some extend honey, potatoes and brown rice, but all other carbs should be lowered.

The base of our meals should be protein, with healthy fats as the preferred source of energy (which will be included in protein sources). If we also eat fruit and vegetables, we don’t need any more carbs.

That’s all for now, more to come.

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