Seven Steps to Take Charge of Your Food and Improve Your Health
As we are about to start cooking and eating delicious Thanksgiving foods, the proverbial saying comes to mind: “You are what you eat.”
Basically, it means that food and drinks that you consume impact both your body and your mind, including your health, the way you look and the way you feel. Food also effects your energy level, performance and emotions.
Food not only gives you energy to fuel your body, but it also provides vitamins and minerals that are required for your body to function properly. Interestingly, food can also alter how you genes behave, by switching on and off certain genes.
What is good nutrition?
“Courage, cheerfulness, and a desire to work depends mostly on good nutrition”.
Jacob Moleschott, physiologist and writer on dietetics
Good nutrition provides the proper energy balance along with necessary vitamins and minerals.
Without enough energy to fuel your daily activities, you would feel tired, constantly hungry and irritable. If you are not getting enough calories, your body might think that it’s going through a period of starvation, which could lead to slower metabolism and muscle loss.
If you eat too much food, it can slow down your digestive system, which can result in spikes in blood sugar levels, cause headaches and make you feel tired. Additionally, your body is likely to store extra calories, leading to weight gain.
The food you eat provides you with nutrients you need to survive. There are two main types of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients.
The three main categories of macronutrients include carbohydrate, protein, and fat. The two types of micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Water is also considered a very important nutrient as about 60% of human body is made up of water.
The number of calories in food tells you how much potential energy food contains. However, it is not only calories that are important, but also the substance from which the calories are taken.
“Empty calories” come from solid fats (bacon, hot dogs, sausages, pizza) and added sugars (cookies, donuts, ice cream) that provide energy but very little nutritional value.
Each food has a certain nutrient density, or nutrients per amount of food. While eating the right amount of food for your energy needs, you want to make sure that that food is loaded with nutrients.
Some of the examples of foods with high-nutrient density are vegetables, fruits, fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Some foods with low-nutrient density are deli meats, refined grains, sugar products, potato chips, pizza and soft drinks.
When you fill your body mostly with nutrient-dense foods, you will get a maximum dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients that keep your body healthy.
On the other hand, if you eat a lot of foods that are low in nutrients and high in calories, your body could get inflamed. These foods could lead to weight gain and chronic medical conditions.
The relationship between food and your genetic make-up
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
Due to genetic variations among individuals, each person could respond to certain types of food differently. As the result, the ability of the body to take in nutrition, use nutrition effectively, and burn energy in an optimal way can vary greatly between people.
The foods that we like and do not like have also been linked to our genes. For example, genetic factors are responsible for preference for sweet or bitter foods, which can lead to overeating of sugar-rich foods.
Nutrigenomics (also known as nutritional genomics) focuses on the relationship between human genes, nutrition and health. Based on the studies, what you eat directly determines the genetic messages your body receives.
Chemicals that are commonly present in the diet can alter the expression of some genes. Genes can be switched on or off by epigenetic processes, which alter how your genes behave.
There is a growing number of studies that have found the link between a diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars and impaired cognitive functions and mood disorders.
Foods that are high in antioxidants, on the other hand, can protect your body against harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms in the body that can damage cells, cause illness and speed up the aging process. They are a result of normal body processes, but can also be created by exposure to various environmental factors.
Some of the examples of foods high in antioxidants are blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, dark green veggies, green tea, nuts, whole grains and seafood.
The antioxidants in these foods may help promote heart health, prevent cancer, slow down the aging process, and protect against other common diseases that scientists associate with harmful effects of free radicals.
Many people believe that they need to take dietary supplements to get all the vitamins and minerals they need. While taking dietary supplements can be beneficial for some people, you can get all the necessary nutrients from food if you follow a healthy balanced diet.
What is the best diet?
“It is easier to change a man's religion than to change his diet.”
Margaret Mead, anthropologist
In reality, there is no best diet as each person’s body can respond to the same food differently. The best diet for you would depend on your body type and composition, fitness level and lifestyle.
The general principal of healthy eating is to increase healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, plant-based oils, fish, seafood, lean proteins, whole grains, unsaturated fats, complex carbohydrates) and reduce processed foods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables helps lower your risk for numerous chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
On the flip side, processed foods can be detrimental to your health. Trans fats, which are commonly found in packaged processed foods and fried foods, have been associated with higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, increasing your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering your good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Additionally, eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
Seven steps that can help you take charge of your food and improve your health
1) Track your food and drinks intake for a week or two to become more aware of what you eat and when you consume food. You can do this in a number of ways, either using apps or a simple paper journal.
2) Once you have a record of your meals, identify what you would like to add or subtract from your diet. Identify healthy alternatives to your favorite junk foods.
3) Maximize the amounts of lean protein (fish, seafood, chicken, turkey, eggs), fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds in your diet.
4) Minimize processed foods (fried foods, deli meats, sugary drinks, cookies, cakes, candies, ice cream, pizza)
5) Stay hydrated throughout the day. Drink mostly water and cut out soft drinks.
6) It’s ok to indulge in your favorite foods once in a while, but do it in moderation.
7) Ensure to stay physically active so that you use the same amount of energy (or more) as you consume.
"The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
Thomas A. Edison