Welcome to Day 2 of #fitfoodfortnight! I’m sharing a Chapter from my E-book entitled ‘Eat’. It tries to simplify nutrition so you can start to explore what exactly what your body needs NOW. Information and education is power when it comes to food. I believe we need to stop waging war on food and our bodies and start to use healthy eating as a way to fuel our bodies, connect with people and nurture our souls. I hope you enjoy!
‘Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices are good investments’ – Bethenny Frankel
We don’t need to be nutritionists or experts to understand what our bodies need. We simply need to learn to be a good listener!
I advocate a non-diet approach to food and nutrition. Rather than change our eating habits for short periods to achieve a certain health objective, we need to change our eating patterns for life to achieve overall health, wellness and vitality.
A non-diet approach means that we work toward small diet tweaks, one at a time – conditioning each change before moving on to the next. A non-diet approach means learning what our individual bodies need and what they are trying to tell us through physical symptoms.
Nutrition demystified – a simple way to think of our bodies
Like plants, our bodies need certain energy sources to survive. They are: water, oxygen, energy (food) and rest. Food is simply the fuel we need to live.
As general guidance, to adequately fuel our bodies so we can do all the things we like to do, we should aim to eat predominantly plants (fruit, beans and vegetables), with the addition of protein-rich meat and fish if we are open to including them in our food choices. Grains should be supplemented only when we feel we can appropriately digest them, and they should be eaten in smaller quantities than fruit and vegetables. Wherever possible, we should avoid eating processed food that does not contain the best fuel for our bodies to use when we are active. Processed food is often made in factories and is not as nutrient-rich as things that grow in the ground.
To understand what our bodies need, we must listen to them. The easiest way to learn to do this is by keeping a food journal where we can write down what we have eaten and how it makes us feel. Over time, we can learn to understand the signals our bodies are sending us and we can adjust our dietary intake accordingly. This means that we adapt according to what we need at certain times – when we are sick we need different food to when we are well. When it is summer we like to eat cooler foods than in winter. When we are preparing to get pregnant or are breastfeeding, we may found our appetites change again. Learning to tune in to our body’s natural intelligence is the quickest an easiest way to restore equilibrium and health.
There are several types of fuel available to us – they are called macronutrients and are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The human body needs all of these to survive.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and used as energy by our cells. Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, grains and cereals, and most processed foods. Unfortunately, our modern diets can be extremely high in processed carbohydrates that can be nutritionally barren. Eat lots of carbohydrates to keep the engine running, but make sure they’re the right ones (vegetables and fruits).
Fats are the lubrication for our bodies – they are essential in cellular function and repair, brain function and our immune response. There are some fats that are good (natural fatty acids in fish, coconut and flaxseed oils, avocadoes, some nuts) while other fats cannot be used or broken down by the body and can actually become disease-promoting, such as trans-fats found in cured meats, some seed oils (like canola) and saturated fats found in processed food.
Protein is what our body uses to build new cells. Proteins are essential for hormone balance, satiety and muscle repair. Including protein in the diet is essential in promoting wellness and, in some cases, eating more protein can help to prevent overweight and obesity. Protein can be found in beans and legumes, some cereals like brown rice and in larger quantities in eggs, meat and fish.
In addition to the three main fuel sources, or macronutrients, our bodies need minerals and vitamins (micronutrients) to help us to function. Vitamins and minerals are present in all vegetable, fruits, meat and fish. Be aware that foods fortified or supplemented in a laboratory with vitamins and minerals might not contain the required amounts our bodies really need to thrive.
There are some foods that we might not be able to tolerate. We may not even be aware of the effects of food until we actually stop and listen to our bodies, but chances are there are one or two foods that may cause uncomfortable symptoms for each of us. This might included bloating after eating, or mood changes. These symptoms, while uncomfortable on the outside, might be causing problems on the inside, such as inflammation, which can be a precursor to a more serious illness. The common culprits for food intolerance include wheat, soya, sugar, dairy, caffeine and alcohol.
Look after the engine room
A healthy digestive system is the cornerstone of a healthy body. What we eat drastically affects out moods, body shape, behaviour, how we get sick and how often, brain function and hormones. We need to take care of our digestive system; be nice to it and it will be nice to us!
While sugar isn’t stored as fat, sugar can contribute to weight gain if it is not utilised as energy through a complex process that occurs in our bodies. Eating too much processed food and over-consuming sugar is becoming a big contributor to many major health problems we see today, such as diabetes and Crohn’s disease. Many of us assume our diet is sugar-free, however, it is possible to be addicted to natural sugars such as those found in dried fruit. Remember – sugars that aren’t used by our cells are stored in our bodies as glycogen in the liver or as fat so best to avoid eating too much of the sweet stuff!
But what’s a microbiome?
Our microbiome is basically an enormous mass of bacteria – both good and bad – that lives in and on our bodies, including in our digestive system. Every person has their own individual microbiome that is a product of their environment, diet, stress level and exposure to chemicals and pathogens.
When our microbiome is imbalanced, there are too many bad bacteria and not enough of the good stuff. Most of us today have issues with our gut functioning, caused in part by this imbalance. Bad bacteria survives, thrives and replicates through:
- chemicals that we put into our bodies (food, household and beauty products, everyday pollution)
- irritant foods and chemicals including sugar and caffeine
- drugs, including prescription, illegal and everyday over-the-counter medicines such as anti-inflammatories
Our microbiome, when dominated by bad bacteria, can cause all sorts of issues including behavioural disorders, hormonal imbalances and immune deficiencies. It can also lead to intestinal permeability, or what is commonly known as leaky gut.
The good news is we can begin healing and detoxifying the digestive system, and restoring balance by:
- drinking more water
- removing irritant foods (wheat, sugar, dairy, soya, caffeine, alcohol)
- replacing toxic chemicals that we put on our skin with natural products
- improving the amount of micronutrient rich food we eat (fruit and vegetables)
- healing the gut through the use of bone broth and probiotic foods like fermented vegetables.
Working with a certified integrative doctor or naturopath is the best way to work on a plan to heal your gut or change your diet, particularly if you are already unwell.
What’s the cost of our dietary mistakes?
What we eat and how stressed we are affect our health and wellbeing and can contribute to chronic diseases in the long run. While enjoying a donut today might seem inconsequential, over a lifetime these little behaviours can wreak havoc on our bodies.
The first step to changing is acknowledging where we are at with our eating patterns. The truth is, many of us know that eating vegetables is good for us. It’s when it comes to actually eating them that we struggle!
Want to get the full Ebook complete with exercises for you work through? Get it here!