By Joseph Accursio NP
“Let food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be food.” Hippocrates
Continuing from a previous post, the idea behind this article is to provide a streamlined way to think about nutrition and what to eat. There are a seemingly infinite number of dietary tips and tricks and methods out there, but if we’re going to make changes and think about things differently, then we have to make it simple and useful. Without further ado, here is my personal way to view eating:
First things first, we need to get the “d-word” out of the way. Discipline. Changing your eating habits on a permanent basis is unpleasant. There is no way around this. That’s why a proper perspective and going into a change with both eyes open is crucial. You’ll have times of struggle, weakness and discomfort. But, as the old Rocky IV song goes, “it’s you against you, the paradox that drives us all.” So then, show your appetite who’s boss!
A pivotal part of discipline is planning ahead. If you try to wing it in times of stress, you will fail. Don’t stare temptation in the face - plan for it, then run from it when it comes- because it will come. The more you do on the front end, the higher likelihood of your success.
With that groundwork laid, onto the actual food part:
There are three sources of fuel that the body can burn in order to stay alive – carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Anything that doesn’t fall under those categories is a filler, a fiber, water, or a nutrient of some kind (like vitamins and such).
Carbohydrates are, for all intents and purposes, sugars. From white stuff in a packet to broccoli stems. There are “simple ones” and “complex ones,” which relate to a concept called glycemic loads in conjunction with what else you’re eating at the time – but let’s not make this a chemistry lesson.
The low carb diet has long been a staple of discussion for fad diets, but keep this in mind: though your body can make sugar from other sources, you need some carbs on a regular basis for your brain. If you don’t take in something carbohydrate, you will feel a little mentally foggy and irritable.
The carb bottom line: get your sugars from fruits, vegetables and high fiber grain breads. And there is almost never a justification for things like Gatorade. Unless you’re a successful marathoner, in which case you’re not likely reading this post.
Next up is proteins. Protein is the building block of functional tissue; think of it as more of a structural component. What you’re made of. Your body can use proteins to make carbs, but the process is also more drawn out and causes the same mental fogginess and lack of energy.
Protein is an important fuel source, but unless you’re (again) a marathoner in training, the super high protein diet is overrated and unnecessary. The human body generally turns over about 80% of the protein needed on a daily basis, which means most protein that’s broken down is recycled and reused. The most important two things about protein are the essential amino acids (i.e. proteins that your body can’t make) and the fact that proteins make you feel full.
Finally we have fats, which tend to get a bit of a bad rap. Fats are long term fuel supplies. Though your body needs some carbs to burn fats, fat is the best type of long duration energy. Fatty meals are higher in calories because fat is calorically dense. Here’s a positive trend on the rise – the return of fat as significant source of food intake. After decades of an errant cultivation of fat-fear and high sugar replacement foods, scientific research is yielding data that healthy dietary fats (i.e. NOT foods in a wrapper) are A-OK. Dietary cholesterol guidelines are on the way out, and the idea is that it was the sugar all along, not the fat. There are many bridges to cross yet on this one, and surely there is and will be an overzealous “fat” trend that acts like many other trends, but keep an eye on forthcoming fat-related findings.
So in summary, take the following points:
1. Food is fuel, not entertainment. Be disciplined above all.
2. Carbs, proteins and fats. That’s all there is. And there are healthy varieties of each.
Two more things to note –
No matter what you’re eating, if you’re eating too much of it, you will not maintain a healthy weight or energy level, and you’ll be disposed to mood swings and mental changes. This obviously doesn’t help you maintain that discipline. Don’t gorge. Leave yourself just a little bit hungry.
Finally, the most difficult point in today’s culture – don’t eat out of thin plastic packages or fast food wrappers. Make it a rule and stick with it. The stuff that comes out of this packaging is SUPER calorie dense, very high in sugar and has little nutritive value. Think of it as waste product and avoid at all costs.