If you search Google for the definition of Nutrition, you’ll see it says: “Nutrition is the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food in relation to maintenance, growth, reproduction, health and disease of an organism. It includes food intake, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion.” For most of us we think of nutrition as what we eat.
Keep Googling and you’ll find that there are only three ways to take in a calorie. We call them macronutrients and they consist of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Many foods are a combination of these macronutrients and we name them by which macronutrient prevails. A steak or cheese both contain protein and fat but the steak is considered a protein because it has more protein than fat. Cheese is considered a fat because it contains more fat than protein. Some foods like yogurt contain all three macronutrients.
Your body uses protein to create and maintain lean muscle tissue, hair, blood, nails enzymes, hormones and brain cells. More than half of your body’s weight is made up of protein. Some protein can be found in soy, vegetables and beans but as a general rule, protein comes from an animal source…something that had a mother and father and walked the earth!
Insufficient protein consumption can be devastating to the body. Not only does it weaken the immune system which stops the body’s ability to properly fight infection, you can lose existing muscle mass as the body “cannibalizes” itself in an attempt to have the raw materials it needs to create new enzymes. Good sources of protein are fish, chicken, turkey and other lean meats. Some nutritionists consider that the “fewer the legs, the better,” when it comes to choosing a protein. Fish (no legs) may be a healthier choice than chicken and turkey (two legs) or steak (four legs).
Carbohydrates are our second macronutrient. Carbs can be misunderstood and often have a “bad” reputation. Tons of diet books preach that eating low carbs is the way to good health and weight loss. Carbohydrates by definition are foods that contain sugar. Breads, grains, cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, cake, candy, donuts and alcohol all fall into this macronutrient category. Here’s the trick about eating carbs. Basically, there are two types and they come from very different sources.
The first group is from food that nature put on the earth. I call them “God Carbs” because they are fruits and vegetables and they are natural sources of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates have a low glycemic index, which means they don’t raise blood sugar levels when you eat them. They contain lots of fiber and don’t initiate a great insulin response. Your body uses carbs for energy.
The second type of carbs are man-made. We consume them in the form of bread, pasta, cakes, donuts and other wheat and sugar-based products. They are less natural, have a high glycemic index, little fiber and have a great capacity to stimulate insulin. Since insulin is a pro-inflammatory fat storage hormone, it is best to eat the more natural carbohydrates that contain less sugar and are naturally high in fiber. The more fiber a carbohydrate contains, the slower it digests and turns into sugar in the blood stream. The slower the release of sugar, the more it works to keep blood sugar stabilized. The control of blood glucose is critical for maintaining proper weight, optimal brain function and energy.
Fats are the third macronutrient. It too is quite misunderstood. In the early 1970’s we were told to eat no-fat, low-fat diets and that dietary fat made us fat. “A moment on the lips forever on the hips.” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. From that time on, Americans gained weight, became less healthy and the cases of Type 2 diabetes soared. Food manufacturers began replacing fats with high sugared carbohydrates, the kind that make us fat and unhealthy. The result of that one change has led to an obesity epidemic in this country never known before in the history of mankind.
Not all fats are the same. As with carbohydrates, there are “good” fats, and “bad” fats. Those fats coming from natural foods such as fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados and olives are important to maintaining health. Man-made transfats and hydrogenated oils are the fats to avoid. Fats are primarily important because they slow down digestion, keeping blood sugar levels stabile. Fats provide the essential fatty acids that become our hormones and are our most concentrated energy source. They also make food taste good. Simply put, our bodies and brains could not function without fats. Just make them the healthy ones!
Now that we know the basics of nutrition, we also know that when we use the term “nutrition” we often connect it with health. After all, what Hippocrates said centuries ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food” holds true today. What we put into our bodies influence health and longevity, a concept as old as Eve being assured by the serpent that if she ate the forbidden fruit, she “would not surely die.”
Translated into modern science, we now know that nutrition influences gene expression. Diet and lifestyle actually play a more significant role in staying healthy than our genes. Of course, there are genetic variables and we are not all created equal, but our lifestyle washes over our genes and greatly influences overall health. How quickly we age, and the quality of our health is more a byproduct of how we choose to live our lives.
Nutrition, what we put into our bodies, is the cornerstone of all health. Food serves as information to our cells and health is always on a cellular level. The Standard American Diet, known as SAD, which is followed by most people in this country, could be the worst diet on earth because it contributes to disease and undermines overall health.
The foods we eat are commercially processed, plied with hormones, toxins and chemicals. Even when we opt for healthier foods like fruits and vegetables, they are grown with glyphosates (Roundup), which has a direct connection to Lymphoma and Leukemia. Not only are we killing ourselves with our forks when we consume foods tainted with these herbicides, studies show our soil and waterways are being poisoned from these chemicals. The past 40 years has seen a 15-fold increase globally in the use of glyphosates.
The manipulation of our crops and how they are grown has changed the genetic code of what we eat and has left much of our food nutritionally bankrupt. Wheat, corn, soybean and even cotton crops are being affected.
Our foods lack the nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber we need to sustain health. Our fats are manipulated to maintain shelf life rather than our lives. Our fish come from polluted waters. Sugar consumption is up to 152 pounds per person per year leading to metabolic syndrome which is a precursor to diabetes and then to actual diabetes. Two hundred years ago we consumed only 2 pounds of sugar per year. Poor nutrition, nutritional deficiencies, digestive challenges especially in the aging population all lead to immune system issues.
With aging there are significant changes in immune regulating cells and immune function. In the elderly, natural killer cell function deteriorates. These natural killer cells are the body’s defense against microbes such as bacteria, viruses, fungus and abnormal cells. When the immune system is compromised we see increases in infections, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Finally, there is no organ in the body more fragile or more influenced by nutrition, diet, stress and overall lifestyle than the brain. Sadly, it is easy to see the decline in function of a person’s brain due to the way we live in this modern world. Again, processed foods containing neurotoxins, high glycemic high sugared carbohydrates, toxic fats, stress and sleep issues all affect how the brain functions. Neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate with one another, are profoundly influenced by diet and nutrition.
It is not all doom and gloom! We are fortunate in that we are living longer. The goal is to maintain quality of life as we age. Good nutrition supplies the body with the raw materials it needs to maintain health and to function optimally so that we are not burdened with depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease as we age. Knowledge is power. Enacting a few lifestyle changes make a big difference. Scientific studies prove that by making better food choices, perhaps buying some organic produce, not consuming artificial sweeteners or soda, we can achieve higher levels of health. Other things that impact longevity include not smoking, exercising regularly, including friendship and social activities into our lives, controlling stress and getting a good night’s sleep. We choose our lifestyles.
The World Health Organization has said: “Health is not defined as the absence of disease, but as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing.” All the cells of the human body are interconnected and an imbalance in one area creates another imbalance. Good nutrition supports good health and a good life!