By Taylor Ferreira
“Let thy food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be thy food.” (Socrates) Food is the center of life, it greatly impacts cultures, lifestyles, and most importantly, our bodies. In order to stay healthy, it is important to explore how food can affect our mental health, our social life, and our physical well-being. Because nutrition is so deeply related to culture and circumstance, there are countless philosophies and opinions on how one should approach this seemingly daunting subject.
There are so many components to nutrition. There is the “what” you eat, the “how” you eat and even the “when” you eat. Our goal in this segment is to break down and simplify these ideologies so they are easy to adopt into your daily routine.
Nutrition is a necessity. Those who eat well, live well. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, nutrition plays an essential role in defending oneself against “coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, atherosclerosis, obesity, some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental caries, gallbladder disease, dementia and nutritional anaemias.”
Like most things in life, the trick to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is balance. It requires a balance between too much and too little, healthy and delicious, and most importantly, a balance between food groups. They say to eat the rainbow. This doesn’t mean Skittles. A plate with a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, and meats will provide a plethora of essential nutrients: micro and macro.
So what are macronutrients? By definition, macronutrients are “substances required in relatively large amounts by living organisms.” In other words, it’s what we need in our food in order to survive. The essential macronutrients can be summed up in three groups: carbohydrates (this includes starch, sugar, and fiber), fat, and protein. There is a misconception that consuming carbs and fats lead to weight gain, but in reality, they are essential to the body’s function. Carbohydrates and fats are broken down, releasing the energy that powers your muscles, your brain, and your cells. Lipids make up cell membranes, and protein is essential for the building and repairing of your body’s tissues as well as the production of enzymes and essential hormones.
What about micronutrients? Micronutrients are essential, and as indicated by their name, are not needed in as large a quantity as macros. This is the category that vitamins (your As your Bs the whole shabang) and minerals fall into. You’ve probably heard of calcium, iron, and magnesium, but there are many more that can be found in the very foods you eat. For example, biotin aids in the metabolism of macros and energy storage, and niacin aids in cholesterol production and nervous system function. Both of these can be found in whole grains, poultry, cauliflower, and avocados. Some of the more fundamental nutrients can be found in the Daily Values section on the food label. There, it states how much of the nutrient is necessary (in a 2000 calorie diet) and also how much is present per serving.
Now, how do we know how much we are supposed to eat? Many attempt to lose weight by dramatically decreasing their caloric intake. Yes, a caloric deficit – meaning consuming less calories than burned – does cause weight loss, but once the body reaches a certain point, the body will go into starvation mode. The body will then slow down the metabolism and will actually begin to store fat, reversing the efforts of eating too little in the first place. On top of this, an extreme calorie-deficit diet causes a feeling of deprivation, and it is very hard to sustain. More often than not, it leads to frustration and eventually over-eating in an effort to compensate. This can lead to a vicious cycle of binging and purging which brings a whole other list of problems.
What about eating too much? Everyone knows that America in particular has experienced an alarming increase in obesity rates, and it isn’t hard to see why. However, it is now a question of why humans have a tendency to overeat. An article by Precision Nutrition helped me to understand this. So, why do we eat so much? And why can’t we stop? Surprisingly enough, we have our brains to blame, not our appetites. You may think that you are consciously in control of your choices, but in reality, your subconscious is the one telling you to reach for that late night snack.
The article introduced two terms to help explain this: homeostatic eating and hedonic eating. Homeostatic eating is for the purpose of gaining energy while hedonic eating is for the sake of pleasure, or as a way to release anxiety or appease boredom. Another thing to keep in mind is the hunger hormone ghrelin. This tells your body when to start eating, while a sensation called satiation, or feeling satisfied, acknowledges when you should stop. This feeling of satiation is triggered through a release of special hormones such as insulin, a process called the leptin feedback loop, and by acknowledging gastric distention (a fancy way of saying the expansion of the stomach). We won’t get into all the science behind these in this article, but the reason why it is so easy to overeat, is because certain foods have the ability to rewire your brain in a way very similar to drugs.
These addictive foods are the ones that are “hyper-palatable, hyper-rewarding, and heavily processed.” (Precision Nutrition, Eating too much?) These are typically calorie-dense, with large amounts of fat and processed-sugars; not to mention they are very low in nutrients. These foods trick the brain into thinking the body is deprived. They actually cause the brain to become inflamed which causes a resistance to leptin (one of the factors that triggers satiation) making the body feel like it hasn’t had enough.
So how can we stop this dangerous occurrence? It is really quite simple. Like I said, the trick to a healthy lifestyle is in maintaining a balance. We need to try and walk the line between deprivation and over-indulgence; with this, a bit of mindfulness can go a long way. Eating a delicious variety of whole food sources that you enjoy can help you feel fuller, eat less calories, and keep those cravings for those hyper-rewarding foods in check. Throughout the year, we will explore different ways that we can make eating healthy manageable, maintainable, and enjoyable. Food is the fuel we need to live, so a little bit of knowledge on the subject can help us to make better choices for our health. Let’s see where it can take us.