As the great food debate continues with “reality” TV shows focusing on weight loss and many news articles focusing on the obesity epidemic I thought I would add my 2 cents to the mix. While I am not a dietition or nutritionist or a doctor I have both personal and educational experience with weight gain and loss and “healthy eating”.
Let’s start with what “healthy eating” actually means for the individual and why it is so important. We should all know that healthy eating is about a balanced diet, it is about getting the right mix of nutrients to fuel our body. But why? The most obvious reason is so that we have the fuel in our bodies to conduct our daily lives. There are seven things that define a living organism (thing): 1) Respiration (exchange of gases- breathing) 2) Reproduction 3) Excretion (remove waste) 4) Moves 5) Respond to stimuli (sensitive to surroundings) 6) Grow 7) Feed (metabolise fuel for energy). All of these things require energy to complete, if one thing stops it all stops and food is at the centre of it all. So food provides us with both the fuel we need to complete these important tasks but also provides the nutrients and minerals essential for growth and repair. But here is the hard part what is healthy for one person may not be healthy for another.
I think that there are 3 basic rules that everyone should follow to live a healthy life.
1) Everything in moderation; our body needs sugar (carbohydrates), salt, vegetables, fruit, protein etc to survive but in the right proportions. It is just as detrimental to eat too many “healthy foods” like vegetables and fruit as it is to eat too much “unhealthy food” like sugar and salt. High anything diets are not good for us, there is a reason humans are omnivores… we need all the different types of food to fuel and bodies. This rule is not only for food but for everything… recreation, work, food everything. The human body copes with extremes but is not designed for it and so will only cope for so long. This is also about portion control… large meals and little movement bad, large movement and little meals just as bad. Moderation is about the matching your needs to your food intake (and the type of food you ingest). Which leads on to rule 2…
2) The perfect diet is the one that suits your body. Here everybody is different. Yes we need protein but there are many different types of protein and at different times in our lives we need different amounts and different sources. For people who vegetarianism is a part of their culture they do not have the enzymes necessary to break down meat protein. A female who menstruates should obtain more protein from iron rich sources (like red meat) than say a post-menopausal woman. It seems like common sense. People with certain health conditions need to stay away from certain foods regardless of how “healthy” they are generally. For example: bananas are a wonderful source of all sorts of nutrients and energy but if you are allergic to bananas then eating them is unhealthy. Celiacs can not eat gluten (including wheat, rye, barley, oats and triticale), which means regardless of the health benefits of these foods (including most cereals, breads and a variety of other food) they must be avoided. A athletic requires a different diet to an academic both jobs require a fair amount of energy but it is different types to fuel different parts of the body. As you can see what is healthy for one person is not always healthy for another. There are a number of factors that make food healthy for us including our own medical history and our lives.
3) Natural and fresh is always better. Raw sugar, wholemeal flour and organic are just a few. If you want to eat a sweet treat bake it yourself, first of all you know exactly what is going into it, second you can substitute things to comply with rule 2. This is relatively simple, if it looks like something your grandma (or grandpa) made then your probably safe. If it looks like something a machine made then it should only be consumed sporadically (if at all). For example, frozen dinners= dehydrated food, not great for the body. Home made apple pie fine (in moderation).
So there is clearly a lot more to healthy eating than just simply eating “healthy food”, which is why there are hundreds (probably thousands) of books written on diet and what constitutes a healthy diet. Since this blog is getting very long I thought I would continue by narrowing down a few things in following blogs. (So stay tuned)