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The great food debate… part 2 (diet a dirty word)

So in part 1 I told you what I consider the 3 rules of a healthy diet. I think rule 2 needs further deconstruction. It also leads into my mini rant of dieting (in the fad sense). So rule 2 was “the perfect diet is the one that suits your body”.  What does this really mean?

First my mini rant on the dirty word “diet”. Dictionary definition of diet: “the kinds of food that a person, animal or community habitually eats. Basically before the people become too smart for their own good diet was about what an organism ate to survive. But this has been twisted in modern society to focus more on the restrictions a person sets to lose weight, maintain weight or in some cases become over weight. I think we need to go back to the true definition and put less emphases on the weight aspect of food and more on the living/ survival aspect of food. Otherwise our children will be learning that animals like lions and sharks are not carnivorous (a diet of meat) but instead are on Atkins. Herbivorous animals will be categorised into either vegans or vegetarians depending on their consumption of animal by products. Scavengers like rats are binge eaters and omnivorous animals are fad dieters, following the latest trends. Yes this sounds ridiculous but our approach to food is becoming ridiculous. We need to stop using diet as a dirty word. A diet is what we eat and a healthy diet should not be about whether you are in the target BMI but whether what you are eating is allowing for your body to run at its very best. Ok rant over… sort of.

The best diet is like filling your car up with premium fuel, you’ll get the best mileage and your car runs smoothly, a goal we should aim for but not always possible. A good diet is like putting the right fuel in your car… it still runs well but you could improve (this is where most people sit or should at least aim for). A bad diet is putting the wrong fuel in your car… if your lucky your car will run for a little while but wont last as long as it should, unlucky and your car doesn’t start at all (this is where you need to get out of). Just like cars, different humans need different fuels. To continue with the car metaphor you wouldn’t fill a car on diesel if it runs on unleaded or visa versa and expect it to run at top performance. So you can’t fill your body with the wrong food for you (regardless of its social healthy or unhealthy tag) and expect to run at top performance.

What are the signs your fuel is not right? Well this is where it gets very tricky, mostly because everybody is different. The most significant sign is also the hardest to pick, most people just feel unwell, like something just isn’t right. There is also digestion signs like changes in frequency or consistency of faeces, nausea after eating and/or acid reflux. Then the non-digestion signs like insomnia, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, mood swings and/or dark circles under the eyes. There is the obvious weight gain and less obvious weight loss. Now these are signs and symptoms of a number of conditions not just food related, so how do we tell? Well if you are unsure there are two things you can do. 1) Remove food you think gives you these symptoms for a period and see if the symptoms go away. 2) Go to your doctor and talk to them about allergy or intolerance testing.

The best piece of advice I can give anyone who is concerned about their health, whether it is your diet or just your general health, is that you know your body better than anyone. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t and if something is making you feel ill then try to stay away from it. Also, if you are thinking about changing your diet, for whatever reason, seek advice from a nutritionist or dietition. These are the people that know the impact of food on the human body and can best advice you in matters of health and diet.

Remember food is your friend, not your enemy and a healthy diet doesn’t mean completely cutting out the yummy things in life. It just requires a little guidance for some of us.

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The great food debate… part 1

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)

 
 

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