How High-quality Nutrition Fuels your Body for Life
If you go by the headlines, it can be hard to know what good nutrition looks like. Is fat good or bad? Do you eat carbs, or skip carbs? Do you just eat protein all day? Here’s a common sense and straightforward list of the nutrients you need to fuel your body properly.
To nourish your body, you need macronutrients, in larger amounts, and micronutrients, in smaller amounts. The three macronutrients are fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and you need all three for good health. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals, and you need those in much smaller amounts. They can be found in a wide variety of foods.
First of all, let’s talk about fat. Although fat has long been on the list of things not to eat, the truth is that your body needs fat. It provides fuel, it powers your brain, and it is part of every single cell in your body. It helps your body make hormones and absorb the vitamins and minerals in your food. In order to get the fat you need, skip the vegetable oils and any manufactured fats, and choose things like avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, or ghee. Balance your omega 3 and omega 6 ratios by eating fish, or add an omega 3 supplement to your diet. Including good fat in your meal increases the satiety factor, or that feeling of satisfaction and fullness that cues your body to stop eating. Because fat is quite energy dense (nine calories per gram), you don’t need to eat much of it to get what you need. A serving of fat is about the size of your thumb.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body. We need protein in order to build and repair muscle. Your cells synthesize proteins by breaking down the protein you eat into amino acids and then recombining those amino acids to make exactly what your body needs. There are nine amino acids that the body cannot make, and must get from food. These are known as the essential amino acids. Most animal sources of protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products) contain all nine essential amino acids, and are referred to as complete proteins. Vegetable sources of protein are often paired to make a complete protein, and if you are vegetarian or vegan it’s important to eat a wide variety of foods to get all of those amino acids.
Protein is less energy dense than fat, with four calories per gram, and in the US, it’s unlikely that you need MORE protein in your diet. Too much protein can be hard on your kidneys. A serving of meat shouldn’t be larger than the palm of your hand or thicker than a deck of cards.
Just as fat used to be the villain, these days carbohydrates are likely to be portrayed as the bad guys. Carbohydrates provide energy for our cells. Just like protein, carbohydrates give you four calories per gram. Carbohydrates are divided into three categories: sugar alcohols, fiber, and sugar, and they each have a different effect on your body. Sugar alcohols like xylitol or erythritol taste sweet but mostly pass through your digestive system and don’t cause blood sugar spikes. They are often used as substitute sweeteners.
Fiber is the un-digestible part of your food. You need fiber, and a lot of it. It fuels good gut bacteria and keeps things moving through your digestive tract. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The fiber helps your body balance the other category of carbohydrate: sugar.
Sugar is the carbohydrate that causes our body to respond by sending insulin in order to move sugar from our bloodstream to cells to either use it as energy or convert it to fat. If you have some fiber with that sugar, it slows down how your body uses it so you don’t experience a spike and a drop, but if you just eat the sugar, you’ll feel wired and then TIRED.
Sugar is actually an anti-nutrient, meaning that consuming it makes it more difficult to absorb the other nutrients in your food. It creates a dopamine response in your brain, which means it is addicting. By triggering your insulin receptors too frequently, you can develop insulin resistance, which is step one on the path to type 2 diabetes. And sugar really affects your cognition, so much so that some researchers are calling Alzheimers and dementia type 3 diabetes. Excess sugar consumption is linked to some cancers, heart disease, and obesity as well.
So when it comes to carbohydrates, don’t think low-carb or no-carb but do choose SMART carbs. Smart carbs are complex carbohydrates that pair their sugars with fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Where do we find these kinds of carbohydrates? Whole fruits and whole vegetables are the best choices to make, and whole grains if you eat grain. Skip any refined sugars and simple carbohydrates (refined grain products like white rice and white flour) and opt for whole foods instead.
So nutrition can be simple. Choose whole foods, mostly a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, with a little good fat and a moderate serving of protein, and explore ways to prepare the things that taste great and nourish your body at the same time. High quality nutrition will give you high quality energy for life. If you’re looking for more in-depth support and education, TruBalance offices are all equipped for virtual visits, or check out Dr. Traci Kiernan’s Lifestyle Mastery for Health for a complete master class that covers each of these topics.