The Very Basics of Food
Over the years, the most common questions that I am asked are related to nutrition and to be honest, it’s no surprise. The whole food/diet/nutrition industry is big business, which creates an absolute minefield for most of us to try and understand.
That doesn’t mean that fully understanding nutrition and the impact on our body is easy because it isn’t, I’ve got two nutritional qualifications and I still get confused with some of it. But it could be made much simpler, especially for those trying to lose weight and/or who have minimal nutritional understanding.
I don’t believe that as an industry, we help ourselves that much. Rather than acknowledging that the subject is confusing and provide something less complicated but realistic, some show off and confuse it even more. I applaud those that can get up at 6am to neck raw eggs and supplements (truly) but it’s just not realistic for most people, especially if fitness isn’t their real passion.
As everything in my life has to be easy and because it is such a vital part of our wellbeing, I am going to try and explain the very basics of food, in the most basic way that I can.
Before we start, this isn’t a post providing chapter and verse on nutrition and some will be able to pick holes if they want to. Picking holes in things is great but it creates confusion and that’s why I’m having to write this.
CARBOHYDRATES are sugars, which the body uses as energy.
They are often seen as the anti Christ but carbs are essential for us to function on a daily basis. If you are training to lose body fat (weight loss), you need carbs to allow you to train. If not, you are going to be tired, training will be much harder, you will feel unhappy and you will probably give up.
Let’s get the complicated bit out of the way, there are two main types of carbs
Complex or Slow Release Carbs are digested in the small intestine instead of the stomach, so they are digested slower. As the process takes longer, blood sugar (energy) levels are far more stable.
Examples…Whole wheat breads, pastas, flour, rice, Potatoes.
Simple or Fast release carbs basically do the opposite, releasing glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream rapidly, causing a spike in blood sugar levels
Examples…Fruits, milk products, processed and refined sugars such as sweets, cakes, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks.
It would be easy to label the simple carbs as ‘bad’ but they are not, just different qualities in the options available. A can of coke will impact the body in a similar way that a banana will but we shouldn’t need telling which is better for us.
As carbs give you energy, it is beneficial to have them before training. Clearly everyone’s personal circumstances will differ with work etc but the cleaner/most natural form, the better the easier the body deals with it.
The most common problem that I have seen with the consumption of carbs and weight loss, is portion size. As the body can only process a certain amount of carbs at a time, any additional carbs consumed, that the body cannot process during this time, turns into body fat.
There is a common belief that carbs cannot be eating after a certain time, which isn’t really true. It doesn’t matter within reason at what time you eat carbs, it’s the amount that’s the problem.
PROTEIN builds and repairs body muscle
Many of the fad diets over the years have focused on protein consumption and understandably, It’s an easy win. As the body gets rid of excess protein through natural means, it doesn’t store excess as body fat, so you can’t get fatter.
The problem with a protein only based diet, is that it’s unsustainable over a period of time. If you do not have any form of carbs, you will not have any form of energy.
Examples of Protein… meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dairy, beans, soy foods, nuts and seeds.
As Protein builds and repairs muscle, it’s best to consume after training and ideally in it’s most natural form.
Clearly when discussing protein and training, you bring protein shakes into the discussion and that can be another can of worms. As I’m keeping it basic, protein shakes are ok as a supplement and if you are training hard enough, they are worth taking afterwards.
Unfortunately you don’t get big muscles just by drinking them, you have to do the training bit too ;)
FRUIT AND VEGETABLES provide the body with essential vitamins
I don’t know much about cars, which is worrying considering I use this comparison so much but if carbs are fuel and proteins are water, fruit and vegetables are the oil.
What do I hope that means? You can get away with not having much oil in your car but overtime the performance will be poor and eventually your engine will give up.
Vitamins and minerals do hundreds of functions around the body, that are essential for us to perform at our peak. These functions include healing wounds, converting food to energy, supporting the immune system and so many others.
Most of us know that we are supposed to eat our five a day and most of us probably don’t, I strongly suggest that you do.
Surprisingly, fruit and real fruit juice have come in for a hard time within the industry in recent years, mainly due to sugar content. Personally, if you have pinpointed excessive fruit consumption as your biggest challenge in losing weight, you really should be looking at other areas of your diet…or you’re a gorilla.
MILK AND DAIRY PRODUCTS provide us with calcium, essential A vitamins and protein.
Similar to fruit and vegetables, milk and dairy products keep the body working efficiently and bring an element of strength. Calcium is particularly important for our bones, so really is vital that we include in our diets.
Vegans often struggle when it comes to milk and dairy but I’m just the messenger. Clearly everyone has choices but your body still needs dairy products to perform, so really would suggest you find suitable alternatives.
SUGARY FOODS provide us with minimal nutritional benefit.
There’s no secret to what types of food we should limit but why should we limit them, when they are so nice? Quite simply they provide minimal return on nutritional benefits, for the calories consumed. Going back to the banana and coke comparison, both similar in calorie content but worlds apart in nutritional value and benefits to the body.
There is not a real problem with eating sugary foods every now and then, we are all human and life is about enjoying. However it’s when it becomes part of your daily norm, that the problems start.
That is probably as basic as I can make it for now and hopefully some will have gained something from it.
If I’m going to end on a basic note and we have probably heard many times before, everything in moderation. We can all become obsessed for a couple of weeks but if you keep it balanced, life is much easier and more importantly happier ;)