Tuesday 28 May 2013

Week 22 Nutrition Habit: Eat Natural

Ever been confused by nutrition? Do you seem to get so many conflicting messages from "experts" that you are not sure who to believe? If so, you are not alone. The information age has brought mass confusion to millions. To assist my athletes, clients and students with their nutrition, I like to get them focused on first  consistently applying basic principles before they sweat the small, controversial details. As with training, I like to look at a bunch of different successful diets and instead of focusing on the small differences, "ask the more important question, what do they all have in common?" In giving nutrition lectures, I often tell people that if you gave me only 2 seconds for this lecture, I would simply tell you to eat natural. If you applied just this one principle, your health, body composition and performance would sky rocket! In this week of the "52 Weeks to Better Nutrition and a New You" series, let's look at this important habit!

So just why is eating natural so important? 

Natural is normal
Natural foods is what we humans have always eaten - until now. Today in many developed countries we have access to clean water, proper sanitation and quality medical care. However, despite all this we have all sorts of health problems because we also have access to an abundance of abnormal food. In the staff lunch room, I have gotten a lot of teasing over the years about the weird food I eat. When did a chicken breast, baked yams and steam vegetables become abnormal to eat and a frosted doughnut with blue and pink sprinkles become normal?

Natural = increased nutrients
Natural foods contain not just calories, proteins, fats and carbohydrates for high-performance energy and recovery, but also essential vitamins and minerals. Many natural foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables) are also loaded with antioxidants and phyochemicals which have some wonderful anti-cancer, health-promoting properties. Food processing removes this goodness and often leaves us just with the carbs. As a result, we have people who are both overweight and malnourished at the same time.

Synergistic components
Natural food is brilliantly designed. Take an apple for example. On the outside, you have the skin which provides insoluble fiber to increase bulk in the colon and speed elimination (i.e. it prevents you from being constipated). The skin also contains lots of antioxidants to protect the fruit from oxidation damage and when you eat it, you also get this benefit. Inside is more nutrients and water. Sure you have some natural sugar, but you also have more fiber to slow down the digestion and help you feel full so you don't overeat. The apple also comes in an appropriate portion for the average human. With natural food, all the parts work together for your health. 

Portion control
Natural foods have a way of being satisfying without causing you to over-indulge. When was the last time you heard someone say, "you know, I was sitting down with a bag of apples, watching a movie and before I knew it, the whole bag was gone!"  

Re-training of taste-buds
Our taste-buds have an amazing ability to adapt. For example, there are many people who actually enjoy the taste of black coffee. How can that be? I don't know of anyone who loved black coffee from the first sip, but you can learn to like it if you have it enough. People who eat mainly processed food (and thus have adapted their taste-buds to it) turn their noses up at whole, natural food because they claim it tastes bad. However, if you gradually and consistently remove processed food from your diet and replace it with whole, natural foods, your taste-buds will get used to it and you will actually enjoy the food you eat. Then, once they have adapted, the junk food often tastes too sweet, too salty or just too rich. The result is you eat more of what improves your health, body composition and performance and less of what hurts it.

Science is still behind
We need to honestly recognize that science does not have all the answers. I believe it was Dr. Jonny Bowden who had a great story about this. He mentioned that back in the day, vitamin C was the big deal in research. At that time, blueberries did not get much attention because their vitamin C levels are not that spectacular. However, as time went on, scientists began to learn more about antioxidants. Then, when they looked at blueberries, they were amazed to see that blueberries had not only very high levels of antioxidants, but when they studied the synergistic effect that all these different antioxidants had when combined together (as in the blueberry) the rating was off the charts! I honestly believe that as we continue to learn more about different foods, we will continue to discover new and wonderful things and find even more foods that can be called "super foods". So why not eat natural foods now and then as new discoveries reveal more amazing benefits to certain foods you can smile and say, "cool, I've been eating that for years!"

Man's pathetic track record of food intervention
White bread
It seems that every time man tries to mess with natural food, we get ourselves in trouble. For example, when food manufactures first started processing grain to make it last longer, large numbers of people became mal-nourished because essential vitamins & minerals were removed. However, instead of leaving the grain alone, they "enriched" it by adding back a few synthetic vitamins. While this preventing the malnutrition it did not prevent the obesity epidemic.

Hydrogenated margarine
We see the same thing with fat. Again for manufacturing, cost and shelf-life reasons, companies started adding hydrogen ions to polyunsaturated fats to make them like saturated fat. They ended up creating a frankenfat that your body has no idea what to do with. As a result it a contributor to cancer and heart disease. Ops.

Another interesting man-made creation was Olestera. This came about during the low-fat confusion of the 80's and 90's. Food manufactures came up with the brilliant idea to create an un-digestible fat-like substance that could be used in products such as fat-free cookies and chips. With the usual lack of forethought, they failed to consider what happens to this substance in your colon if it does not digest. The only bright side to this frankenfood was that it got people doing their sprints as they raced for the nearest bathroom.

The Application: This Week's Habit
Way too many steps
This weeks, your homework is to develop a specific thought habit that will serve you well for the rest of your life. The first part is a tip I learned from fitness writer Lou Schuler. When making decisions about what to eat, first stop and ask yourself, how many steps did this food have to go through before it reached my plate? To go along with this question, you could also ask: did this come from a box? How many ingredients are in this? Do any of these ingredients are giving me flash-backs to my high school chemistry class? If you are getting undesirable answers to these questions, look for a natural alternative. Your body will thank you.  

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