How Much Do You REALLY Know About Food?
Ask yourself this question: How much do I actually know about food? Do I know the difference between micronutrients and macronutrients? Do I understand the difference between protein, fats and carbohydrates? What the role of each is within my body?
I’m asking you to examine your own level of knowledge, because I remember that for the first 5 years of my diet and exercise life I was almost completely clueless about nutrition and food. More to the point, I wish I had bothered to learn and understand the basics. It would have made my results come more quickly and easily. Also, I wouldn’t have felt like I was a blind person, walking around without a clue about how to get to where I wanted to be.
So, here is a short, easy to digest (pun not intended, ha) primer on nutrition and food. In future posts, we will investigate each sub-group more closely:
Micro Vs Macro
A micronutrient is a vitamin or a mineral, found in the normal human body, used as part of one of the multi-billion chemical reactions needed for life (e.g iron in haemoglobin, essential for the transportation of oxygen round the body) or to make up a certain type of structure or tissue (for example calcium and phosphorus in bone mineral). They are called ‘micro’ nutrients because they are only needed in tiny amounts. In fact, too much can often be harmful.
A micronutrient is either protein, fat or carbohydrate. So-called ‘macro’nutrient because they are the 3 largest (by far) nutrients in the body.
We might take in 500grams of carbohydratess, but only 1 millionth of a gram of vitamin B12 (for example) – hence the micro Vs macro, labels.
A mineral or metal (for example lead or mercury) that is not found or needed in the healthy human body, is a toxin or poison.
Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates
Proteins are essential to life because they are broken down in the body into amino acids and the amino acids are then used to make enzymes (the ‘biological catalysts’ needed to facilitate every chemical reaction in the body – without enzymes nothing would happen in your body, chemically, and you would quickly die). Amino acids are also used to make your muscles, your bone scaffolding (overlaid with minerals to make it stiff and strong) and your immune system antibodies. The good news is that almost every natural foodstuff (from grains; meat; vegetables and fish etc) has some level of protein in it. We will explore protein in more detail soon – I promise.
Fats are also essential to life because every cell in your body has an outer membrane made from fats. Without sufficient fat intake, your nervous system (which is 90% fat) and your cells would start to break down and you would die. Almost all natural fat sources are beneficial to the human body – yes, even the saturated fat from egg yolks and butter – but some man-made fats can be very harmful to health.
‘Carbs’ (as they are known in the trade) are NOT essential to life though not eating them can result in some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms for people who have spent their lives eating carbs daily. How do I know that carbs are not essential? Look at the Inuit or ‘Eskimo’ population. There are almost no significant sources of carbohydrates in the environment where they live. They existed happily on a diet of protein and fats for probably thousands of years. Excessive carbohydrate intake has been strongly linked with a multitude of health conditions, from obesity to heart disease, to Alzheimers, etc. Every time you eat carbs, your body releases insulin to control the rise in blood sugar. Insulin is a very necessary hormone, but it also has some potentially negative effects in the human body. It also signals the bodys’ fat storage cells to store more fat.
Sadly, carbohydrates are easy to produce/grow and cheap to manufacture/refine. Walk into any convenience store and look around you. I would say that on average, 90% of all the food available are carbohydrate based. Even something like a pre-cooked chicken breast with skin on, has had sugar added to it, to ‘improve the taste’. Then of course you have crisps, chocolate, sandwiches and sugary drinks. No wonder the levels of obesity are rising steadily!