When Nutrition and Healthy Food is Not Personal

It seems as if all diet advice comes with assumptions. It’s either ‘eat less of’ or ‘reduce your portion sizes’. Less than what? Smaller than what?

Somehow, diets have all become about reducing and restricting. They follow linear thinking: ‘eat less to lose weight’ rather than ‘eat less to be malnutritioned’. Malnourishment and malnutrition are global problems, despite the continual increase in food production and destruction such as deforestation to produce and sell yet more food. Food mountain may be getting higher but the amount of nutrition in that food is not increasing along with the amount of food being produced.

Humans have worked out how to make, package and sell more food, while forgetting why we eat food in the first place.

Our individual bodies determine how we use foods, extra micronutrients and how we use them – Image by Luis Oliveira from Pixabay

Our bodies and minds need nutrients to work well. A shortage of nutrients means using reserves and then the body learns to store more reserves for the future. Therefore, people might be eating more food but they are not maintaining the levels of micronutrients our bodies need, which means that food is stored as fat as it doesn’t contain the micronutrients required, so it is kept as fat so the body can stay warm, our metabolism slows down and reduces energy levels too. The body is always making adjustments to keep us alive.

Over the 3 million years of human evolution, when our circumstances, surroundings, temperature and the food available have changed dramatically, our bodies have responded with mutations so we can adjust to the new conditions.

We eat for our lifestyles, environment and genes – Image by Daniel Kirsch from Pixabay

You have probably heard mention of ‘famine genes’ or maybe tried a crash diet for a special event, only to return to your previous diet and find you have put on weight. All that effort and suffering for nothing.

Fattening foods are fattening for a reason. Yes, losing weight would mean cutting out certain foods, but if you get good nutrition, your body does not need to help you survive, store fat or keep you warm. This means that being well nourished makes it easier to manage your weight without restricting, counting, weighing or suffering.

Eggs are nutritious and low cost, but they get the blame when they are combined with less healthy foods into cake and biscuits – Image by monicore from Pixabay

Fattening foods

Foods that contain both fat, protein and sugar (milk) or protein and fast release carbohydrate (avocados) are more fattening than just a fat and protein food (meat).

The foods listed below are nutritious, particularly eggs, but we could not live healthily on these foods alone. For one thing, there is no fibre here. Fibre helps remove toxins from the body, feeds healthy gut bacteria and our systems need to work to slowly extract the micronutrients and energy it needs, while releasing toxins with the parts it discards. This makes steamed green vegetables an essential part of the human diet.

Eggs, dark chocolate, avocados, eggs, nuts, chia seeds, olive oil, coconuts and coconut oil, cheese and full fat yogurt.

Cows, sheep and goats in grassy pastures would never want to stray far or change their diets – Image by Jörg Vieli from Pixabay

These can be viewed in another, more detailed way too. For example, there are 4 types of fats, which provide us with essential fatty acids (for example, omega 3 from oily fish such as salmon), which we need to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Saturated fat comes from tropical fats such as coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated oils, deep fried food and these are best left out of your daily healthy meals. Well nourished people can deal with the occasional blow out as the body learns that it isn’t a staple part of the diet. However, trans fats or trans-fatty acids form in the dairy or meat from animals that graze grass, as trans fats are made when the bacteria digest grass in the stomachs of ruminants (cows, sheep and goats). Trans fats comprise 2-6% dairy and 3-9% fat in meat. This means that poultry or fish will have healthier fatty acids than lamb, beef or venison. Trans fats also increase the LDL (bad) cholesterol, while the other 3 types of fat contain HDL (good) cholesterol.

For those losing weight, salmon and salad is a good choice

Polyunsaturated fats include avocados, seafood, fish, nuts, seeds and oils such as soybean oil and others made from these types of food, such as the oil of nuts, seeds or avocados. We need omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in our diet as our bodies cannot manufacture them. Sources include walnuts and walnut oil, canola oil, chia seeds, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and soybean oil.

Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA can come from cold water fish such as salmon or mackerel.

Monounsaturated fats are the healthiest ones. This why olives and extra virgin olive oil are particularly healthy. This may explain why the fattier nuts such as peanuts, pistachios, canola oil, peanut oil, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds and pecans are so tasty. They can be used for butter, milks such as almond, nut roasts, oils and even crop up in puddings, such as pecan pie and macaroons or almond slices, popular in Spain.

Spoonfed by Tim Spector gives a great overview of how different foods work and how we might respond to them

Nutritional scientists such as Tim Spector of Zoe Global have shown us how we all respond to food in our own unique way. That is a reflection of how mixed our genes are. We are not ‘pure breeds’ in the way that pedigree dogs might be. However, there are certain ways in which we would all react in the same way, which is the chemical reaction between us and food.

This is a good time to mention allergies. Instead of viewing these as some bodily defect, we could look again at these adverse and instant reactions to food in another way. Consider what we now know about nuts and seafood. If we consider factors including our genes, activity and food available as well as how our bodies use microntrients, we might get some answers.

Why would one person react to certain fats in their diet, while someone else is sensitive to starchy carbohydrates such as wheat, grains, rice or potatos or sugar carbohydrates such as fruit? Simply put, one person’s ancestors have always lived in cold climates, which means they require fat to keep them warm and strong while they only move for survival during the winter. They would require more protein and fat in their diet and minimal sugar. Another person lives in a hot country and needs instant energy to sprint away from predators or after their dinner to eat that evening or walk a fair distance to collect enough food to feed their family. These people would need sugar and starch, while keeping fats to a minimum.

This means that not everyone would get fat if their diet was high in starch or sugar carbohydrates, if they use the fast-release energy before it is stored. This also means that some people need more fat and protein in their diet and won’t store it as fat if they avoid the sugar and the starch, but still get some fibre to release toxins that get into our systems.

Detox is what fibre is for. Leafy green vegetables would work for most people, while those living active lifestyles may find sugar from fruit or starch from grains or potatos do the trick.

Therefore, there are many good reasons to understand ourselves and learn to trust and listen to our own bodies, rather than resort to healthcare, which studies sickness and cures, not health and disease prevention. Aches, pains, reactions, sickness or more severe diseases could stem from food intolerance, where your body is sending out clearer signals to ask us to avoid certain foods, particulary as we get older.

Yes, today we mostly go to the supermarket but there are still people living in extreme cold climates or out in the hot sun who have had no reason to change how they live for millenia.

Beans aren’t required for all diets as enough fat and protein may be accessed through other food types – Image by PDPics from Pixabay

Beans containing protein and fat such as soybeans can cause some people problems too. Unless fermented or soaked properly, soy beans can also be an anti-nutrient and block some systems from absorbing micronutrients from food, which is why it is mostly eaten as miso, endamame, oil, natto, tempeh or tofu. It has been said that soybean flour was used mostly for wallpaper paste but since the 1960s, it has been used in mass produced bread to preserve it and make it stay soft for longer. But how has that affected the nutrition from wholemeal bread?

Although governments don’t want to say more than they have to, we all know that various foods are more addictive than others. Officials like to suggest that it is our failing if we get addicted to their foods. They forget how much time and money they spend telling us how much we want it.

Bananas are nutritious but not everyone can metabolise all that sugar – Image by Beat Roth from Pixabay

Meanwhile, healthy food has never needed promotion or much advertising. Nutritious food doesn’t need to smell at all to make us want to eat it, particularly cooked in a good restaurant and served looking like a work of art.

Weight-gaining foods, like addictive foods and poisonous substances, affect everyone differently, according to genetics, lifestyle and what other ingredients these foods are eaten with, as well as when they are eaten. For example, if an avocado is eaten as a regular snack, more weight would generally be gained than if it was eaten as part of a meal with salad.

Like allergies, we could think of weight loss or gain as another message from the body. Weight gain might tells us we need certain foods less, more, with other foods or not at all. Someone with roots in snow-capped mountains, surrounded by plump game where vegetables were rarely found (if it appeared the game got there first) may be sensitive to carbohydrates and need more protein.

Meanwhile, people with roots in the fertile crescent in the Middle East, where animals did the work growing the food instead of ending up on a plate as the food, may prefer plenty of grain and potatos.

Some people may metabolise these foods better than others because of their genes or their systems may recognise it as something they rarely eat and deal with without any fuss. However, most people might be eating this food or ingredient quite often and not realise that we have stored it away as it isn’t useful but if that is all there it, the body must learn to adapt to it in the future.

 

Published by makingspace4life

Currently on an incubator program at Falmouth University - Launchpad - and an MSc in Entrpeneurship. I moved to Cornwall in 2011 and did an MA in professional writing. A keen writer who enjoys life. Favourite activities include: painting, travelling on a budget to enjoy small luxuries, self-advocacy, comedy, film, books, ideas, conversations, team sports and gardening. (Currently limited to my basil plant and any others looking thirsty).

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