In my office when I discuss nutrition with women, the first thing I do is to haul out a huge poster that illustrates metabolism and the amazing things your body can make with food. It can build hormones, it can build neurotransmitters for brain function, and it can build skin, muscle, and bone to name a few of the important substances in your body constructed from food. Then I point out that if you don’t eat, you die as your body becomes unable to build what it needs to function. Your body is trillions of cells working together 24/7 to keep you alive and functioning. When it comes to nutrition, you have to be a team player. Your body is willing to do the work if you provide it with the correct raw materials.
A Calorie is not a Calorie is not a Calorie
So what would your body like to have for dinner? It turns out your body prefers nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables over a Sonic tater tot. Your body does not want to pick through useless calories in search of the proper building blocks it needs. The efficient way to run the complex machine we call the human body is to maximize building blocks and decrease toxins and waste.
When you eat, foods are broken down into the macronutrients, such as, protein, carbs and fat and micronutrients, such as, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The body is programmed to recognize the chemical messages these substances in food deliver. Glucose molecules can be burned as fuel, a protein can be used to build a muscle, an antioxidant to help reduce wear and tear, a vitamin to activate healing. The body is well equipped to process an apple recognizing and efficiently utilizing what it has to offer. The body, however, can be confused by man-made altered foods that do not resemble nature’s chemistry. Foods with altered sugars, altered fats, man-made chemicals, i.e. a Twinkie, are not so easily processed in the body into a beneficial product. The result can be more of a disruption to your metabolism, a waste product that has to be detoxified. Foods, such as, a Twinkie or a frozen pizza are far removed from foods in nature and can actually hasten the body’s decline – think accelerated aging!
All calories are not created equal; some only generate oxidative stress in your body. Look at your plate and see the food on it for what it is. Do you see natural foods from nature staring back, luxurious foods the body can use or do you see food that is manufactured, processed, stripped, altered and of little real useful value to your body. When it comes to calories, we want a calorie with a lot of bang for our buck, not an empty calorie.
What’s for Dinner?
Let’s look at some examples. When you eat, choose proteins direct from nature, such as, meat, dairy, fish instead of isolated soy protein chemically extracted from nature. Choose sugars from nature, such as, fruits vs. chemically altered sugars, such as, high fructose corn syrup. Choose fats from nature, such as, butter vs. fats that have been rearranged in the manufacturing process, such as, trans (twisted) fats. Your eyes can easily tell you if a food came from nature or from a manufacturing plant. Ask yourself, is the food in front of me altered from its natural state? If it is, be suspicious of its nutritional value to your body. I challenge the women I see to eat a whole food diet (the perimeter of the grocery store) avoiding the aisles (packaged). The problem is that we are surrounded by manufactured food with its powerful marketing messages. It takes time and planning to consume not just a calorie, but the best calories for our body. It takes motivation and planning to navigate the typical American grocery store or restaurant to find the beneficial calories your body needs.
Action Plan for Eating your Best Calorie
1. To help convince yourself that healthy food is a fabulous way to pamper yourself, read You Are What You Eat by Dr. Gillian McKeith.
2. To help convince yourself that manufactured food is often the enemy, read The End of Overeating by David Kessler , M.D.
3. Think ahead. We all innately know what is good for us, but if you run off to the office without the fresh greens for a salad, you most likely will end up eating empty calories from a fast food joint. Take time each week to plan for your meals.
4. Sign up for the Nutrition Action health letter at www.cspinet.org. A very unbiased (no government or corporate sponsors allowed) source for nutrition advice.
5. Be excited about being a role model – your children, your coworkers, most of America needs to be exposed to a person who knows that all calories are not created equal.