What is nutrition, really?
Nutrition is a term many people like to claim they understand, though most actually don’t. Nutrition isn’t about eating the ‘right’ foods or the ‘perfect amount’ of food; it is not even about following a very specifically laid out plan in order to be perfectly healthy. Nutrition is not about right or wrong. It is not about perfect or imperfect. Nutrition is about feeding both the body and the mind a combination of different foods for optimal health and happiness.
The good, the bad and the tasty
There is not such thing as ‘unhealthy’ food. Eating a nutritious diet entails eating a variety of foods containing the three major macronutrients (the most important, essential nutrients we all need to eat daily): carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Both healthy and less healthy foods contain these nutrients. There are carbohydrates in fruit as well as in chocolate ice cream. What too many people miss is that it’s about the source of your nutrition, not the nutrients themselves, that matter most. The more of your diet that is made up of healthier foods, the healthier you will be tomorrow and for the rest of your life.
Not eating well increases your risk for developing a number of negative health outcomes. Some of these include obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The least healthy foods you can eat are processed foods, such as frozen dinners, chips, store bought cookies and pretty much anything that comes in a box or package, even dried pasta noodles! It is okay to eat small amounts of processed foods every once in awhile, but you should always make sure to balance out processed foods with plenty of healthier, more nutritious foods.
What are nutritious foods?
What is considered a nutritious food? Nutritious foods are foods that are high in nutritional value, but typically low in calories (nutrient-dense foods). An example of this would be an apple. You can eat an entire apple, rich in fiber and healthy carbohydrates, and still only consume a little less than 100 calories. However, you can also eat a cookie of relatively the same size and consume 500 calories or more – as well as plenty of fat and processed sugar and other unnecessary ingredients.
One of the best ways for beginners to eat healthier, more nutritious foods is to look at the ingredient lists. Typically, the fewer ingredients it has, the healthier it is. An apple has only one ingredient: apple. A cookie from the grocery store contains all kinds of added ingredients on the box, many of which you can’t even pronounce.
The science of (human) energy
You need energy to function. Every single thing you do requires energy, everything from sleeping to typing on your computer to breathing. In order to use up energy, you first need to consume energy from – you guessed it – food. Humans get energy in the form of calories, but the source of those calories is a lot more important than most people understand. When you eat food, your body uses energy in a specific order. It uses up the energy you get from carbohydrates first, followed by protein, and finally, fat.
The energy you consume that is not used immediately, regardless of where it comes from, gets stored in your body as fat. People who tend to overeat gain weight because they are storing most of their energy as fat, and eating too much before their bodies have a chance to burn through their carbohydrate and protein energy to get to the energy stored as fat.
If you do not eat enough, you will not have enough energy to live your life normally. This is why sometimes you crave carbohydrates, and not always the good kinds (for example, foods with a lot of added sugar and fat, like potato chips). When your brain is low on energy, it forces you to crave foods that will easily and quickly introduce sugar back into your body. Chips, because they are processed and made of less complex carbohydrates, get into your bloodstream faster. This is also why eating more protein throughout the day helps many people stay energized and eat more nutritious food.
Nutrition and mental health
Eating a nutritious diet is beneficial to your physical as well as your mental health. This is mostly because of hormones. Let’s use stress as an example, a common cause of many mental health issues. When you are stressed, your body produces a hormone called cordisol. When cordisol levels in your body are high, you can start to have trouble regulating your blood sugar, maintaining your weight and many other issues.
However, healthy eating can have a number of positive effects on your cordisol levels and the production of other hormones. Your brain needs food – but not just any food; healthy food. Certain foods can produce endorphins, which make you happier. Eating healthier can give you more energy, discussed above, which can make you feel motivated and productive. A balanced diet feeds your brain so it can allow you to continue to participate in regular activities every day.
Nutrition – eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet – keeps you healthy. It gives you energy, keeps all parts of your body running smoothly and prevents things like stress from harming you in the long term. Many people think nutrition is too hard or a waste of time or even too expensive. It is important to remember that it’s hard to give individualized nutrition advice, especially over the internet. It’s up to you to figure out the shopping, cooking and eating routines that work best for you and your family, and focus on the quality of your food, instead of worrying too much about doing everything right or perfect.
The key to living a healthier life is to choose foods that make you happy and are good for you. Foods that aren’t as good for you, eat in moderation. Eat to live, not because you are stressed or it looks good. Pay attention, and take care of yourself.