For more than 99 percent of our human existence, we have always been hunters and gatherers. Even with greater advancements in agriculture, food and technology in the last 100 years, most people have gone through some form of food scarcity, flood and famine. Our bodies, therefore, have been crafted within the framework of necessity; to acquire whatever is in front of us and to release energy only when required, and in smaller amounts.
However, rewind 50 years and we have been exposed to an unimaginable amount of food. Unless you are living in a war zone or maybe some parts of Africa, we are surrounded by an abundant choice of food.
How do we select what is right for us?
How do we become the best versions of ourselves?
How do we avoid disease?
People in rural India are malnourished yet obese. Is that a lack of awareness, penetration of processed food companies or just bad habits? Both our food and our bodies are made up of macro and micronutrients. They form the building block of how we think, conceptualize, make and do. Our mood and behaviour are also directly related to what we eat.
Let’s start with the biggest food group: Sugars
Never in the history of our modern world have we been faced with such a huge abundance of readily available sugar. In our country, we have countless reasons to take one piece of that Gulab Jamun, a chocolate pancake in the morning or sugar chai and coffee. A can of cola contains more added sugar than we need for the whole day. At this point, it’s important to understand our body’s reward system. Sugar is taken up very easily in our body and whenever we take too much, our body decides to reward us by making us feel good. Not only do we feel good, we store the excess sugars by linking them in chains, convert them into fat which is twice as dense as sugar in terms of energy. We do this because this is how we have been programmed. Our bodies are designed to store and save. Our genetic makeup has not been able to keep up with the advances in food availability. As per the American Heart Association, the average intake of added sugar (Added not natural sugars) for women should be 22 grams and 36 grams for men. However, most people end up taking twice or thrice that number on a regular basis.
We now move on to our favourite: Fats
Our body just adores fat. Coming back to our basic genetic makeup; this is what we are supposed to save for a rainy day. It’s like saying “mutual funds will give you a 20% guaranteed return” and that being true. It is our most efficient and valuable food particle. They concentrate up to twice the energy as carbohydrates and proteins. They can help us live without food for almost 30 days. They are absorbed not by our blood arteries but through are lymphatic vessels which run parallel to our blood arterial system. Fats are a perfect example of “the good cop, bad cop routine”. (Good Fats, Bad Fats)
On the one hand, they are responsible for the immune system, hormonal development, vitamin synthesis and cell regeneration. On the other hand, too much of it causes cardiovascular heart disease, obesity, diabetes and recent research suggests even cancer. A Mcdonald’s chicken burger amounts to half of our fat requirement for the day. Nutritional psychologists recommend approximately 25% to 30% of our daily energy from fats. This, on an average, comes up to 50-60 grams of fat a day. More sedentary people should have15% to 20% less than this amount.
Our third food group: Protein
Protein has become the diet mantra for almost all people who are trying to be healthy. While there is no denying that we are not taking the right amount of protein, that does not mean we ignore other macro and micronutrients and only keep consuming protein. Let’s understand the fundamental of protein and its effect on our body. Proteins are made up of 20 different amino acids (Visualize them as beads) in an infinite permutation and combination to form our muscles, tendons and bones. Our body can synthesize only 11 and we need 9 essential amino acids in roughly equal proportions to make sure the protein is not wasted in our body through urine. We need to intake approximately 20 to 30 percent of our energy requirement through “complete proteins”. Complete proteins are when we get all the amino acids in equal proportion. This brings us to animal vs plant proteins. While an entire book can be written on this topic, for the sake of this article it is important to understand that both plants and animals can give us the required amount of protein if our diets are designed carefully. Even though there is no clinical evidence to support the fact that more protein causes more muscles to grow in our body, by statistics in the EU it has been seen that we need to take approx. 0.7 grams of protein to 1.8 grams of protein per kg of our ideal weight to build strong muscles.
We are faced with so many choices of food and what we eat defines who we are. Not only in culture and tradition, but also in personality.
Personal nutrition can vary from person to person, however, it is important to keep proportions in mind. Our body breaks down food into the three macronutrients as described above. It does not recognize the difference in simple sugars from cola and simple sugars from the juice. We need to make a conscious decision to step up and do what is right for ourselves and our community. We must begin by first unlearning what we have been eating and then relearning what we should be eating. We need to override our instinct to eat whatever is in front of us and ask ourselves if we need it. Most of us focus on weight loss and not on correct nutrition. If weight loss were the focus than anorexia would have been the most logical solution.
When Health and Fitness is the focus, your natural weight will present itself.