The Basics of Diet and Nutrition
Have you heard the term “Flexitarian”?
Here are a few hints; it is related to “Paleo”, “Low Carb” and “Mediterranean”.
U.S. News & World Report recently asked a panel of health experts to rank the top diets for 2018, and Flexitarian was ranked third overall with Mediterranean and DASH diets tied for first place. A Flexitarian diet is one that is based on whole plant foods with the occasional consumption of animal products. The key word is "occasional", which does not mean eggs and bacon for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch, and chicken for dinner. The longest lived and healthiest people in the world live in what are classified as the "Blue Zones". The Blue Zone populations only eat meat and other animal products on special occasions, which in many cases is only a few times per year.
The sad news is that a true plant-based, whole food diet doesn't get much consideration because of the thought that most people are not willing to eliminate animal products in their diet. Even though science has proven that the consumption of animal products, from milk to meat, contribute to the high prevalence of chronic disease in the United States, people tend to ignore the science and want to hear only the good news about their bad habits. The only diet that has been scientifically proven to prevent, and in some cases reverse many of the chronic diseases common in the United States and throughout many developed countries is a diet that is primarily based on whole plant foods.
An Internet search will lead you to believe that every diet can work miracles, but the same results will explain how each diet may be harmful. The confusion exists because diets are typically viewed as a temporary tool for weight loss, but a diet should be a lifestyle that provides the proper nutrition for maximum health benefits.
In the 1980’s I can remember going to the “all you can eat spaghetti” nights at the local Italian restaurant because I needed to load up on carbohydrates. I was a collegiate athlete, and I needed as much energy as I could possibly get into my body before competitions. Back then we knew that carbs were good for us, but today it seems that carbs are bad while protein is most important. Protein is important for muscle building and tissue repair, but protein is not what fuels our body.
What nutrients do we need for optimal health? Let’s take a look at the basics of nutrition to help identify what is most important.
Calories and Energy
Calories provide energy for the body. The more Calories we consume, the more energy we have. If we don’t expend that energy, the excess calories are stored as fat. It doesn’t matter whether those calories come from fat, protein or carbohydrates.
I love carbohydrates, and so should you. With the exception of meat, butter and oil, almost every food we eat contains carbohydrates. The human brain and nervous system are dependent upon the glucose created by carbohydrates. The only fuel used by your brain is glycogen, which comes from carbohydrates. For optimal health, nutritionists recommend that 45 to 65 percent of your total caloric intake should be from carbohydrates. The key to eating carbohydrates is to choose whole foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables while avoiding processed foods.
Most Americans eat more protein than is necessary. Each day, the average human needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight. A 150 pound person would need 54 grams of protein, which is equal to about 6 ounces of chicken or a little more than one cup of cooked pinto beans. If you are a competitive athlete, or you have absorption issues related to a health condition or as a result of bariatric surgery, you may need additional protein. Always consult your physician and other qualified professionals for accurate advice regarding your specific protein needs. If protein is not needed for tissue repair, it can be converted into energy and waste by-products that get filtered out by your kidneys and liver, but it is much easier for your body to convert excess protein into fat than it is into glycogen.
Saturated fat, unsaturated fat and trans-fat are all familiar terms. All fats contain 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbs contain only 4 calories per gram. Fats are essential for aiding in the absorption of certain vitamins, and he human body can manufacture all the fat it needs from plants. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are considered essential fats, the only fats we must obtain through our diet. There are many foods that contain these essential fats, with some of the most concentrated plant sources being flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts. The USDA recommends total fat intake should be between 20 and 35 percent of total calories, with less than 10 percent coming from saturated fat. The fat calories should come from whole foods like avocados, not from added fats like butter.
Although nutrition is far more complex that what I have covered here, it is important to remember that a diet is not a temporary adjustment. A “diet” should be a lifestyle change that you are willing to adopt for life. Remember that carbs are not bad and excess protein is not necessary for optimal health, maybe a Flexitarian diet is a good option, but the only diet that has been scientifically proven to help prevent, and in some cases actually reverse chronic disease is a diet based on whole plant foods.