More than Grams and Calories

It’s been a longer time than usual between this newsletter/blog and the last one.

It’s not because of illness or forgetfulness, thankfully, but just life. Expanding the scope and service of Abundant Raw Life Health Coaching to now include Fitness Training is a piece of it, as well as some travel after nearly two years of going no further, for the most part, than the grocery store .

I’ve missed the regular connection, truly, and I’ve had this idea in my head for quite awhile – that is  — to write a bit about the complexity of food.

What I have found in the world of my latest interest in strength and conditioning, and the training thereof,  is that the food emphasis there has almost entirely to do with calorie counting and measuring grams of various foods to assure a proper amount of the macro nutrients – fats, carbohydrates, and particularly protein.

Protein, sometimes referred to as the king of nutrients, is important in the body for many reasons – muscle growth and repair, maintaining a proper metabolic rate weight, managing the appetite, etc.

A calorie, you recall, is a unit that measures energy, in our case the energy content of foods and beverages. The trick is to consume enough calories to sustain a good energy level throughout the day. Because protein requires energy to metabolize, it can increase the number of calories you burn by 80-100 a day. That’s a good thing.

No doubt, protein intake is an important food component to monitor. It happens often enough, though, that we become so preoccupied with protein intake, that other valuable nutrients are not given enough attention and sometimes are totally ignored, resulting less than optimal body function at the least and an increased illness and/or injury risk at worst.

Let’s look at other important nutrient components in a healthy diet. To start, vitamins and minerals are found in all plant life.  Fruits contain most of the vitamins that we need regularly, and vegetables give us most of the minerals.

Vitamins

Vitamins, of which there are currently 13 recognized, are organic substances present in varying amounts in natural foodstuffs. Having too little of any particular vitamin may increase the risk of developing certain health issues.  They are organic compounds, which means that they contain carbon – also and essential nutrient that the body gets from food.

Vitamins come in two categories – soluble, or dissolvable in water or fat.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble.  The body stores them in fatty tissue and the liver, and reserves of them can stay in the body for days and sometimes months. Dietary fat helps help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins through the intestinal tract.

Water-soluble vitamins, C and all the B vitamins, on the other hand, do not stay in the body for long, and cannot be stored. Hence, we need a more regular supply of them than the fat-soluble ones.

Minerals

In the context of nutrition, minerals are also essential in the human organism. They cannot be synthesized biochemically by the body. Plants get minerals from soil, and humans get most of their minerals from eating primarily plants, some animal products, and drinking water.

The five major minerals in the human body are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Additionally, we need a range of dietary trace elements including iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, iodine, bromine, and selenium.

Fiber

Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes the parts of plant foods the body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins, or carbohydrates – which the body breaks down and absorbs – fiber isn’t digested by the body.  Instead, it passes relatively intact through the stomach, small intestine, and colon, and then out of the body.

Like vitamins, fiber is commonly classified as soluble, which dissolves in water, or insoluble, which does not.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. It is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.

Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through the digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be a big benefit to those who struggle with constipation, or irregular stools. It can also help to control blood sugar (glucose) levels, maintain a healthy body weight, and avert irritable bowel syndrome and diverticular disease.

Nuts, beans, and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber. Eat a wide variety of plant foods for the best digestive and health outcomes.

Antioxidants

Antioxidant is not the name of a substance, but a description of what a range of substances do.  Oxidation in the body, not a good thing, occurs in the body because of the consumption of certain foods, especially refined and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and certain dyes and additives.  Smoking, environmental pollution, radiation exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and drugs, including chemotherapy, industrial solvents, and ozone are also culprits – the byproducts of life in the 21st century.

Antioxidants, is a “specialized grouping” of some vitamins and minerals which can protect against the cell damage caused by oxidation, which has been linked to cancer, atherosclerosis, and vision loss. A steady intake of antioxidants is believed to reduce these risks, as they act as scavengers, hydrogen donors, electron donors, peroxide decomposers, enzyme inhibitors, synergists, and metal-chelating agents. They are multi-talented and very busy health workers.

And who are these health warriors for the body? They include vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, selenium, and manganese. Flavonoids, polyphenols, and phytoestrogens are all types of antioxidants and phytonutrients, and they are all found in plant-based diets.

There is more to be said, for sure about all these nutrients: vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. My point here is that with so much emphasis on protein, which is also abundant in plant foods, it’s easy to lose sight of the very important and valuable gems found primarily in plants. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Stay tuned for more about them.

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Dietary Fiber – A Must in a Healthy Diet

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