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How do you see food?
There’s no denying that this healthy lifestyle game is hard! It’s not a physical thing, it’s a mental thing, and sometimes our head sets us on a path of self-destruction, particularly around food. Eating the wrong things, that are high in fat, sugar and salt, completely at odds with our goals.
There are lots of inspiring stories of how people have changed their lives by eating healthier and becoming more active, and a common thread that runs through a lot of them is that those people started to look at their food as fuel for their body, rather than a form of entertainment or comfort.
Do you use food for fuel or comfort?
Why do you eat it? Is it to nourish your body or to appease your emotions?
In the ‘olden days’ when we were hunter gatherers, food was just that – fuel. A means to keep us alive, there were times of scarcity and times of abundance. So we ate to stay alive. Nowadays, we don’t usually have times of scarcity, but our bodies are still tuned to eat when food is in abundance – our evolution hasn’t quite caught up with how the world works.
So now, we use food to fill a hole, but not just the hole in our stomachs -we use it to fill a hole in our emotions.
If we try and disassociate from that and start to look at food as fuel to make our body as healthy and powerful as possible, and choose food based upon its longer term benefits rather than how it makes us feel in the moment, we will naturally make better choices. Choices that will be lower in calories, and more nutritious, therefore keeping us on track for our goals.
Remember, a healthy active lifestyle is going to require you to fuel your body correctly, so that you can perform well in the activities that you are undertaking, so you don’t feel too tired or weak. Like if you put the wrong fuel in your car it wont work properly, you need to put the right fuel into your body to keep it healthy.
Fuel rather than feast!
To be able to think of the food you eat, as the fuel your body needs to perform, you need to know more information about the pros and cons of the different foods that you choose. We want you to learn about what particular foods give you and more importantly, what some foods don’t give you.
For instance – do you know what nourishment you get from fresh, lean meat or poultry versus highly processed meat products?
Processed foods will contain some of the nutrients that we will discuss here, but quite often are so heavily processed that the micro nutrients are processed out, and we are left with high sugar, fat and salt.
Do you know why wholegrain foods are better for you than white varieties?
Wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice is better for us than white versions, because all the vitamins, minerals and fibre is held is in the husk of the grain, so when that is milled out, it takes all the goodness with it.
We will come on to more of this, later.
First of all Macros…
The term Macros is banded about quite a lot. But do you actually know what it means?
Macros is simply short for macro nutrients, which are carbohydrate, protein and fat. We should have a balance of the macro nutrients – but why? And do you know what that balance should be? Read on….
Carbohydrate is the way our body fuels itself. It’s also the way our body feeds the brain. If you are low on carbs, your brain won’t function the way it should and you will feel foggy and unable to make proper decisions. Nor will your muscles perform, and your limbs will feel like lead, when trying to exercise. Our bodies store carbohydrate in the form of glycogen in our muscles and liver. Once that store is depleted, this is when our body has to start burning fat to fuel our activity, which is harder for our body to metabolise, and therefore makes us feel sluggish. So this is why we absolutely do not advocate eating a keto diet – which eliminates carbohydrates.
Protein is essential for renewing our bodies tissues and muscles. When we are starting to exercise more and build muscles, we are actually creating little tears in the tissues (that’s why they hurt the day after a good workout) so to repair those tissues, we need to make sure that we eat protein to get the right chemical components in to our body to rebuild those torn fibres. Protein also keeps our metabolism fired up, and burning. When our metabolism is burning, that means it is burning calories. So get protein in at every meal.
Whilst we encourage you to eat less fat when trying to lose weight, some fat is still needed in the diet to keep things functioning properly. Particularly good fats like olive oil, fish oil, and nut oil – i.e non animal sources of fat. However whilst these fats are better for you, they are still highly calorific, so should be kept to a minimum. So we recommend replacing the majority of animal fats (i.e. cheese, fatty meat) for non-animal sources, such as vegetable oils, oily fish and nuts.
How much of each macro should we eat?
Generally speaking we recommend that the macros should be balanced as follows:
Carbohydrates – 45%
Protein – 35%
Fat – 20%
But what does that mean? That means that 45% of our calories should come from carbs, 35% of our calories from protein and 20% of our calories from fat. We feel that this combination optimises your chances of weight loss.
All macros have a calorific value. So for every gram of carbohydrate, you get 4 kcal. For every gram of protein you get 4 kcal, and every gram of fat you get 9 kcal, and this then adds up to make your total calories in your food. So you can see now why high fat foods are so calorific. (As an aside, every gram of alcohol gives you 7kcal, but offers no other nutritional value at all, so that’s also worth bearing in mind when making choices.)
Using our daily calorie needs, we can ascertain how many grams of each macro that we need, but this can get very complicated, and at Be Strong we like to keep things simple. So in the main, it’s just important to eat from all three macronutrient groups and eat to your calories, in order to lose weight. However, if you do want to see your macro breakdown you can do so in our calculator.
And now micronutrients
Micronutrients are the nutrients in our food that we only need in tiny amounts – hence micro! Essentially micronutrients are vitamins and minerals.
Every vitamin and mineral is used within our body for a different purpose – so we need the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals in our diet, because they are the chemicals our bodies need to do all of it’s functions at a cellular level.
The good news is that there is a simple way to make sure that we get all of our micronutrients in and stay healthy. That is simply, to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables. If we ‘eat the rainbow’ of colours of fruit and veg every day, we will more than likely be achieving our recommended daily intake of vitamin and minerals.
However, just in case you need some convincing, we are going to tell you why you need vitamins and minerals and where you get them from.
Vitamin D – found in eggs, oily fish and margarine – works with calcium to keep our bones strong, prevents rickets in children and osteoperosis/osteomalacia in adults. The most available form of Vitamin D is from sunlight acting on our skin. But due to the health implications of not getting enough vitamin D, and there not always being much sunshine in the UK, (particularly up north!) foods like margarine and some breakfast cereals have it added to help us out. Vitamin D is also thought to help to keep our mood balanced and ward off depression.
Vitamin A – quite often thought as the vitamin that helps you see in the dark and is found in orange, red and green vegetables like carrots, spinach, peppers and sweet potatoes; or yellow fruits like mangoes and apricots. Benefits of Vitamin A in your diet extend beyond your eyesight, by boosting your immune system and keeping your skin healthy.
Vitamin C – found in red, orange and yellow foods – oranges, peppers, lemons, strawberries, cherries – it keeps colds at bay and your skin healthy. Vitamin C prevents the old fashioned disease, scurvy!
Vitamin E – this is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is found in vegetable sources of oil like soya and olive oil. It’s also found in nuts and seeds, and in wheatgerm found in cereal products. Vitamin E is another vitamin which helps to keep your skin and nails healthy and your eyes bright. It also strengthens your immune system.
Vitamins A, C and E are also antioxidants, which are thought to mop up cancer causing free radicals in the body and reduce other disease risks.
B-Vitamins – B-Vitamins are important for people who exercise, as these are the vitamins that break down and release energy from food and repair our DNA. There are 8 B-vitamins all doing slightly different jobs – some keep our mental health in balance, some prevent fatigue and others help with our memories and cognitive function. We will find B-vitamins in dried and fresh fruit, eggs, wholegrains, cereals, marmite, malt loaf and liver. B-vitamins are water soluble so that means they will come out in your urine, so it’s important to ensure we get this in our diet every day, because if we over eat them one day, the body doesn’t store them in our cells, it just gets passed out down the loo.
Calcium – I think we all know that calcium gives us strong bones and teeth. Having strong bones is essential when we are exercising more, as it prevents us from injuring ourselves with high impact exercise. We get calcium from dairy products, milk and yogurt. It doesn’t matter if these are full fat or skimmed versions, as the calcium level stays the same – so if you are reducing your calories, going skimmed will not effect your calcium intake. It’s also found in broccoli and green leafy vegetables like cabbage and green salad leaves. Calcium also keeps our muscles contracting properly and our heart beating regularly and helps with blood clotting.
Iron – Commonly found in red meat and liver, but also in other meats, and in vegetarian sources such as nuts, beans and pulses, and in green leafy vegetables like kale and watercress. Iron keeps our blood healthy, by making red blood cells and carrying the oxygen around our body, keeping us from feeling lethargic and tired. If we don’t get enough iron, we may end up anaemic, which leaves us feeling very tired and weak.
Magnesium – this is another mineral that helps to turn our food into energy, so again really important when we are exercising. It also helps the function of our parathyroid, to ensure proper production of hormones within our body- which control everything from reproduction to hunger signals, so very important. Found in green leafy veg like spinach, nuts, whole grains, fish meat and dairy foods.
Potassium and Sodium work together to keep our cells fluid balance correct and keeps our hearts functioning correctly. Potassium is found in bananas, mushrooms, pulses, meat, fish and shellfish. Most people think that you only get sodium from salt, but it is also readily available in meat and pulses. We don’t need too much sodium in our diet, as it is a risk factor for heart disease, cholesterol and high blood pressure. So because it is readily available in unprocessed foods, and is added to processed foods, we really don’t need to be adding any additional salt in our cooking or at the table.
Zinc – good for wound healing and making new cells and enzymes, this is another essential micronutrient, if we have an active lifestyle. All to help with building and strengthening those muscles and repairing our cells, that may have been damaged by previous unhealthy lifestyles. Zinc is found in all of our common foods – meat, fish, dairy products and cereal products, so there shouldn’t be a problem in getting it into our bodies.
Looking back at all the foods listed above, it’s clear why the Eatwell Guide says what it says. That we should eat a good variety of foods, based upon the three macro nutrients and then a good quantity of vegetables to meet all those micronutrient needs.
Start to think about the food that you prepare for yourself. What can it do for your body, rather than just emotional satisfaction?
Make your food look like the Eatwell Plate, and show them off by posting your pics on the Facebook group.
Get a rainbow of colours in your fruit and vegetables, because not only does it look more appetising, but it also means you will be getting the full range of micronutrients that are needed to stay healthy. You often hear people saying how they feel so much better when they start to eat ‘cleaner’, and this is why – they are boosting their bodies with essential nutrients.
If you want to know more about foods and what they can do for you, have a look at the following websites:
British Dietetic Association – Food Facts: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/home
British Nutrition Foundation – https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-sustainable-diets/
Next week, we will focus on the psychology of habits! Make sure you check in to get your weekly dose of The Knowledge!