Friday 27 November 2015

Nutrition | Facts and fiction

This post is about a sensitive subject of nutrition and diets, I am not a trained nutritionist or a health care professional and everything that follows is based on personal experience. Use your common sense, if you have serious health issues seek advice from a qualified person.

It feels like nutrition is becoming a bit of a hot subject lately. While dieting for weight loss is not new at all, there has been more and more focus on the wellbeing aspect. More and more people don't want to just look good, they want to feel good. But what is the best way to achieve it? Well depends on who you ask doesn't it. There are so many dietary solutions that it can make your head spin, and every single camp is adamant that their solution is the only correct one. In the words of agent Mulder "the truth is out there", but boy is it hard to figure out. The frustrating thing is that the field of nutrition is moving at a fairly fast pace nowadays, and things that used to be considered as best practises no longer are. Yet the results of newest studies are often slow to be picked upon. In a way some of them are challenging peoples beliefs, and sometimes they are challenging experts. No one really likes to admit that they are wrong. Some studies can be really questionable in the way they manipulate statistics, or there maybe queries about their sources of funding. Even when several experts read the same study they seem to somehow come up with different conclusions, and cherry pick the statistics that support their argument.

Instead of trying to figure out who is right or wrong I decided to find what different approaches had in common. Obviously if you look hard enough you will likely find someone who disagrees with these points as well, but this is the theme that kept coming up from a bunch of different nutritional experts.

Our bodies use food as a fuel for energy but also to make cells and tissues, so there is no two ways about it: you are what you eat. Just because someone is slim does not mean that they are healthy, the "skinny-fat" is a thing, it describes people who are not overweight but have fat around their internal organs. Calories is not what matters most, it really is about the quality of those calories. Having the same amount of calories from soda or from broccoli will lead to completely different results where your body is concerned. The focus really is on real food, i.e. fruit, veg, whole grains not candy bars and crisps. Putting semantics aside of how far you can take the word 'processed', the main idea is to buy ingredients rather than ready meals and cook at home. Our bodies need a balance, so yes they need carbs, proteins and fats. Not all sources of these, however, constitute good building blocks for our bodies, and not everyone will need the same ratio of these macronutrients. There is no 'diet' that will work for everyone. 

It is a fairly recent phenomena that we have access to so much food, but also all this variety is often not something that can be grown in our own climate. It is not necessarily a bad thing but people tend to tolerate foods that their parents and grandparents grew up eating, and what they had as kids growing up (again we are talking real food here). Climate that a person lives in will play a huge role: an optimal diet for someone based in LA is not going to be the best thing for someone who resides in Reykjavik. Food looses it's nutritional content once it has been picked. Some things like beans and nuts store well, but your greens do not. Your spinach, two weeks after you bought, is not going to have much to offer you in terms of nutrients. So you can imagine that the longer it takes to get to you, the less of the good stuff it will have. 

Seasonal produce is always higher in nutrients, but there is no exact way of knowing the exact quantity of certain vitamins each particular carrot contains, these are just approximations. You need to eat a variety of foods for optimum wellbeing and to get the full range of nutrients. Even if you have the best diet in the world it does not mean you get all the nutrients if your body is not absorbing them. For a healthy gut probiotics are your friends, but we are not talking yogurt drinks from the store, we are talking quality fermented foods or supplements.

Vegetables, especially leafy greens, is something that is lacking in most peoples diets and should be at the heart of what we eat. Supplements are exactly that, they supplement your diet, they do not replace it. There are certain things that most of us need to supplement with because of lifestyle, like vitamin D (it is best to be tested to check if you do need it), B12 for those who are on a plant based diet, and most people could benefit from Omega 3 EPA & DHA, which are now also derived from seaweed and not only fish (these are essential fatty acids found in fish, but with overfishing and contamination of oceans there are questions about ethical and health implications of fish consumption). Still, what supplements will benefit you will depend on your indidvidual needs and there is a huge difference in terms of quality.

The most important thing to keep in mind is what we eat now, and yes I am talking fruit and veg here, is nothing like what people used to eat even a couple of hundred years ago. So you can forget about going on the bases of what people 'were meant to eat'. People adapt to what is available, which is not necessarily what is best for us. There are no short cuts, if you want to feel the best you need to stop dieting and start eating well, and yes you will have to be the one who figures it out for yourself. There are some great nutritionists who can guide you, but they can not do that without working with each person individually. It does not mean that everyone needs expert help, you can learn how to find the best way of eating for yourself. I really like the following books: 'Skin cleanse' by Adina Grigore, 'Eat pretty' by Jolene Hart, and 'Eat, nourish, glow' by Amelia Freer. The first book's main focus is skin, so it does not only talk about nutrition but also beauty products. All three books have certain points in common but have slightly different approaches with what foods they consider healthy (again we are not talking processed junk food), yet they all give you tools to find your own way of eating rather than giving you a step by step cookie cutter diet, which is never going to work for everyone.

I will be doing more posts on nutrition in general. Is there something in particular you would like me to write about? Let me know in the comments.

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