Food is Energy: How to Fuel Your Body Properly

The main facet of a healthy-living methodology can be done by seeing food for what it really is: a means of energy. It’s easy to become a glutton in every way possible with how the world treats and views food and its consumption. There’s an absurd and constant amount of food that is accessible for purchase here in America, and the concerning factor is most of that food readily available is terrible for us. The majority of foods we see in the grocery stores and in checkout lines in nearly every kind of store are processed foods; where food companies pack as much sugar, salt, and fat as possible. All processed foods are made to fire off as many taste buds as possible and are all designed to keep our minds and mouths busy eating and wanting their products. From our advertisement to our television entertainment (excluding non informative/healthy cooking shows) and social media, we glorify food to such an extravagant level for no real purpose other than to keep our minds and stomachs fixated around food and eating. I feel we’re coming to an end of the calorie in, calorie out ideology, which continues our cycle of poor food choices; but with that day still to come, a better understanding of what our body truly needs for energy must occur for people to live a healthy life. Our bodies don’t need complex meals; they just need the proper amount of vitamins and minerals, all which come from the foods we eat. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if your lifestyle is vegetarian or vegan, or eating meat on occasion, but you must know your bodily needs in order to operate properly and live healthily.

First things first, your body doesn’t need processed foods, junk foods, sweets, soda, coffee, energy drinks, meat, or any of form of food with high amounts of salt, sugar, fat, caffeine, and chemicals to operate. Those types of foods bring us closer towards the realms of ‘desire’ and ‘temptation’ due to their over-stimulating effects. Each of those products have been mainstreamed and fast tracked into cash cows because of how addicting they are. And as many people have experienced you can get serious withdrawals from those products. Due to the nature of business and corporate influence in our daily lives, consumption of those products and their accessibility has made them largely viewed as a necessity to live. But in reality they are nothing more than desirable products than actually needs, because your body doesn’t need it to survive. What is already becoming proven is that fact your body will thrive on a more plant-based diet that’s based around whole foods when carried out correctly. With discipline and more importantly understanding, anyone can achieve a healthy lifestyle. Your body needs: water, carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and lipids (fats); which all provide us with various vitamins, minerals, fiber, and various phytochemicals that will improve our health. So let’s dive into one of the more persecuted but important types of food: carbs.

Carbs aren’t bad at all; but they get a terrible reputation of supposed ‘weight gaining properties’ due to misleading and mainstream media. In fact, according to the Institute of Medicine, we should be consuming between 45 to 65% of our daily calories from carbohydrates; but keep in mind it’s the quality that truly counts when consuming carbohydrates. Just like in life, it’s always the quality and purity of the product. If you’re eating processed carbs, like white pastas, white breads, white pastas, etc, it’s the sugars in them and the refinement process that will cause harm to your body and bring about weight gain. Not to mention, due to the cheaper manufacturing/refinement process, they contain less than half the nutritional value compared to whole grain carbs. These processed carbs, i.e. you white refined foods, are also known as ‘fast-releasing carbohydrates.’ They’re called that because it takes a short time to digest them due to their lack of fiber and other nutrients; which results in a blood sugar spike which is bad for our cardiovascular health over time. You’ll see the added nutritional benefit of added fiber, healthy fats, plant-based protein, vitamins, and minerals to your diet by eating whole grain carbohydrates. Whole grain carbs are extremely beneficial because they are slow-releasing carbs, which means they give a steady source of energy due to the increased time it takes to digest them and are packed with nutrients. But what does all of this mean for our body? Some of carbohydrates important roles in the body are: energy productions, energy storage, and cellular maintenance.

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for humans, which is why excluding them from your diet hinders your functional capabilities. They’re the primary fuel for physical activity, brain function, and organ operation; this is because carbs get broken down to form your body’s desired and main source of fuel, a molecule called glucose. That glucose is arranged to form molecules called glycogen, which the majority of gets stored in the liver and muscles for later use during physical activity or when we haven’t eaten in a while and our body needs energy. Another use for glucose come in cell maintenance, which is done in by helping/driving the formation of macromolecules like DNA, RNA, ATP (energy), and NADPH- all which help our body function optimally and ensure our body is regulating itself right. Eating whole grain carbohydrates is an optimal energy source for your body because they provide more than just energy for the body, not to mention the vast amounts of scientific information out there that supports the claim that whole grain carbohydrates aid in weight loss. They provide a slow burning fuel packed with nutrients, allowing our body to function with a more consistent burning of fuel. Whole grain carbs also provide more than just your carbohydrate nutritional requirement. Foods such as lentils, quinoa, seitan, beans, millet, nutritional yeast, seeds, and other whole grain products give you a complete source of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Those above mentioned points are the reasons why some athletes will have larger portions of whole grain carbs the day before a big sporting event. However one must not misinterpret the role of carbohydrates, too much of anything can be a bad thing; too much energy from carbs will end up being stored as fat. One shouldn’t solely get their protein and fat requirements from carbohydrates, especially because there are a lot more pure forms of fats and protein to consume.

‘What do you eat for protein?’ is one of the top questions I receive after someone finds out I’m a vegetarian. The answer is simple: whole foods. You can receive protein from vegetables, along with whole grain foods like the ones mentioned above to fulfill your protein requirements. There are plenty sources of protein in the food world that don’t require meat, when deducing this logic one realizes the plants that animals eat provide them with the nutrients to build protein just like it does for a human body. From wild rice to chickpeas, almonds, chia seed, potatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and mushrooms, there’s a copious amount of different foods that provide protein that aren’t meat. I personally get added protein from my hemp protein drink in the morning after working out, but that is because I’m doing weight training and aerobic exercises; which in all is no different from most people who exercise regularly. Unlike meat, much of the vegetarian revolves around eating a few different foods in order to achieve the same amino acid requirements from proteins. From multiple sources to incorporating a daily vitamin, the journey towards consuming all the protein your body needs isn’t difficult. Our bodies build and construct the proteins to keep our bodies in pristine condition, proteins act as an efficient laborer for a variety of functions.

It’s recommended that we should be getting around 10-35% of our daily nutrients in the form of protein. The low numbers might shock a lot of people, especially with the common weight lifter mentality, which often assume we need double the recommended amounts of protein in order to gain muscle. If you are an athlete or exercise regular, there is a need to be consuming towards the higher end of the recommended spectrum, but it isn’t entirely necessary- especially if your carbohydrates are providing you some of that protein and you drink a protein beverage during or after your workouts. However protein just isn’t one defined substance, because proteins are comprised of various amino acids of complex formations. When we ingest our food, the proteins begin getting broken down and unfolded into amino acid chains while in our stomachs and then in the small intestine. Our body uses these amino acids for tissue development (bone, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, nails/hair, and muscle), create DNA and RNA, and to a small degree as a source for energy. Any unused amino acids can be stored into an ‘amino pool’ during processes referred as protein turnover to be used as other building blocks for our bodies regulatory needs. One must keep in mind the energy aspect of protein when creating their meal plans, because protein isn’t a great source of energy. This is the flaw with many main stream diets which are extremely protein heavy. The result is our bodies using an inferior source for energy and a superfluous waste of vital amino acids that get flushed down the toilet if we consume beyond our bodily needs. As with carbohydrates, whole foods like green leafy vegetables, tofu, seitan, quinoa, lentils, millet, nutritional yeast, and more along with those mentioned previously provide us with protein and other daily requirements of carbs, minerals, and vitamins. Foods like seeds, nuts, edamame, tempeh, and beans are an optimal source of protein as well along with healthy fats which are body needs to function.

We all know that there are good fats and bad fats, but does everyone know what those are? The most commonly identified are trans fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats, but none of those really get explained so most just say all fat is bad. This results in a large misconceptions that fats are, simply put, fattening and bad for us to eat- which is another misguided expression popularized by the food industry. Products marketed as ‘reduced fat’ play on this misunderstanding, because in fact the reduced fat items typically contain more harmful amounts of sugar and salt and are barely reduced. These ‘reduced fat’ products typically only remove 30-40 calories of fat from them at most, which isn’t a lot. Not to mention, they typically remove the healthy fats (mono and poly-unsaturated fats) and keep the bad fats (trans and saturated fats). Fat is the reason why people can survive for weeks without food, it’s a mean of storing energy. These energy storehouses are an integral part of our body’s natural design. Energy units like glucagon (made from carbs) are large and take up space, so our body uses fat cells as concentrated energy cells. The reason why we get fat is due to a creative design response to dealing with starvation. Fat cells can expand to an extremely large size to be an energy powerhouse. This is why it’s so hard for people to stay ‘cut’ (or have a low BMI), even Channing Tatum said his ‘Magic Mike’ body only last a few days because it’s so hard to maintain. The difficulty in remaining ‘cut’ is because every person is intended to have a normal fat reserve; it’s a sign of a healthy metabolism. But when we eat a diet consisting of processed foods, consume large amounts of sugar, or ingest too much protein or carbs, our body will store this excess energy in the form of fat. Fat is also known as a lipid, which serves as a more accurate name due to the function and role lipids play in our bodies.

Lipids play an important role in the body and should constitute 20-35% of our daily food intake. Lipids are usually insoluble in water, meaning they’re not dissolvable in water; and come in the form of triacylglycerols, phospholipids, and sterols. Triacylglycerols (also known as triglycerides) are what comprise most of our body fat; they are the fats and oils in most foods. Phospholipids are crucial for building protective membranes (barriers) in our body’s cells; however they’re only in 2% of our daily intake of fat. Sterols are the least common type of lipid, however plays one of the more important roles in terms of health due to cholesterol’s large role in our society’s health issues. These different types of fats all breakdown into the categories trans fats, unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated, omega 3 fatty acids, and omega 6 fatty acids. A big step towards designing your meals comes from understanding what these fats are:

Good Fats

Polyunsaturated fats : Found in plant-based foods and oils, nuts (like almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, and hazel nuts), corn oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.

These should compose most of our fat intake. This is an unsaturated fat (fatty acid).

Monounsaturated Fats: Found in nuts (like almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, and cashews), avocados, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil.

These should compose most of our fat intake. This is an unsaturated fat (fatty acid).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Linolenic Acid): Found in nuts, whole grains, legumes, and leafy green vegetables. These are essential fatty acids and very important to consume because our body can’t produce them on its own. Importance of taking a daily vitamin if daily nutritional needs aren’t met. 

-Omega-6 Fatty Acids (Linoleic Acid): Found in eggs, most vegetable oils, wheat germ, whole gains, nuts, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds.

These are essential fatty acids and very important to consume because our body can’t produce them on its own. Importance of taking a daily vitamin if daily nutritional needs aren’t met.

Bad Fats

-Trans Fatty Acids: Found in fast foods, processed foods/baked goods, junk foods, stick margarines, and any food product with a hydrogenated ingredient.

Less than 1% of our dietary fat should come from these sources; these are the fats to worry about. Large reason as to why our society is fighting an obesity crisis; these fats are in most products.

-Saturated fats: Found in stick butters, dairy products, canola oils, cocoa butter, and palm oils.

These should be less than 7-10% of dietary fat consumption; these are the fats to limit the use of to avoid health problems. This is the importance of limiting how much butter/oil one cooks with.

The importance of making your own food comes with limiting the fat content that you consume. When you prepare your own meals from scratch you can design your meal to incorporate all of the nutritional needs your body requires. If you aren’t cooking as many meals from scratch you can use the above mentioned facts about fats (lipids), carbohydrates, and protein to read the nutritional facts label on the back of each product you buy. When looking at different products you should compare them based upon their nutritional facts. In order to fuel your body correctly what goes into it must be a priority, from nutritional needs to bodily needs.

Water is the reason why the planet Earth is so special. From our temperature, to the creation of life, water is the key to everything. Human’s ability to utilize water is the reason why we became the top species native to this planet. Simple actions like sweating utilize basic laws of physics, in terms of evaporation and energy heat transfer. Out of everything our body needs to operate, there is none more important than water. Unlike food, which we can last 2-3 weeks without, we can’t last without drinking water for more than a few days. It’s of the utmost importance that we try to incorporate foods that contain water, along with drinking enough water to optimize our body’s ability to function. Our bodies are composed of up around 60-65% water, though it does vary from 45-75% depending on age and physical health (i.e. obese individuals are less water). This typically high percentage is because water does so much for our bodies. When we drink soda and other caffeinated beverages we dehydrate our bodies. One thing to keep in mind that when we dehydrate our bodies our salt levels rise and a typically result comes in the form of headaches. Though unlikely, we can overly hydrate and cause our salt levels to become too diluted; when it happens fast your brain can swell, and though it doesn’t cause a headache like dehydration it too is unhealthy to do. One technique that I practice which helps with this matter is when you feel thirsty or hungry, wait 15 minutes then drink as much water until you no longer feel thirsty or hungry. Your body’s first reaction to thirst typically feels like hunger if you ignore it long enough. Be sure to consume the right amount of water because our body uses water in a variety of ways and it’s the most important substance to consume.

Though opinions vary, it is suggested we drink around 64oz, or around 2 liters of water a day (this equals to 8, 8oz glasses). Our blood is around 78% water, which is reason why we can transfer proteins, hormones, and other substances all across our body. The water in our blood also gives our circulatory system structural support from the outside pressures of the body. It also acts as the perfect environment for chemical reactions, which is a pivotal aspect of all life forms. Water is especially important because of its chemical properties, which all make it an ideal medium for chemical reactions to occur. Drinking water before, during, and after a meal will aids with digestion. From its ability to store heat, it’s electrically neutral and pH neutral (7.0= not acidic or basic), and it also has a key role in many reactions because it can break chemical bonds or separate itself to form chemical bonds.  Water is an optimal temperature regulator. As many know, humans must maintain a body temperature around 98.6F (37C). For example, hypothermia occurs at around 82F (28C), which involves muscle failure and our metabolism ceasing to function. Our own central nervous system fails and death occurs at temperatures around 11F (44C). Water is excellent at storing heat, which allows our body to adapt to changes in temperature. When we’re cold, our body can boost its metabolism to generate more heat which is captured by water. When we’re hot, our body secretes sweat and gets cooled via evaporation. Water based fluids are play a key role in basic bodily functions. These water-based fluids range from mucus, transportation fluids for our gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system, lubricant between joints, buffers for our organs (and developing fetuses), spinal cord fluid, and cerebrospinal fluid.  When we hydrate properly we can avoid things like dehydration. When we don’t provide our bodies with enough water, we limit our body’s functional abilities; this often comes from drinking sugary beverages or eating more processed foods than whole foods. Staying hydrated is a key to being healthy.

To summarize, our daily diet should consist of: 45-65% of carbohydrates, 10-35% of protein20-35% of fats and drink around 64 oz (around 2 liters) of water a day whenever you’re thirsty in order to live a healthy life, but let’s not forget it’s the quality off those foods that determine your health. Regardless of food consumption I’m always be sure to take a daily multivitamin designed for vegans and vegetarians, this is something I practice regularly in order to ensure I’m getting my desired amounts of vitamins and minerals. Regardless of most studies it’s a habit I prefer to maintain. If you want to maximize your body’s potential, you must end being over indulged in food, you must end the gluttonous lifestyle that America has made main stream for profits. Food is fuel, nothing more, nothing less. But just because you see food as fuel doesn’t mean it has to be bland, make your fuel delicious and healthy. By providing your body with the necessary nutrients you’ll be one step closer to living a healthy lifestyle. If you’re interested more on proper nutrition, the roles that food play in your body, or a more detailed scientific explanation of any of the above points please check out this Intro Guide to Nutrition (just keep in mind some of the information can be excluded/is outdated, source is from 2012) brought to you by archived literature from Creative Commons which is a great resource to learn something new for free.

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