Nutrition – an overview
In order to achieve optimal nutrition we need a balance of Macronutrients (which come in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Over thousands of years of evolution our digestive systems have adapted to the nourishing foods around us to the point that our species could thrive on a wide variety of foods presented to us in the natural world. These natural foods delivered the perfect balance of macronutrients and micronutrients needed to provide optimal health.
As the population of the human race increased it began to outgrow its natural food resources and so structured farming techniques were developed to sustain the growing population. As time went by so the demand for food increased as did the need for it to taste better, last longer and become less costly to produce. Eventually the human diet became what it is today comprising of foods designed by us and driven by taste, cost and sustainability. As a result we have over time lost the balance of macronutrients and micronutrients provided to us through our natural diet and replaced it with a diet that is high in energy but low in nutrient value, this has been to the detriment of our health. I suggest that switching to a diet comprising of more natural foods will help restore nutrient balance and improve health.
Proteins can be found in plant and animal products and it is preferable to eat a variety of both. Avoiding man-made proteins can benefit your health, foods such as chicken nuggets, sausages, spam and turkey twizzlers are all highly processed.
Examples of plant proteins: Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, almonds.
Examples of animal proteins: Beef, ostrich, salmon, turkey.
Carbohydrates can come in the form of sugars or starches. Sugars are absorbed quickly and provide a fast surge of energy, starches are released more slowly and provide a slow release of energy. Avoid surges in energy from sugars unless you are active and try to eat carbohydrates that provide gradual energy release. Refined carbohydrates that have been processed beyond there natural state tend to have less health giving benefits than natural carbohydrates.
Examples of foods containing natural sugars: Banana, mango, honey, grapes.
Examples of foods containing natural starches: Peas, lentils, yams, quinoa.
Fats can come in two-forms, both saturated and unsaturated. Once again it is optimal to eat both types of fats but preferably from natural sources. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature whereas saturated fats will be solid. The most important fats to avoid are highly processed fats or “hydrogenated” fats which are often found in commercial grade vegetable oils.
Examples of saturated fats: Lamb, coconut oil, butter.
Examples of unsaturated fats: Cod liver oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds.
SummaryHow is this information useful in the real world and more importantly what should you cook for dinner tonight? If you want to take a step closer towards improved health then you need to have an open mind towards food. It’s important that you are prepared to try new foods, experiment with different styles of food preparation / cooking, and perhaps eat differently to the majority of the population. Following these simple rules may help you make good decisions when choosing what to eat:
- Eat natural foods.
- Eat a variety of different colours.
- Eat a wide variety of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.