We all know the saying ‘you are what you eat’, which is often followed by the words ‘I need to eat a skinny person’ or ‘so don’t be cheap, fake and nasty’. But have you ever really thought about what it actually means. Put simply it means that if you eat nutrient devoid food, you will also be nutrient devoid, making you dry, dull and starving for nourishment. It means that you need to be mindful of food choices you make, and to be aware of the marketing ploys that food companies use to get you wrapped around their pale, flabby, eczema ridden finger.
Your body needs a certain amount of each nutrient every single day to be able to function. There are millions of reactions occurring within your body and without adequate nutrients these reactions slow down, become less efficient or stop happening all together. More often than not this can trigger a whole chain reaction and can affect various parts of the body.
Take zinc for example, over 300 hundred reactions depend on its availability. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for zinc is 8mg – 14mg a day in adults which is the equivalent of eating about 1 & 1/2 cups of cashews or 4 oysters every day. Smoking, regular alcohol consumption, high stress, compromised digestion and some prescription medicines further affect zinc levels by either inhibiting absorption or depleting stores. So even if you are having your 4 oysters a day you still may not be getting enough zinc due to other factors. One reason Zinc is needed is so your body can produce good amounts of stomach acid, which is what helps to break down your food. This process enables the body to easily absorb nutrients. Without enough stomach acid the process will be affected and every other nutrient will be impacted. All because of a zinc deficiency.
Here are a few fun facts:
- Protein, made up of 20 amino acids, is commonly thought of for building muscle. But did you know one of these amino acids Tryptophan is essential in increasing serotonin in the brain. Low levels of serotonin in the brain are associated with low mood, decreased memory and brain function and increased anxiety. A large percentage of serotonin is produced in the gut and needs Tryptophan to cross into the brain.
- Vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of preventable blindness in the world.
- We all know calcium is stored in our bones and helps to keep them strong. But calcium is also required in the blood and if adequate levels of blood calcium are not maintained the body will pull calcium from bones. If this continues over a long period of time bones can become brittle and are prone to the development of osteoporosis.
- Magnesium is essential in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat to produce energy. It also affects the conduction of nerve impulses and muscle contraction, helping muscles to relax and relieve tension.
This is obviously just a very few of the ways some nutrients are used by the body. But it highlights the fact that deficiency can have some pretty serious consequences. Many people associate healthy eating with weight loss but there is so much more that depends on it.
So why do you eat? Because you are hungry right. Or maybe its because you are emotional, bored or craving. Lets just think about the hungry part first. When you feel hungry your body is telling your brain it needs fuel. It needs macro-nutrients which are carbohydrates, fat and protein which can all be used as fuel. It also needs micro-nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre which aid in breaking the macros down, plus hundreds of other functions. The body needs a certain amount of each in the right form every day. By consuming good quality macro-nutrients you will also ensure your body gets all of the various micro-nutrients it needs.
Another reason we eat is because of cravings. Whether it be carbs, chocolate, salty or fried food, when you are in the habit of making poor food choices, cravings are often in the form of unhealthy foods too. Many cravings can be a sign that you have a nutrient deficiency, for example chocolate cravings are often associated with a magnesium deficiency. You can find a list of typical food cravings and associated nutrient deficiencies here. But the thing is, if you are mindful of what you are eating, and eat to fuel your body you shouldn’t be deficient and you shouldn’t have cravings.
Emotion can also be a big driver for why we eat, and almost always its driving us to a tub of ice cream or some other ‘bad’ food. Some foods light up the same parts of the brain that light up when we are happy. Because we have conditioned ourselves to associate these foods with being happy we then turn to them when we are down for comfort. Mood, eating behavior and appetite control is regulated by serotonin, and diet can affect the levels of serotonin required for these actions. By making mindful food choices neurotransmitters can be influenced which can then have an effect on appetite and any emotional drivers.
Over the next few weeks I will be putting up some blogs that will explain why each nutrient is important. I will include some recipes that feature each nutrient and help you to shift your focus to mindful food practises. It can be really hard to change a life time of bad habits especially when you aren’t fully aware of why it is important and the impact it can have. Food truly is the key to good health and goes way beyond the next weight loss gimmick.