Getting the Most Out of Your Food: Practical Nutrition

Celeste is a beautiful young lady who is going places. She probably has too many irons in the fire, but that’s what the college years are about. The only thing that holds her back is her energy level – and, if you talk to others, she’s a bit snappy at times. She doesn’t handle stress well. I talked with her a bit, and she said she ate well, with very little soda or sugar, and took her daily multi-vitamin. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

The more I talked with her, I found that she had a very routine diet, nearly the same every day, heavy on pasta with few vegetables and no shortage of ice cream. I suggested she try to eat something colorful – explore new foods – several times a week. She instantly snapped, and insisted her daily vitamin was sufficient to cover anything she’d missed. She wanted help, but didn’t want to change anything.

I understand that change is hard, especially if you’re low on energy. But in some respects, the body isn’t much different from a car: if you don’t have the output you expect, you need to start running premium fuels.

Being healthy is about more than popping a Hit-What’s-Missing pill on the way to wherever. Multi-vitamins are designed to fill the needs of a statistical norm. But statistical norms are numbers, not actual persons. Your personal needs change with the seasons, with the years, and with the demands placed on you. There may be nutrients in the formulation that you don’t need, or not enough of what you do. Most multi-vitamins also contain synthetic nutrients, which your body may or may not be able to utilize the same way as their naturally occurring counterparts.

Proper nutrition is a keystone of health, and comes from fresh, colorful foods and pure water. Just like us as the seasons change, different vegetables wax and wane. Lettuce, for instance, is pitiful through the winter and irresistible in the spring. Oranges contain abundant Vitamin C and pure hydration to carry us through the cold and flu season when we don’t want a glass of water. In this way, our foods themselves encourage us to diversify what we eat. Knowing what you need is simple, too. If it doesn’t taste good or upsets your stomach, you don’t need it. If it tastes amazing, you probably do.

Of course, this doesn’t work with processed “junk” foods, which trick your system with chemically engineered tastes. Processed foods, in effect, “steal” good nutrients from your body: they displace better foods from your diet and require extra effort to process through your body.

Sugar is not among the recommended foods. Its recent rationing will not provoke a hardship, for sugar supplies nothing in nutrition but calories, and the vitamins provided by other foods are sapped by sugar to liberate these calories. (Wilder—Handbook of Nutrition)*

Simply put, the sugar we know today is a highly concentrated byproduct of the original plants from which it comes. It is closer to a drug than a food. It promises much and demands more. Devoid of any accompanying fiber or nutrients, the sheer flood of pure crystalline sugar overwhelms our metabolic processes. (The average person consumes 800 calories of sugar daily. On a 2,000 calorie/day diet, that represents 40% displacement of actual food.) B-vitamins and phosphates, necessary for the mitigation of stress and production of energy, are used up in its digestion. Sugar contributes nothing to the transaction but a short burst of energy, then nothing more. The body has no choice but to store the excess calories as fat as actual energy becomes more depleted.

In order to get the best transfer of energy, we must eat real food, defined as “material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.” Sugar flaunts the defining characteristics of real food and hijacks the body’s natural response to it.. We are then less able to sense what is good, what is not, and when we’ve had enough. Real food provides everything we need for productive living and doesn’t require more than it gives. Real food doesn’t wear an ingredient label. Real food obviously goes bad after a few days.

The body requires glucose for life, but there is no evidence that dietary sugar is necessary. Most diets attribute their successes to limitation of sugars, whether they are for losing weight or controlling blood pressure or other issues that define metabolic syndrome. With a proper diet of real foods, your body can produce exactly what it needs for real health – along with plenty of energy to get everything done.

If you’re struggling with flagging energy, stop and calculate what percentage of your food today came from the outside perimeter of the grocery store and how much from the interior aisles. The higher the first number is will probably tell you a lot about your health and weight. But if you’re like me, this is a number that can improve. Because your health is not fixed in stone; it is a work in progress. Make it your aim to try something new from the produce section this week!

*Moose RM. Sugar a “diluting agent”. JAMA 1944;125:738–9. 10.1001/jama.1944.02850280054021

(For further details on what I’ve written here, see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4975866/)

Achieving Real Health

Who are you? How do others see you? Do you reflect everything you were created to be?

We’re embarking on the second week of 2019. The ramifications of our resolutions are becoming clear, and making this change permanent is looking to be more difficult than we’d hoped. Resolutions, because they are effecting change, take us out of our comfort zone. But if it were easy, we would not be making progress. But what is the real goal, and what will carry us through the obstacles on our path?

The reason for any lasting change has to be solid. Just fitting into that sexy dress isn’t enough – at the moment of truth, I don’t care about that dress. I care about who I am, and how I am perceived by others. I want people to treat me with respect because of what they see. A person with presence doesn’t deal with the same petty nuisances that others do.

So who are you? How do others see you? I knew a man who stopped to look at himself and the imprint he made on his young daughter. Did he want her growing up with a picture of Dad in her head, looking for a similar foul-mouthed, beer drinking jerk for a husband? He changed overnight and never looked back.

He knew that his image was not how he wanted to be remembered. But more, he cared about who she saw herself to be, how worthy she was, and what her children would become. How often do we stop and wonder how that amazing ancestor we all have would think about us? Are we everything he dreamed we would be? Do we represent his lineage well?

Life is a gift. We did not create ourselves. All we can do is maintain what we have, and maybe do a complete restoration at some point (or points.) Many years ago, my dad gave me an old bicycle. He had picked it up at a garage sale some time back, a few years old but very neglected. He stripped it to its beautiful frame, painted it black, and applied the decals that would’ve been proper when it was new. He polished its chrome rims and fenders, and bought new whitewall tires. That bike was gorgeous, and I received lots of compliments. But it’s been hanging in my shed for a long time now. The decals are chipped, the chain and hubs are dry, and the rims no longer shine. It now shows my neglect more clearly than my dad’s handiwork.

Has putting others’ needs ahead of your own left you forgotten and rusty? It may be time for a resto. But to what? If you were stripped down to the basics of who you should be, what would you build on?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Scripture says your body is a temple, in which God’s Spirit lives. I picture the supermodel that a company hires to be the faceplate for the brand. God chose you as His faceplate. You are the very image of God. That is buildable.

God is the author of health. If we are reflecting Him properly in the world, we should look like the intricately designed and tuned vessels they are. It’s more than just food and exercise that makes us healthy. Professional, social and spiritual pursuits also impact who we are. Everything we put into our lives should be whole, hearty and life-giving if we are to truly shine with health. Health, like beauty, is a total package, both inside and out.

The image must have integrity.

Once you recognize who you really are, who you were created to be, and how important you are, resolutions become more achievable. Stop and think, at various points in the day, if you are reflecting your design clearly. Is this what a temple of God looks like and accomplishes? Is this how a temple of God stands in the midst of trouble? Is this what a temple of God is used for? The closer you get to ‘yes’ on these questions, the closer you are to real health.

What diet is best for me? or, How to use a Food Journal

What diet is best for me? 

Which supplement should I take?

How do I know which brands are best?

These are such common questions, and very good ones to be asking.  The problem is, there’s no right-and-done answer.  People are complex organisms, and what works for one individual may not work so well for the next.  Bio-individuality explains the differences in individuals as well as the plethora of supplements on the shelves and the number of diet plans that all seem to work for somebody.

How do you find what will actually work for you?

The honest truth is that no one knows but you. 

Your body is unique, and like no one else’s. You have different parents, different eating and stress patterns, different energy levels, different chromosomes from every other person on this planet.  We are all similar, yet each of us is a one-off creation with custom requirements.

The only way to know what your body needs is to test and see what works and what doesn’t.

It’s simple, yet very scientific.  Experiment, observe, and document – the fundamentals of science are the basics of keeping a health journal.  Writing down what you observe – a journal – is key to gaining success in personal health.

Basically, you need to note what you do and how you feel each day until you get a clear picture of what foods cause fatigue or constant cravings for more, and which ones energize you.  It’s important to note the times of everything, even if it’s just morning or evening.  You will begin to see how particular foods impact you.  You can also note exercise and sleep, as foods often affect the quality of both. Moods are very important to watch.  I was in high school when I noticed that I often fought with my mom in the mornings before school, leaving me crying bitterly all the way to school. By the time I arrived at school, I was exhausted and snacking on my lunch, leaving me not enough food to get through the day.  It didn’t take long to isolate a particular breakfast cereal which caused me major mood swings – which combined with a milk sensitivity to ruin my day.  When I ceased having cereal with milk for breakfast, all that drama ceased.

It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re just looking for patterns.

First thing in the morning, note your baseline: how do you feel before adding food? Fill in the time and whether you’re energetic, motivated, well-rested or feel run over by a truck.  Then have breakfast and note what you had, and how you feel immediately afterward. Are you satisfied? Or are you craving sweets or something else? If there was much time between waking and eating, note the time you ate. One or two hours later, note again the time and how you’re feeling. Are you tired, or still energetic? Grouchy or content? Needing a cup of coffee or a treat?

Repeat this for everything you eat for one week, including the weekend: the time, what you ate, and how you feel, both immediately and several hours later. Put each entry on a new line to make it easier to spot similarities. Figuring out supplements will require you to treat them like a food, isolating different supplements from each other by several hours or alternate days. You will begin to see patterns after several days (maybe sooner!) of how each food or supplement impacts your energy levels and moods, both immediately and over time. Bloating and nasal stuffiness, for instance, often happen hours later or the next day.

As you begin seeing that protein for breakfast leads to a productive day, or a smoothie turns you into a snackaholic, you will learn what works and what doesn’t.  Experiment with new eating patterns.  Pretty soon, you will have a custom-made, workable diet plan that is tailored to your individual needs.

You don’t have to do this forever – just until you find what you’re looking for. The more you track, the better picture you will have. And keep in mind, as your needs change, you may want to repeat this exercise to see why old patterns are no longer working. Fine-tuning is part of staying healthy over the long term.

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The first journal I used for my son. It took years to correlate foods and moods because I didn’t note times of both. It still helped me find intolerances and develop a diet for him.

Let me know if you try this, and what you find!!

 

I found this post really fun inspiration for watching my health:  http://steadystrength.com/10-motivational-nutrition-quotes/

 

Teaching Children to Eat Well

I heard a blurb on the radio the other day about how a study had come out proving that it wasn’t worth the fight to make your children eat vegetables.  I didn’t hear the details of who published it; I was too busy collecting my jaw from the floor and listening to their rationalizations.  From what the DJ said, the psychosocial damage to both parent and child totally outweighs any benefit of the vegetable eaten, and over time, forcing the issue of food makes no statistical difference in how the grown child eats.

I think the study missed the point. If the current global health crisis is to be addressed, it must be addressed one kid at a time, one meal at a time. Our habits of eating must change. It’s a lifestyle, not a short-term diet. With that in mind, if you’re in a battle over food with your child, it’s because they’ve already learned what to eat. They eat what you eat. If you’re trying to force them to do what you don’t, they know it’s only a matter of time before you give up; they’ve won.

How should we eat? is a question that starts really early. The newborn is learning constantly. He is watching how you move, listening to how you talk to others, and tasting broccoli in mama’s milk. So good nutrition starts with me, what I eat, and what I provide for my child. As he begins to wean off of milk, his first food should not be french fries at McDonald’s.  (I’m ashamed to admit that two of my children did start this way.) Boys love getting to use real tools, and using appropriately-sized knives to help cut veggies for Mommy will encourage them to be part of the process of putting food on the family’s table. (This is how I retrained those two .) Girls can and will do the same, but they’re usually motivated by getting to “play” with shapes and how the finished product will look. Let them be creative with combinations and shapes. And don’t be discouraged when you run out of ingredients for dinner because they ate everything raw as they chopped.  I’ve been there.

I did have a mother once tell me she envisioned her children, running horror-flick style through the house with butcher knives. I suppose that could be a problem, but it’s not been my experience.  Kids are always welcome in my kitchen. Good things happen there. I allow little ones to snitch snacks while I prepare and they watch – here’s when they learn to keep their hands away from the knives. Toddlers can be given table knives to slice their own banana with breakfast, or cooked baby carrots with dinner. As they gain skill, we move to a sharper knife, and mushrooms or celery on a cutting board at the table where they can work securely.  I’ve never met a kid who didn’t enjoy cutting little trees out of a head of broccoli. I think the trick to turn little Freddie into a chef instead of a B-rate movie character is your expectations of him. As you treat kitchen implements with respect and skill, he learns what kitchen work looks like.

Remember to model well, even when you think they’re not looking. They are. They can do more than you think they can.  This salad was completely made by children – little ones sectioning oranges, leafing lettuce and slicing grapes, slightly older ones slicing avocados and mixing dressing. I buy sliced almonds, unless someone wants to show off their cutlery skills.

This is lifestyle training, then, more than a health curriculum.  It’s not just about what they eat. If all they eat is McDonald’s, they will buck vegetables. They won’t know what asparagus looks like. They might even fear beets. Toddlers learn by handling things, experimenting with flavors, textures, and how things react to touch. By giving them fresh, raw foods, and letting them pick out new ones at the grocery store to take home and prepare, they learn to love real food. You’ll teach them not only that “we eat healthy food,” but that they are capable of doing this for themselves.

This is efficiency at its best. Little Freddie’s pre-dinner time at the cutting board not only kept him from screaming hungrily at your feet while you’re trying to prepare dinner, but taught him how to eat well, manage his health, and keep control of his finances. You helped him to make difference in the world, all while maintaining a happy home. Is this difficult to do in a dual-income home? Yes, but meals still need made. Why not enlist help, even if it’s not the most effective (yet)?  The time you invest in making dinner for your family is time you didn’t have to spend at the doctor’s office for sick kids, and money you didn’t have to spend on blood pressure medications for yourself. As you get older, don’t be surprised when they take over the kitchen to make “what they really like.”

The health of our country is atrocious, and the world is not much better. Fighting for health is worth it, but it’s not about fighting our children. It’s about joining together as a family to fight for what is good for all of us.  Change starts small – with me. Even if I don’t like vegetables and I didn’t start them out properly, if I know that my children should eat better, then so should I.  Admit it to them. Struggle together against junk food cravings. Make peach cobbler to reward everybody for trying your new cauliflower soup recipe.  It’s good for all of us, and none of us want to die young of totally preventable illnesses. This is about loving our children, and wanting to be there for our grandchildren.

Raising a family is not about making the kids into something you’re not willing to be. It’s about making sure that what you’ve started makes a difference that lasts into the next generation. If you’re not on the right track, change it, and encourage your family wo come along. Any change is hard; there will be days when ice cream is dinner. But those days should be rare, and getting rarer every year as the family learns to enjoy the benefits of health that eating well brings.