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/)