Our nutritional needs are one of the most powerful forces in our lives. The way we look, feel, and act influences, and is strongly influenced, by our nutritional choices and habits. Our emotional state may void our nutritional needs and lead to binge eating, anorexia, and bulimia. Going hours without eating, eating low-carb while exercising daily, getting too little sleep, having too much stress, or eating too little fat and protein may make our bodies crave carbohydrates. Our bodies are so smart in fact that they will make us have food cravings when we have a nutrient deficiency.
Much more than meets the eye, our bodies are a complex system that are continually being understood and researched. What we feed this system could be the difference in winning a race, avoiding a broken limb, living longer, gaining muscle, losing fat, having energy, increased clarity, and avoiding medication. But being a complex system comes with unpredictability and a life-long search for efficient ways to run our engines. There is more than one acceptable way to eat, and all of us have different needs, but there are basics every human requires.
Nutrients, which are necessary for proper bodily functions, are broken down into macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are needed by the body in large amounts to carry out physiological functions while micronutrients are needed in lesser amounts to carry out physiological functions.
The debates over how much of each macronutrient our bodies need rages on in today’s world. Proponents of low-carb diets, such as the Primal Blueprint, the Paleo Diet, the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, and the Zone Diet are familiar with the idea that fat should be our bodies main fuel source while carbohydrates should be kept on the lower end of the scale. Low-fat diets are popular for lowering overall caloric intake due to the high calorie content in fat. Weight-lifters may eat high carb and high protein to put on muscle mass. Some may argue with the RDI ratio’s as being inaccurate or too generalized for the public.
But not only this, the sources of these macronutrients comes into play. Are we consuming complete proteins or incomplete proteins? The effects of simple sugars versus complex carbs. Is that beef for dinner grass-fed or grain-fed? The role of organic choices. The toxic effects of pesticides on the fruit we eat. Are eggs good for us or not? Will red meat kill us? Should we go vegan to stop animal cruelty? These are all choices and trade-offs we live with everyday, but few deeply understand each concept.
Macronutrient ratios and sources aside, there is also the worry of preparation used to put these foods on the shelves of our health stores. To improve shelf-life, taste, and cut price many products are being pumped with additives many of us can hardly pronounce. Are these additives all bad, are any of them good? These are the questions we need to ask. The importance of ingredient reading cannot be ignored or misunderstood. Two products may advertise the same food with the same macronutrient ratios, but may contain many ingredients. However, cost efficiency and our income may affect our choices as well.
Beyond this leads further down the road of nutrition into areas of supplementation and vitamin needs. Should you take a vitamin D supplement? How about a multivitamin? Being against medicine doesn’t mean you should be against supplements. But we still need to be careful of certain ones, like melatonin.
Nutrition has a lot of moving parts, as it deserves for the incredible organism we have developed into through evolution. However, having knowledge of ingredients may be the best way to take care of ourselves in today’s hectic world. Not only will we be able to make smarter choices, but we will know exactly what’s going on in our bodies and minds while we eat foods.