By now, you:
a) have come to realize that nutrition plays a major role in your health and fitness goals
b) have become overwhelmed with the little bits of information you have learned about nutrition
c) believe that both are correct
You may think that nutrition is not rocket science, but it sort of is. The nutritional program that is effective for one individual is not necessarily replicable for the next person. Variables for your optimal nutrition plan include goals ( i.e., fat loss or muscle gain?), allergies / food sensitivities, age, amount of sleep you get, and amount of activity you experience in an average week. There are also calories. Two hundred calories from a bowl of vegetable soup is not the same quality of calories that are derived from a 200 calorie cookie. Some professionals would argue that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.
I am not an expert in nutrition; it is not my area of specialty, but I do have a solid knowledge of the do’s and don’ts of food intake. This lack of expertise makes me the perfect choice to write an article such as this because, once overwhelmed by the mysteries of food intake, I have navigated nutrition as a manageable and essential part of my every day. Or so I thought.
There are fundamentals to eating that I dare say should be apparent to us all: eliminate fried foods; eliminate processed, ready-to-go foods. Sugars wreak havoc on almost all of us. Fats derived from sugars are of little benefit. Alcohol provides hours of fun, but, alas, plenty of empty calories, although it is reputed that red wine has its benefits, such as antioxidants, cancer fighting properties and may even help prevent tooth decay.
I’ve been disturbed for a few days now ever since I saw a documentary about sugar, and how it is being casually added to so many foods. Again, processed foods are topped up with all kinds of additives to extend their shelf life, and to make them “tastier.” This amuses me because, even as a child, I was never drawn to things like salad dressing; vegetables were delicious just as they were. I still think that, and I still dislike processed salad dressing.
Exercise has long been a good excuse for individuals to “eat whatever they want”, or, as I like to say, make poor nutritional choices. It really doesn’t make sense though, to exercise and then sabotage your work with poor food choices. Having been in the food service industry all my life, I have observed that many people don’t seem to give their food choices a second thought.
I have been training my body using various disciplines for about 30 years. I have been highly attuned to my nutrition only since 2012. Slowly, I have learned about proteins, good fats and where they are derived from, carbohydrates and what foods they come from, and how much of these macro nutrients should be consumed in a day, or in each of my daily meals. In this documentary I watched, I added to my arsenal of knowledge some very important details about sugar.
Sugar is added to so many foods, from soups and sauces, to salad dressings and oatmeal. Oatmeal!
I went to my fridge and looked through my packaged items: my organic yogurt has 19g sugar per ¾ cup. Nature Valley granola bar: 7g per 35g bar. Tetra Pak juice: 31g per 250ml. In the grocery store, I discover that sugar hovers around 12g per 250 ml in all milk, whether it is skim or whole, organic or not. Nut milk has 0g.
What’s the big deal with 7g of sugar in my granola bar? You might ask. Turns out that 4g of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar, so that 7g is now a more visually familiar 1¾ teaspoon. The juice has almost 8 teaspoons of sugar in a 250 ml serving! Sugar is lurking in almost everything that is not just processed, but packaged and those small amounts can add up very quickly. Perhaps, like me, you would treat yourself to a baked good at your favourite coffee shop. I have a muffin at Tim Horton’s once every three months, on average, but I now realize that I’ve been “treating” myself all day, everyday, little by little. It is very defeating when you are suddenly aware that what you thought was eating clean could stand to be vastly improved. Bye bye, muffin treats!
All this reminded me of a conversation that I had with a friend over 20 years ago, where the latest in dieting was promoting “fat free.” Basically what this boiled down to was that one could eat sugary cereals, candy, gummy bears – anything sugary – without the worry of pesky fat, such as vegetable oils and lards. It is now known that sugar is converted to fat in the end – and not the good kind, either.
Other detriments to over consumption of sugar is that your liver becomes stressed and fatty. Sugar is also suspected to be contributing to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancers.
Recent trips to the grocery store have been sobering. Whereas I used to be concerned solely with the sodium content of foods, now my grocery store game is to find the food with the least amount of sugar.
Canadian law now stipulates that restaurant chains with more than 20 locations must clearly label the calorie count in their dishes. It is an excellent move forward, but if there is a change being made, why not include the breakdown of where the calories come from? It’s that old two birds, one stone adage.
Nearly every dysfunction in our bodies and minds can be “treated”, to some degree, via nutrition. In that vein, in a preventative approach, nutrition should be more of a focal point each and every day in maintaining health. You have to eat, anyway. Why not make food as important a choice in our lives as we do with our cars, winter coats and workout gear? Good nutrition is not an elitist matter; it is a matter of taking good care of ourselves.