Eat a Properly Prepared, Nutrient Dense Diet
There are many benefits of a properly prepared, nutrient dense diet. Since our bodies function based on the ingredients we give it via our food, choosing quality ingredients makes sense, if we want a quality outcome. We wouldn’t put poor quality fuel into a Mercedes! So we don’t need to put “cheap” food into our bodies. If you think about it, our bodies are composed of trillions of cells which support the tissues, organs, and systems that comprise our literal body. These cells function on nutrients: chemicals that we ingest from our foods.
While the concept of nutrient dense whole foods may seem obvious when we look at it from a cellular level, the way our food is prepared is just as important. We are what we eat- whether it is an organic green bean or a piece of grass fed steak, we ingest what that food item was treated with, or fed. If that green bean was sprayed with pesticides, you can be sure that some of them reside within it, and therefore reside in you. When the cow is fed chemically treated corn or soy, or given antibiotics, we can be sure that we are also ingesting those same products. Choosing foods that are treated cleanly and humanely impacts us too.
Additionally, how we prepare our food is just as important. Are we cooking that steak in a pan coated with nonstick chemicals that can flake off into our food over time, or a ceramic nonstick skillet? Is that green bean prepared by steaming it, or by cooking it in inflammatory oils? What we eat and how it is prepared is vital to our health and function.
When you think of your gut, what comes to mind? Is it your stomach? Your general abdominal area? The gut itself is comprised of much more than just the parts that move food through you. Every cell in our body depends on the digestive system to provide the nutrients it needs for both structure and function.
Digestion begins with our brain, creating cascading effect that moves from our thoughts about food all the way to elimination. By eating our food in a calm, relaxed state, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs digestion, vs. the sympathetic system, which is activated during stress. This activation prepares our stomachs to receive the food by releasing enzymes needed to break it down. Even when we chew, we are often in a hurry, swallowing food that is too large to be easily broken down and sending it to a stomach that is not ready to receive it.
Along with our liver, pancreas, and gall bladder, the small intestine takes the broken down food material from our stomachs and release enzymes and bile to further break down the macronutrients and prepare them for absorption into the bloodstream. If miscommunication occurs at this level, nutrients eaten may not be absorbed properly and bad bacteria can begin to grow.
The large intestine contains our microbiome, whose proper balance is essential for digestion, consists of beneficial bacteria that produce necessary nutrients, like B vitamins, that our bodies need. An imbalance here can lead to toxin buildup and physical distress, like bloating, gas, or diarrhea. At this point in the system, whatever remnants that have not been absorbed are eliminated.
Once this is completed, our body has access to the nutrients we have prepared and eaten for its individual functions and overall health. Without a functional digestive system, our body can not break down and absorb even the most perfect diet and macronutrient ratio.
Blood Sugar Regulation:
When we eat, the digestion process breaks our food into its main parts: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are converted into glucose, a form of sugar, which is then released into our bloodstream (now called blood glucose or blood sugar), so our pancreas activates to release insulin to usher that glucose into our cells to be used for energy. This effort typically returns our glucose levels to normal. However, when our meal contains too much carbohydrate, our glucose level rises too quickly, which means that our insulin level also increases in response. Since insulin’s job is to get the glucose out of our bloodstream, too much insulin circulating lowers our glucose too quickly, causing headaches, shakiness, and other symptoms when it drops. At that point, our adrenals kick in, releasing cortisol to raise it back to a normal level, but if we’ve also eaten a sugary snack when we feel the drop, it will repeat this cycle of rising too fast and dropping too quickly over and over, leaving you exhausted and miserable. This means that your adrenals kick into overdrive to help keep your glucose levels in a normal range. Having balanced nutrients in our meals will help to support your adrenals, stabilize your glucose level, keep you feeling satiated, and will give you sustained energy levels to get through the day. (Nutritional Therapy Association [NTA], 2020)
Our body’s ability to regulate our blood sugar affects all aspects of functionality. Glucose is our main source of energy or fuel and a component of every single cell and the of tissues of every organ and blood vessel, helps us balance hormones for stress, digestion and sexual function, and affects brain health, including cognition, memory, mood, and focus. If it is not regulated properly, dysfunction can occur at all levels, leading to poor energy output and our overall health quality will be decreased.
Fatty acids support our overall health and function by providing us with a long burning source of energy, increasing our sense of satiety to avoid hunger between meals, acting as building blocks on a cellular level in our cell membranes and hormone production, allowing for the proper use of proteins, serving as a protective lining for our organs, helping regulate energy by slowing the absorption of food in the small intestine, and by making our food taste better! Our bodies are designed to make a lot of what it needs to survive, but there are some fats that are essential for our function and health, meaning that we can not make them, we can’t live without them, and we must get them in our diet. (Nutritional Therapy Association [NTA], 2020) These Essential Fatty Acids are crucial for certain hormones we need to fight inflammation but also aid in a proper inflammatory response when we are injured or have an infection. The key to this system is balance- we need just enough of each type in order to make the right amount of each hormone needed at the right moment that we need it and for the right length of time. Unfortunately, our current diets are high in one type, Omega 6, which are usually industrially processed and chemically treated and therefore end up creating more inflammation in our bodies. We have to combat that by increasing our intake of anti-inflammatory Omega 3s and reduce our consumption of those unhealthy Omega 6’s, replacing them with more direct natural sources of Omega 6, like nuts and seed oils that are simply processed. Both Omega 6 and 3 are Essential Fatty Acids so are necessary, but how they are processed affects their impact on our overall health and function.
Minerals are critical to optimal health and must be ingested and digested, as we can not make them. They act as cofactors for enzyme reactions throughout our body which impact our ability to digest food, absorb nutrients, produce prostaglandins that fight inflammation, and many more. There are mineral pumps located in the lipid bilayer of our cell membranes which move nutrients in and out of the cell, like sodium/potassium pumps. Minerals also maintain proper nerve conduction by moving electrical impulses through our nerves. They contract and relax our muscles, regulate our tissue growth, and provide structural and functional support for our skeleton through bone remodeling. However, many factors can prohibit the absorption of minerals. Hydration levels, hormone function, other minerals which might act as an antagonist to one mineral or a synergist for another one can impact absorption. Vitamin D deficiency, which aids in intestinal absorption, fatty acid deficiency, and low stomach acid can also impair absorption. Other factors like stress, infection, fever, too much exposure to the sun, and the presence of phytic or oxalic acid which binds to the mineral can affect our ability to absorb minerals. Our body’s primary mineral supply is located in our skeletal system, which also regulates the levels of calcium present in our bloodstream. By a process called bone remodeling, as much as 15% of our total bone mass is turned over each year, which gives our skeleton structural soundness. These help our body maintain mineral levels more effectively.
Hydration supports our overall health and function by providing us with a transport system for nutrients and minerals, called electrolytes, all over our bodies. On a cellular level, it moistens oxygen for breathing and delivers it to our cells, serves as a vehicle for those nutrients to reach cells, removes wastes, flushes toxins, and improves cell-to-cell communication electronically by manipulating the electrical potential of our cells. It also cushions and lubricates our bones and joints and absorbs shock. Additionally, it helps to regulate our body temperature, enables the body’s natural healing processes, and enables digestion. Without proper hydration, we experience constipation, fatigue muscle cramps, anxiety, and headaches, and we lose the ability to focus. Eventually those symptoms progress to reveal heartburn, joint pain, back pain, constipation, colitis and even exercise induced asthma! All of these happen simply because we did not drink enough water. What if you don’t like to drink water, because you don’t like the taste of it? There are several ways to increase hydration simply adding fresh fruit or cucumber to it, or perhaps by eating more water-laden foods, like watermelon. As we age, our thirst signals decline, so we have to stop and listen to the cues our body is sending and respond accordingly. If we work out in hot weather, exercise, are pregnant or lactating, or have a chronic condition like diabetes, our need for water increases. Hydration is the key to every systems’ effectiveness.
Nutritional Therapy Association. (2020). Blood Sugar Student Guide [PDF document].
Nutritional Therapy Association. (2020). Fatty Acids Student Material [Function video].