Food: Understand How It Works, To Make It Work for You, Part I: How Food Works

Do you want to change your health and your life but you’re not sure where to even begin? I know you’ve probably heard a million different things on what you should be doing, and most of them are probably WRONG. MOST diets and supplements overpromise and underdeliver. But WHY? In this article series I am going to give you the basic knowledge and tools to change your life forever. Sounds too good to be true? Maybe you’ve heard something similar before? Today, in Part I of the series Food: Understand How It Works, To Make It Work for You, I am going to break down a few simple steps you can take to make lasting changes to your waistline and your LIFE.

Where to even begin… Let’s start with the basics. Weight loss can be a complex endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be if you understand the basics of how and why your body does what it does and how you can make your body work with you and not against you. The most basic concept to understand is what I will cover in this first article of the series, and that concept is how to use food to your advantage. Most of you probably already understand the basic macronutrients that comprise the foods that we eat, but for those that do not I will offer a simplistic rundown. The foods we consume can be broken down into the following categories or macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Understanding what these nutrients are and what their purposes are is essential to being able to achieve the body you want.

Let’s take a closer look:

1. Protein

Protein is the basic building block of all cells in the human body, including skeletal muscle tissue. Examples of protein include animal flesh such as chicken breast, steak, fish, and dairy sources such as milk and dairy-derived powdered sources of protein such as whey. Plant sources do exist as well, but such discussion is somewhat outside the scope of this article. Protein is further broken down in the body into amino acids that are then transported throughout the body and used on demand to repair damaged cells. Protein is also the only nutrient of the three for which no mechanism of storage exists in the body. What does that mean exactly??? Well in simplistic terms… “if you don’t use (consume) it, you lose it”. The body is in a constant state of breaking down and simultaneously building back up cells throughout your entire body. This process NEVER ends, so you might as well understand what’s going on. Proteins vary in digestion rates and therefore vary in the amount of time it takes the body to break them down into a usable form for cellular repair. You’ve probably heard recently, in the wake of many FAD diets, that eating every few hours is NOT necessary or even productive for weight loss. The simplest explanation for why this is incorrect has to do with this constant process of cellular breakdown and cellular repair described above. If your body is in a state where it lacks amino acids from digested food, then it will steal those amino acids from its own tissue by catabolizing skeletal muscle tissue to break down into amino acids so that it can continue to repair cells and sustain life. Losing skeletal muscle tissue in this way will decrease your resting metabolic rate and make weight loss or even maintenance more difficult. The simple solution… CONSUME protein spread out in an even and controlled manner throughout the day including prior to sleep.

2. Carbohydrates

 

Carbohydrates should be thought of as FUEL for your body. You only need as much fuel as your activities throughout the day require. Carbohydrates are metabolized by the body into simple sugars, i.e. glucose. That glucose is used to power cellular level energy production and processes. Carbohydrates, unlike protein, may be stored in the body for later use. The liver holds a reserve of glucose for immediate usage at most times, and skeletal muscle tissue also holds a constant reserve of stored carbohydrates in the form of muscle glycogen. Finally, when these reserves are full, and more carbohydrates are available… you guessed it… the rest will be stored as FAT. It is important to understand that dietary carbohydrates are NOT essential to your body, and you can thrive with or without them. Vegetables are considered a carbohydrate, and I would argue are the one exception to this rule. Micronutrients and fiber from vegetables is important for the body. Yes, you can use supplements to make up for deficiencies in vegetable consumption, but vegetables, especially green cruciferous vegetables, are so low in caloric value and high in antioxidants and nutrients that it is silly to remove them from your diet for the sake of removing all carbohydrates. With all of that said… carbohydrates are generally overconsumed and are usually the number one macronutrient that needs to be reduced in the average population to achieve weight loss.

3. Fats

Dietary fats, unlike carbohydrates, are 100% essential to your body. Essential fatty acids are critical for hormone production, cellular membrane integrity, cholesterol balance, and heart health among a host of other functions and processes. Fats are also FUEL for your body. Like carbohydrates, fats can be stored by the body for later use. In the absence of carbohydrates your body will begin to force the liver to break down fats into something called ketones. If you have ever heard of “ketosis” or the “ketogenic diet,” this is where these terms come from. In general, the human body will thrive and perform exceptionally well on a higher fat and lower carbohydrate diet. There are always exceptions to these “rules,” but in general fats should always be a focus in the diet even before carbohydrate consumption is considered.

Putting it all together

Protein:

  • Consume adequate amounts of protein frequently throughout the day.
  • Vary sources to vary digestion rates and utilization rates of amino acids.
  • Do not consume sources that disagree with your body or agitate allergies.
  • Consume a balance of lean proteins and omega-3 rich sources like salmon.
  • FOCUS on quality, not quantity (but do ensure daily quantities are adequate).
  • Protein should rarely be decreased unless underlying kidney conditions exist.
  • EAT your protein source first.

 

Carbohydrates:

  • Consume only the required amount needed to fuel
  • Consume mainly vegetables and complex carbohydrates like rice or oatmeal.
  • Ensure that the fiber content of your diet is adequate.
  • Stay away from HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP…. It’s EVERYWHERE.
  • Limit sodas and sugar rich drinks including fruit juices; real fruit is superior.
  • Limit fruit sugar consumed; stick with high water content fruits like melon.
  • Opt for a salad lightly dressed with a quality, think olive oil, oil-based dressing.
  • Restrict this macronutrient FIRST when weight loss is desired.

 

Fats:

  • Consume adequate amounts to sustain energy levels and bodily processes.
  • Consume as much monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids as possible.
  • Oily fish and Olive oil are your friends for weight loss.
  • Fat consumption is about balance, most “Western” diets lack monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, so consumption of these should be the priority.
  • Saturated fats are not always your enemy, they help produce hormones and cell membranes. Moderation and control is the key. Adequate animal protein consumption will likely result in adequate saturated fat intake, but consuming some additional coconut oil or grass-fed butter is a good adjunct.
  • Fats and carbohydrates should be balanced to meet your daily energy requirements. For most of the general population, focusing on one or the other and decreasing the opposing nutrient will result in the greatest likelihood for optimal weight loss. If your body requires more severe caloric restriction for weight loss, then reducing or eliminating carbohydrates FIRST will probably be optimal.

 

This has been a very primitive look at what macronutrients in your food are, how they work in the body, and how you can leverage your consumption of each to achieve optimal weight loss or maintenance. In future articles we will explore in more detail how each of these macronutrients function in the body, a more detailed explanation of what foods constitute what macronutrients, what the optimal amounts of each macronutrient are for your body, and how you can formulate the optimal weight loss or maintenance diet for yourself. If you have further questions or comments on the subject matter of this article or would like help reaching your weight loss goals please feel free to email me directly at danwidmer@supernutritionIL.com or contact me through our website http://www.supernutritionIL.com In Part 2: Protein is King, we will explore in greater detail the significance of dietary protein, how to determine which sources and how much is right for you, and how to manipulate consumption to help achieve your desired health and fitness goals.

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