It's All About the Food

Your health is about what you eat MOST days! Part I

Your health is about what you eat MOST days! Part I

My most recent post was entitled “What Matters Most to Your Health? The central issue was this: a diet deficient in the essential nutrients (called micro-nutrients) including vitamins and minerals is guaranteed to make you sick and probably fat.

What has your attention?

There are a lot of things in life today that need your attention, stuff like politics, fire in the Amazon rain forest, hurricanes, animal abuse, childhood hunger, education, your next project at work or anticipated vacation, on and on. But it is remarkable how unimportant these really central things become when you personally are sick or hungry. The woes of the world become less important than your personal woes.

When you are sick and hungry you think about the availability of medical attention, insurance, the price of prescriptions and/or your next meal. Where is your attention today? Where will it be tomorrow?

Avoiding sickness and food craving

Sooner or later sickness and craving for food will catch up with you when your diet misses the mark. The question is can you avoid that condition without making it your life’s work, without becoming an expert in nutrition? The answer is yes and this series is going to help you do exactly that.    

The media and your doctor may not help you here. You have no true notion what any one vitamin or mineral is or why it matters.  What are we supposed to do when the one food that seems to have the best potassium content (whatever that is), the avocado, also has a lot of fat. Everybody says we shouldn’t eat fat.

We are all susceptible to “advertising” (what “they” say). We don’t know much about cars either but we certainly select and buy them based on advertising.  Does life as I know it hinge on whether I eat avocados – or anything else? Well, rest easy.

Do you have to pick the “right” food?

No one food, however beautifully presented or vilified, is likely to help or ruin your diet. However, lots of different foods in combination can do both of those. Trying to pick the “right” one food at a time is impossible and will drive you crazy. Getting good combinations most of the time is the answer.

So what are the elements of a “good combination”? You do have to know a “few” things about nutrition but not many.

Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are the macro-nutrients, each a contributor of energy. You know what energy is – especially when you don’t have any. And you also know that “too much” energyis the source of body fat. Hanging out inside the protein, fat and carbohydrates are the micro-nutrients, vitamins and minerals, et-al.

Protein is 1st priority

Protein can come from meat or plants and some amount of protein (varying with the size and activity level of the individual) is requirement. In fact it is first priority. Why?

All the jillions (my favorite word when the number is too large to wrap your mind around) of cells in your body are made of protein. The construction of new cells and maintenance (repair) of old cells is done by and with protein. Well, technically the protein breaks down into amino acids to do its job but we are just going to call it protein.

The vitamins and minerals activate that work but if there was no protein they wouldn’t even have a job. So, just for clarity, no protein, no life. Sounds like 1st priority to me.

So what is enough protein, you may be wondering. The answer depends on who you ask but it appears to be a minimum of 50-60 grams per day for us normal wimps and progressively higher for those who are physically active and/or athletes. The importance of that protein grows as we age because we are breaking down and need even more maintenance and repair.

what about vitamins and minerals?

The Institute of Medicine of The National Academies sets a level for each of the essential vitamins and minerals that are supposed to avoid some awful condition of inadequacy like rickets or scurvy or birth defects. Technically if you achieve this level it isn’t necessarily enough to protect you from longer term conditions that take time to develop, it just keeps you from a critical condition today.

The problem is that every food has a different content of vitamins and minerals. Sometimes even the same food depending on what it’s fed or where it is grown. And no one food includes enough of everything you need. It’s a matter of good combinations.

So you can get caught here, searching endlessly for the perfect food for all the vitamins and minerals. This could really make you crazy.

No matter what recommended dietary allowances, (RDAs) are determined by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, not matter how much the food industry adds “nutrients of concern” supplements to processed food; Americans are still 25 – 70% deficient in really important micronutrients even when they take supplements.

Let me show how these deficiencies matter long term.

The difference between survival today and long term health!

About 50% of Americans are deficient in the mineral magnesium. Vitamin D can’t do its job in the absence of magnesium so at least the same 50% of Americans are effectively deficient in vitamin D. Actually the estimate of vitamin d deficiency is more like 70%. And the absence of both keeps a lot of other stuff from working and things just go wrong eventually, not the least of which are osteoporosis and plaque build-up in your arteries.

That is just ONE example of the difference between survival today and longer term health.    

Protein and essential vitamins and minerals are in food, in the animals roaming the planet and plants growing out of the ground. But we don’t just eat that stuff. According to everything I have read including this government report (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855172/) an average 60% of the American diet is ultra-processed food ginned out by the commercial food industry.

Your diet most days

This is a matter of your diet “most days.” When my young grandchildren came to visit their granddaddy made an early morning trip for a box of doughnuts.  But that didn’t happen when they were at home. On the other hand, I know a child who was taken to that same doughnut shop every morning of her life. That child had donuts not just most but all days.

 So you have choices to make, choices about the degree to which on most days your diet is adequate in protein, adequate in essential nutrients, and avoids too many calories (energy.) Next week’s article will help you to make those decisions.