You are what you eat, so the saying goes, and there is a lot of truth in it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if we feed our bodies with processed food, bad fats and lots of refined flour and sugar that we won’t be in optimal health.
But what does an optimum diet look like?
The trick is to make everything you eat as nutrient dense as possible. The more nutrients we consume, the better able our bodies are to operate as optimally as possible and the more vitality and energy will have.
In practise this means replacing foods which contain empty calories with those that are packed with nutrients.
For example wheat. In refining flour to make white flour the husk and bran are removed, the parts of the grain which contain the most nutrients and fibre. This process destroys a lot of vital nutrients:
- Two thirds of the fibre is lost
- Virtually all of the vitamin E gets destroyed
- 50% calcium, 70% phosphorus, 80% Iron, 98% Magnesium, 75% Manganese, 50% Potassium, 65% Copper destroyed
- 50-80% of the different B vitamins are lost.
So by simply switching to wholemeal bread and pasta we are giving our bodies far more in the way of nutrients and fibre than by choosing white bread or pasta.
Eat more fruit and vegetables. They are naturally high in vitamins and minerals that support energy production and enable our bodies to function optimally. The reason we are encouraged to eat 5 a day, is only that this is seen as an achievable stretch for a nation that is currently only eating 2 portions a day on average. In Australia it’s 7 a day and in Greece it’s 9, and in Japan it’s 14…so 5 is an absolute minimum.
Aim to eat a rainbow every day – variety is as important as quantity.
An easy way to reach 5 or more is to aim to have one portion at breakfast, one as a snack, at least 2 at lunch and dinner. Use lettuce leaves to make sandwiches…
One key mineral that is largely lost in the refining process is Chromium. This little known mineral is integral to the proper utilisation of glucose in the body, and a lack of it is associated with cravings for sweet things and a lack of insulin resistance. It is naturally found in unrefined sugar but not in white refined sugar.
Which brings me on to sugar: refined sugar = empty calories. There is absolutely no nutritional value in sugar, and all it does is fill you up so that you have no room for more nutritious foods.
Foods containing sugar have a terrible effect on our energy balance. They cause a spike in blood sugar, to which our bodies respond by releasing insulin, which if released in high quantities, will then cause blood sugar levels to crash. At this point we feel lethargic and reach for another sugary snack or tea or coffee to bring our sugar levels up again – and levels peak and crash again. And many people live their lives on this rollercoaster – swaying from a BS high to low and back again throughout the day, fuelled by caffeine and sugar.
To avoid blood sugar imbalances stick to the following rules:
- Eat little and often. Never leave more than 3 hours without food. Have 3 meals a day and two nutritious snacks, mid morning and mid afternoon
- Eat more protein at every meal and snack. Protein takes longer for your body to digest and keeps you fuller for longer, keeping your blood sugar levels more stable
- Cut down and eventually avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, coke and chocolate. These substances cause blood sugar spikes and caffeine in particular is a toxin which your liver has to process. Many people feel that caffeine perks them up, when in fact all that is happening is that you are feeding an addiction. Coffee drinkers are no more alert than those that don’t drink it.
- Cut down on sugary foods and added sugar. If you have a sweet tooth wean yourself off with natural sugar replacements such as agave syrup and xylitol
- Replace refined carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates, which release their sugars more slowly due to the increased levels of fibre
By balancing your blood sugar levels your energy will be much more sustained across the day and you won’t be scuppered by afternoon slumps and jittery nerves from too much caffeine. Your productivity will rise and you will find you have much more drive and energy to achieve your business and personal goals.
And a lovely side effect is that in balancing your blood sugar levels you can lose weight if you need to, as you are less likely to reach for calorie laden sugary snacks to keep you going.
Eat good fats. Many people still avoid all fats, believing that this will keep their weight down. The truth is that you actually need to consume good quantities of essential fats as our bodies rely on these to function properly. Essential fats are found in oily fish, nuts and seeds and their oils. The brain is 60% fat and relies on dietary intake of fat to function. If your brain isn’t well nourished then you are unlikely to feel full of vitality or motivation.
Aim to eat oily fish at least three times a week, and eat nuts and seeds daily.
Many people believe that motivation is all about mindset and that diet would have little influence on whether or not you were motivated. But a deficiency in amino acids can have a disruptive effect on our mood and motivation. Amino acids are derived from protein food sources and they are used by the body for a huge variety of functions, one of which is to produce neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitter most of us are familiar with is serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. A deficiency in serotonin is very much linked to depression and is manufactured from the amino acid L tryptophan. A deficiency in the amino acid L-Tyrosine is linked to a lack of motivation. Tyrosine is used by the body to produce the NT dopamine, which is then converted into noradrenaline and adrenaline. Research has shown that supplementing individuals with tyrosine has improved motivation levels.
Another important amino acid is L-Theanine – this promotes focus and relaxation, and reduces mental and physical stress. It promotes alpha wave production in the brain, which is how it exerts its effects. It’s found in good amounts in green tea and can be taken as a supplement. I use it to focus my mind when I have a lot of writing assignments to complete.
And finally drink more water. Water is key to vitality. Every cell in our body needs water to function optimally. We are 75% water. Water helps cells create energy, it transports vital nutrients around the body, it flushes out toxins. If we are dehydrated we will feel lethargic and sluggish. Aim to increase your intake of water steadily, with an eventual target of 1.5 to 2 litres of water a day.
If you would like more advice on any of the points mentioned in this article or
would like to find out how nutrition can support you and your family, please contact me on 07967 639347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about my practice in Ealing or about nutritional therapy.