[Editorial note: This is Part 1 of a 3 Part Series as we begin to focus on easy, effective, and fun ways to stay fit]
News about the health of Americans continues to indicate that our sedentary, fast-food driven lives are making us fatter and less healthy. We know that telling people to eat less and exercise more is not working. Everyone knows they will gain weight if they take in more calories than they expend, but how to combine optimal nutrition and exercise us still perplexing to most Americans. This series on health and fitness aims to simplify a complex problem. The three pillars to optimal health are nutrition, exercise and recovery.
First Pillar: Nutrition
This is where it all begins. Without proper nutrition and hydration, the human body cannot function to its fullest. Eating a poor diet is analogous to putting the incorrect kind of gas in your car. Performance will decrease and damage will ensue. Even if you are exercising regularly (which most are not), a poor diet can hijack your fitness and negatively impact your health, leading to preventable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.
Of course we all know what we should be eating….or do we?
What should you eat?
While total calorie consumption has contributed in weight gain it does not explain the whole story. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the the Division of Endrocrinology at the University of California San Francisco, total calories consumed per day was 2,655 in 1985. At that time, 0.62 percent of the global population had diabetes. By 2010, the average daily caloric intake had risen to 2,866, an eight percent increase, but surprisingly, the diabetes rate rose an incredible 727 percent, to 5.13 percent of the total global population. Scientists dug deeper to determine what was contributing to the global obesity crisis and obesity-related diseases and they discovered that a calorie is not just a calorie.
The scientists discovered that’s in the increase in total fats and carbohydrates specifically that’s causing the massive weight gain in people. And here is the kicker – there’s just ONE food on Earth that, because of its unique composition, metabolizes in your body as both fat and carbohydrate – and that product is sugar.
Sugar is the only calorie source that correlates with the increase in diabetes, In 1985, when the world-wide sugar consumption was 98 million tons, diabetes affected 30 million people. By 2010, sugar consumption had risen 160 million tons, and global diabetes prevalence reached 346 million people. Overall, sugar is 50 times more potent than calories, in terms of causing diabetes.
Sugar has a unique structure, metabolizing as both fat and carbohydrate, and the reason for this is because it contains both glucose and fructose. These two sugars are not interchangeable, and your body processes each of them differently.
Sucrose (table sugar) is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is anywhere from 42 to 55 percent fructose depending on which type is used. Glucose is the form of energy your body is designed to run on. Every cell in your body uses glucose for energy, and it’s metabolized in every organ of the body; about 20 percent of glucose is metabolized in your liver.
Fructose, on the other hand, can only be metabolized by your liver. Fructose is metabolized directly into fat – it just gets stored in your fat cells and becomes resistant to the action of insulin.
The end results are elevated levels of insulin, which is the foundation of Type 2 diabetes, and the accumulation of fat in our fat tissue at a rate of pounds per year.
Fructose does occur naturally in fruits, but in much smaller concentrations and it is offset by the water and fiber content of fruit.
Your body can use fructose, but we consume it such absurdly large portions that it turns toxic by virtue of the fact your body cannot use it.
The diseases that are attributed to significant sugar consumption are: hypertension, myocardial infarction, pancreatitis, obesity, diabetes, fetal insulin resistance and habituation, if not addiction.
How much sugar is okay to eat?
If you want to shed pounds and maintain healthy weight long-term, and radically reduce (and in many cases virtually eliminate) your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, then start getting serious about restricting your consumption of fructose to no more than 25 grams per day.
If you’re already overweight, or have any of these diseases or are at high risk of any of them, then you’re probably better off cutting that down to 10-15 grams per day.
Fructose examples in fruit:
Cantaloupe 1/8 med melon 2.8 grams
Raspberries 1 cup 3.0 grams
Blackberries 1 cup 3.5 grams
Strawberries 1 cup 3.8 grams
Boysenberries 1 cup 4.6 grams
Peach 1 medium 5.9 grams
Orange 1 medium 4.8 grams
Banana 1 medium 7.1 grams
Blueberries 1 cup 7.4 grams
Apple 1 medium 9.5 grams
Grapes 1 cup 12. 4 grams
In simple terms, you should eat whole foods, mostly from plant sources. As you can see from the list above, if you are trying to control weight, you should not eat unlimited amounts of fruit, let alone foods that have added sugars.
In short, foods to avoid or severely limit are all foods that contain added sugar i.e. soda, sweets, and many packaged foods. It is also important to significantly limit fruit juices, as they contain higher concentrations of sugar than that of whole fruit.
The other two major categories of foods to avoid are starches (especially those from refined flours) and fried foods.
What does this leave you to eat?
Don’t worry – you can eat a very delicious diet by eating whole foods. From nuts and seeds to the color vegetable spectrum to lean meats and fish and whole grains, your healthy choices are unlimited.
A simple rule to live by – eat the foods that are located in the outer aisles of the ‘big-box’ grocery stores. This is where you will find ‘whole’ foods, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat, and dairy products.
Note: More detailed sample menus will be included in a subsequent article.
The latest research on nutrition
The 1980’s gave us the big ‘low-fat’ push at a very large cost. While the emphasis on low fat foods was emphasized we significantly increased our sugar intake, much to the detriment of our waistlines. The latest research indicates that sugar, not fat, increases triglycerides and is the major cause of heart disease and other obesity related diseases.
Practical application in your busy life
Prepare – Plan out meals, prepare healthy snacks in advance, keep them in your car or in your office
Live your Plan – We all love a party or celebration, but consistently live or execute your Plan
Act – Take personal action to prepare and live your plan. Do not blame others or circumstances. We have healthy food sources all around us – there is not an excuse!
No – Feel comfortable saying a polite ‘No Thank you’ at an offer that conflicts with your healthy eating plan. In fact, when you have a party, provide healthy choices for your guests. Your behavior just may rub off on others and hopefully your family as well.
Eating well certainly takes effort, but when you realize how much better you feel on a nutritious diet, this healthy lifestyle will become your new normal. A nutritious diet is not a ‘fad’ diet, it is a behavior and lifestyle change.
Please stay tuned for the upcoming article on the 2nd Pillar of Fitness – Exercise.
Image via: nutfit.com
About the author: Kyle Bodyfelt is a fitness professional/enthusiast who believes that we were all built to move and could all benefit from getting off the couch and/or out of the office. Passionate about helping others meet their strength, fitness and health goals. With a background in sports medicine, triathlon coaching and fitness training. Kyle enjoys developing programs to meet each individual’s needs and wants.