It's a brand new year and dieting is often on everyone's resolutions list. We often say we are going to start a diet or start eating healthier (whatever we think that means). In 2024, we're also being bombarded with ads for weight-loss drugs like Ozempic when we maybe don't need it. But before we go down the road of starting "new" with our eating habits, let's have a little chat.
Friends, we need to be honest. We don't eat as much as we should. Think about what you ate so far today. Probably a caffeinated beverage (hot or iced coffee, black tea) sweetened to the heavens, maybe a pastry along side that, a snack that was processed and packaged, and your lunch might just be one side item but not a full meal. This eating pattern isn't just bad for daily caloric intake but also for overall nutritional balance. We're supposed to get the bulk of our daily vitamins and minerals from our diets but we simply don't. And this is relatively new for us. We ate a lot differently (and some might argue better?) before industrialization.
Research shows that 46% of Americans have a poor-quality diet with too little fish, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans. Diets before the industrialization era were diverse and heavily influenced by geographical location, available resources, and cultural practices. In the 19th century, especially in America, the diet was largely based on grains like wheat and corn, used in various forms such as bread, pancakes, biscuits, and cornmeal. Fruits and vegetables consumption varied with the season and location, with apples, peaches, berries, melons, potatoes, corn, squashes, and beans being popular choices. Our diets back then, largely based on fresh and local ingredients, reflect a time when food was less processed and more closely tied to the natural resources and cultural practices of each region. Today, our food is more homogenized and while we've certainly created better access to food we may be hindering our nutritional value.
Nutrition experts have long debated the adequacy of the average Western diet in terms of providing essential vitamins and minerals. This diet is characterized by a high intake of adulterated fat, processed foods, and a notable lack of dietary fiber. The combination of low fiber, highly refined carbohydrates, and trans fats significantly contributes to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Leading health organizations and conventional medical authorities have expressed concerns that the average Western diet falls short in terms of nutritional adequacy, linking it to poor health outcomes.
CHANGES TO THE HUMAN DIET AFFECTING NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENTS
A modern phenomenon in agriculture is the practice of harvesting foods before they are fully ripe. The ripening process is known to increase the nutrient content of foods, suggesting that diets based on unripened produce might be deficient in certain nutrients. This change in agricultural practices raises questions about the nutritional value of our current diet compared to that of the past.
Today's foods are often highly processed, containing a plethora of ingredients beyond what was used historically. For example, a loaf of bread a century ago was typically made with simple ingredients: wheat, water, butter, baker's yeast, and a sweetener to aid yeast fermentation. In contrast, a modern loaf of bread might contain over a hundred different ingredients, including various preservatives, coloring agents, and chemical residues from pesticides and packaging materials. The complexity of these ingredients can complicate the digestive process and potentially increase the risk of allergic reactions. This shift in food processing and composition raises concerns about the overall quality and safety of our food supply.
Certain additives and agricultural practices have also altered the nutritional content of foods and consequently our nutritional needs. An example of this is the presence of hydrazine residues in foods resulting from the use of certain fungicides. These compounds, absorbed by plants along with nutrients from the soil, compete with and can increase the body's need for specific vitamins, such as vitamin B6. This interaction highlights the complex relationship between agricultural practices, food composition, and human nutrition.
Another factor to consider is the quantity and quality of food consumed today compared to the past. Our ancestors generally ate larger quantities of nutrient-rich foods and led more physically active lifestyles. For example, the beta-carotene requirement might have been easily met in the past with a diet rich in carotene-containing foods. However, if modern diets provide significantly less of these foods – for instance, only a couple of carrots instead of the larger quantities of various beta-carotene-rich vegetables and fruits consumed in the past – individuals may not receive adequate amounts of this essential nutrient. This reduction in the consumption of nutrient-dense foods, coupled with a more sedentary lifestyle, could have profound implications for our overall nutritional status and health.
TIPS FOR EATING BETTER
Notice the focus is on the word better, not necessarily "healthier" because what healthy looks like is going to be unique to each individual. What may be healthy for you may not necessarily be the healthiest choice for someone else, and that's okay. This is one of the benefits of working with a nutritional therapist and getting personalized guidance! Below are some general tips towards better eating that you can start using today.
EAT IN SEASON
This one seems like a no-brainer but it can be hard to do! Unless you are 100% dedicated to farmer's markets, you're bound to get some foods that are growing out of season. Seasonal produce is often fresher and has a higher nutritional value. For example, antioxidants like Vitamin C, folate, and carotenes decline rapidly when stored for long periods. Vegetables like butternut squash and fruits like pears, when consumed in season, provide a host of health benefits such as boosting the immune system, aiding in nerve and heart function, and providing essential nutrients like folate, Vitamin C, copper, and potassium. In-season fruits and vegetables tend to taste better as they are picked during their peak of flavor. This can encourage a more diverse diet and enhance the enjoyment of meals. Eating seasonally also means that your diet will naturally vary throughout the year, providing a range of different nutrients and flavors.
While mildly annoying to do, meal prepping is a great way to start eating better (and save some money while you do it)! Meal prepping is linked to reduced spending on takeout and groceries. By planning and purchasing only what you need, you can avoid impulsive buys and food waste. This intentional approach to grocery shopping helps in budgeting and reducing overall food costs. Meal prepping also allows for better control over portion sizes and ingredients. This can lead to a more balanced diet, and studies have shown that meal prepping is associated with adherence to nutritional guidelines.
SAVE THE SUGAR
We overconsume sugars in this country and added sugars are a big culprit. Limiting added sugars helps maintain healthy blood glucose levels and control weight, both of which are crucial in lowering the risk of developing diabetes. Added sugars contribute to excess calories, which can lead to weight gain and insulin resistance. To effectively reduce added sugar intake, it's recommended to start by eliminating obvious sources like table sugar, honey, and molasses, and reducing the amount of sugar added to common foods and drinks. Moreover, replacing sugary drinks with water or non-caloric alternatives is an effective strategy to cut down on added sugar.
COLOR YOUR PLATE
Eating a variety of colors on your plate is not just visually appealing; it also provides numerous health benefits. Different colors in fruits and vegetables represent a variety of nutrients, each offering its own health advantages. For example, green vegetables like broccoli, kale, and spinach are excellent sources of vitamins C, K, and E, supporting the immune system, eye and bone health, and reducing chronic disease risk. Blue and purple fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, blackberries, and purple grapes, are rich in anthocyanins and have been extensively studied for their anti-cancer and anti-aging properties. They may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cognitive decline, type 2 diabetes, and support healthy weight maintenance.
DIVERSIFY YOUR PROTEINS
Okay so this one may be a bit more challenging if you're vegetarian or vegan but it can still be done! Try out different types of beans to add into your daily protein mix. Lentils, black beans, fava beans, split peas, and kidney beans are all great sources. If you're someone who has chicken daily, try getting into different cuts turkey or lean beef. You can also try high-protein fishes such as salmon or tuna.
In conclusion, while the average Western diet may not provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals for optimal health, understanding the changes in dietary patterns, food composition, and nutritional requirements is essential. To further understand how your own dietary changes can impact your overall nutritional health, book a Nutritional Health Discovery Call with us today!