Are you evaluating exactly what you put into your mouth each time you eat, or do you just think about how good it tastes, how convenient or inexpensive it is, or how enticing it looked in a TV or magazine ad?
In this article I plan to discuss how it’s possible to be overweight and still be undernourished. This condition exists when there are lots of calories going in, but they are not of the caliber or quality that will add needed nutrients to your body. Keep in mind that the food that we eat today, with some exceptions such as organically grown produce, has fewer nutrients by far than was the case 40 years ago, due to repeat crops depleting the soil of nutrients. Added fertilizer makes foods look better and better but does not replenish soil or give any nutrient density to food.
We all have been concerned about calories and weight loss or gain over recent years, but almost no person that I speak to has a working knowledge of nutrition in foods and overall balance. It is either “low fat,” “low carb,” “high protein,” or some combination of the basic elements of food only. Almost no one emphasizes the need to assess the nutrient quality of foods in their diet.
For example, there is a great push for antioxidants in our total menu, and yet this is only a small component of the total needed intake. We do need a good balance of carbs, protein, and fat; and the minimum level of complete (animal-based) protein should be about 15 percent of the diet, but up to about 30 percent seems to be healthy, especially for active people.
In regards to vitamins, 32 varied vitamins and minerals are essential, as are essential fatty acids, omega 3’s, and omega 6’s. As for antioxidants, they can be measured in food and supplements and stated in ORAC units which measures how much of the “free radicals” in our own body can be neutralized thus giving us a healthier metabolism.
With an awareness of this information, the absolute basics obtainable by measuring these components can be followed. But if someone such as a runner or hard worker, who burns more calories than average, replaces them with pasta, sweets and sugar, breads, baked goods with white flour, and other nutrient-deficient foods, then that person will be basically undernourished. If you are on a “point” plan to lose weight and don’t pick the best nutrient dense foods possible, then you may be undernourished.
Beyond the basic food elements, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, you should also be aware of additional nutritional components found in food. Let’s take, for example, resveratrol, a polyphenol phytochemical that occurs naturally in wine and grapes and can be taken as a supplement in even much higher concentrations. Other antioxidant polyphenols are found in olive oil, red berries, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, parsley, and the list goes on.
When you look at some examples of how nutrients in foods interact in your body, you can see that chocolate, peanuts, garlic, cider, and other foods improve word recall in the aging brain and also positively affect glucose metabolism. A ketogenic diet in conjunction with CR (caloric restriction) helps with weight loss and improves verbal memory. Caloric restriction as part of your dietary approach enhances the action of the plant nutrients (phytonutrients) also.
When you include foods in your diet that have no nutrient values, such as white bread, bagels, cookies, cakes, sugar, and white rice, your system is basically overwhelmed. This results in fatty liver, insulin resistance, elevated blood sugar, and low efficiency in your metabolism.
Children and teenagers in the U.S. are experiencing an alarming rise in obesity as well as general nutritional deficiencies as a result of eating too much sugar, starch, bread, and other nutrient-poor foods and drinking sodas. Children and teens need 3-4 fruit portions a day because meat and the nutrient-poor foods mentioned do not furnish enough nutrients for body maintenance. However, these food provide more than enough calories to cause obesity.
Another point to be made is that preparing some foods in a certain way increases byproducts called AGES (Advanced Glycated End Products), which cause stiffness of joints and muscles and hardening of the arteries. Some prominent examples would be grilled meat, potato chips, French fries, and bacon. Continued ingestion of these is simply an unhealthy pathway to take.
In summary, you need to be suspicious as well as analytical about everything that you put in your body so that it may work well for you and carry you for a long time. I will stop now and have a lunch of ratatouille, chicken, blueberries with real whipping cream, and a piece of dark chocolate. See? It’s not so bad if you work the system to your advantage. Bon appetit!
Dr. James Carraway is a plastic surgeon at the Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery Center of EVMS. Call 757-557-0300.