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From the Health Coach: Food IS Fuel

  • Category: Nutrition, Wellness
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Rachel Conrad, PBT, CPT, MA
From the Health Coach: Food IS Fuel

With all the diet trends out there, you might be scratching your head wondering what the heck to eat.

Do I eat carbs, or no carbs? So… no oranges, because that is sugar, right? And I should eat avocados, but wait… Eggs are bad, I think? And you’re telling me there is good fat AND bad fat? My friend said I need high protein because I work out, so supplements are the best… And what time is the best to eat? But I read that I shouldn’t eat at all for an entire day…. And don’t forget your gallon of water!

The whole thing is confusing to say the least.

I’d like to break through some of the popular fads and get down to some facts so that you can do a great job deciding how to fuel your body without all the hype. What does that mean to you? Well—food IS fuel. What we eat and drink provides the nutrients our bodies need to function at either their best or worst capacity. You’ll have to decide what is best for you and you’ll be better able to do that with the following facts.

Our general fuel sources (foods) are made up of vitamins, minerals, water and macronutrients. Most are familiar with the function of vitamins minerals in our diet. Those “macros” are where the diet mud gets murky. Macronutrients are essential elements, needed in large quantities in our diets. They are generally made up of proteins, lipids (fats) and carbohydrates.

Proteins are the building block of our entire body—bones, muscles, hair, and every cell we have is made up of protein. Hormones, antibodies, and other important substances are also composed of protein. Protein is not used to fuel the body unless necessary. Proteins come from both animal and plant sources and are made of up different amino acids. While the body can create some amino acids on its own, there are many essential amino acids that can only come from food. You need a variety of amino acids for your body to function properly.

Meat, fish, dairy and eggs are good sources of proteins. You can also get protein from plant sources like beans, soy, nuts, and some grains. Proteins pack four calories per gram. The amount of protein you need daily depends on a variety of factors including gender, how active you are, and your age. The general recommendation for protein intake is about .8 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Lipids are also known as fats. We hear the word fat and immediately assume that it’s “bad” art of that ideal is due to the fact that fats (good or bad) tally up at nine calories per gram, meaning a little bit goes a long way. However, healthy fats or omega’s, serve essential functions like vitamin and mineral absorption, building cells, muscle movement, balancing blood sugars, preventing heart disease and brain function. Researchers are starting to believe consuming healthy fats can aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and even cancer.

Healthy fats are foods that are unsaturated, and typically come from plant sources, like avocados, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and also fish. It’s best to avoid trans fats and limit saturated animal-based fats like butter, cheese, red meat, and ice cream. How much fat do you need daily? The World Health Organization recommends keeping it to less than 30% of your daily calorie intake.

Next up are carbohydrates. “Carbs” are the body’s primary source of immediate fuel, especially for the brain and central nervous system. Similar to lipids, carbohydrates are often labeled “bad or good”. That said, carbohydrate sources are not all created the same; or more specifically, what we do with those sources alters their nutritional value. More valuable sources of carbohydrates are whole vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds and the like. Those “whole” sources offer big doses of much needed fiber, which offsets the impact of natural sugars, are digested more slowly and are used better by our bodies in the long run as energy. The very best carbohydrates are grown, not manufactured.

A good rule of thumb: it’s best to limit refined or processed sources of carbohydrates as much as possible. I like to describe those carbs as the foods you theoretically could live the rest of your life without, sans any ill effects to your health. You find these unneeded carbohydrates in the middle of the grocery store, they have a shelf life, are often enhanced with “added sugars” or sodium and are packaged. They also often come from a drive through window. Whether pure sugar or from an apple, carbohydrates are valued at four calories per gram. It’s recommended that a large portion of our daily fuel comes from carbohydrates—anywhere from 45-65 percent of our daily calorie intake.

Last, but not least, we have water. Approximately 60 percent of our body is made up of water and our survival is dependent on getting enough. It’s no surprise, dehydration can affect brain function! Water is a lubricant for our body, and flushes our systems of the toxins we take in—including waste.

Eating fruits and vegetables, soups and other fluid filled foods can help to meet our daily hydration needs. How much water do we need? That is a tricky question to answer because fluids can be taken in many ways. An easy way to determine if we are hydrated enough is to look at your urine, which should be light in color or almost clear.

Have Questions?

Campbell County Health's Wellness works to reduce health risks and promote overall wellness among employee groups and individuals across the northeastern Wyoming region. To learn more about Wellness, please visit www.cchwyo.org/Wellness or call 307-688-8051.

Rachel Conrad, PBT, CPT, MA, works at CCH Wellness as a Technician, Phlebotomist and Health Coach in Gillette, Wyoming.