It was recently brought to my attention that nutrition is a huge component of safety. Now, for those avid readers of my blog, it’s no secret that responsible nutrition is a passion of mine and I’ve written other blogs on it. In this blog, I hope to examine the nutrition component of safety and how we can use this knowledge to make safer choices for ourselves and our families.
Dr. Mike Wahl has used this analogy to describe safety and how we currently view safety.
Imagine Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson sitting in a tent in the middle of a field at night. The reason they are out there is because there is a thief in the woods and they are staking it out in order to catch him. Dr. Watson turns to Sherlock Holmes and asks, “What do you see?”
Sherlock Holmes replies with, “I see stars. There are probably planets around the stars. Probably a few of the planets are like ours. That means that some of the planets probably have lifeforms. And maybe some of those lifeforms are intelligent. Which means that someone else somewhere is looking back at us and asking ‘what do you see?’”
And Dr. Watson replies, “I see the stars too, which means our tent was stolen.”
And the thief makes off with the tent.
This analogy shows that we’ve dived so deep down the rabbit hole that we don’t see what’s right in front of us. We are so focused on parts of safety that are, in all likelihood emergency type scenarios, but are so unlikely to happen to us, that we aren’t focusing on the everyday safety. And a very large part of the everyday safety is what we eat.
First off, let’s look at sugars because it’s the culprit we all struggle with. I’m also going to come back to sugars later in another example, but for now, let’s look at the different kinds of sugars.
Why is it that when we Google ‘sugar,’ a big picture of granulated white dust with a logo pops up? No matter where we turn in our modern lives, sugar is there. The reason – the people selling it are fully aware that it is addictive.
But we need sugar to survive, right? Correct, we do need it. But there are different kinds of sugars, and for the sake of our health, it’s important to recognize and understand the differences.
So what is the difference? Well, the difference is the package it comes in. Back in the day before processed foods ever made it on to grocery store shelves, sugar only came in the form of fruits, vegetables, breastmilk, honey, and other raw foods. Throughout human evolution, our bodies adapted to eating these forms of sugar – sugar that lasts a long time in our bodies because it comes in a package that contains other healthy ingredients, like fibre, vitamins, and minerals. These are called complex sugars (complex carbohydrates). Our bodies are genetically designed to digest these packages slowly, giving us a sustainable amount of sugar to go about our daily functions.
So what is the difference from natural sugar packages and processed sugar packages? Well, that’s just it. Natural sugars come in a package that takes time to digest and only a portion of the package is sugar. Processed sugar packages are not packages at all. They are 100% sugar. And it takes no time at all to digest it and society on average eats ten times what our great-grandparents used to eat.
That’s right, more processed sugar and in greater quantities.
What does this mean to our health? Imagine taking a leisurely stroll through the park. This lovely and relaxing walk takes you 20 minutes to complete and you’ve travelled probably 2 km. This is what it’s like to eat natural sugar packages. Now say you’ve decided to take a jet plane home. You travel the same distance in 20 seconds. Your knuckles are white from clenching the seat in front of you as your eyes are about to pop out of your head. Your mind is buzzing, going “What on earth just happened?”
Yes, that’s what your body is saying when you eat refined, processed, quick to digest, no-package sugar. It isn’t sustainable and your body feels overloaded.
So what does your body do to combat this overload? Well, when we have elevated blood sugar levels, our bodies release insulin, which is like a key to opening our cells for storage. It takes the high levels of sugar out of circulation so we don’t damage our blood vessels. Sugar in the blood stream really is like little razor blades. It causes little scratches all along the walls. The insulin keys, thankfully, take it out of our circulation system and store it in muscle cells, liver cells, and fat cells.
Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, when I eat fish, I’m the only one who doesn’t smell it. That’s because I’ve been sitting around it for so long, I’ve been desensitized to the smell. Even more unfortunately, insulin can become desensitized too. It doesn’t recognize the sugar after a while because it’s constantly there. This, very unfortunately, can lead to diabetes.
So why are we hungry again after eating sugar? The reason is because of insulin spikes. If we sit down and demolish a box of cookies (I’m guilty of this from time to time), our body reacts by pumping out insulin to counteract the huge amount of damage to our blood vessels. We actually pump out so much insulin to protect ourselves that our body is in a binge mode – “it’s too much, don’t keep any of it, get rid of it all as fast as possible!” This insulin spike lasts about an hour before dropping off. We didn’t use any of the sugar we just inhaled, we stored it all. Now our body is looking for more and we experience this as hunger. Also worth noting, these spikes and drop-offs greatly affect moods and can even result in depression.
Why is sugar so addictive? Simply, sugar releases endorphins. This, shockingly, is the same hormone we get from some kinds of illegal drugs. But, upliftingly, it’s also released when we hug our children, smile at someone, or go for a run!
What can we do instead of eating processed sugar? Well, again, we need sugar to survive. We need sugar that is meant for our bodies in order to get energy to move, function, think, and feel. We can eat natural forms of sugar! Sugar that comes in a package with other ingredients and gives us sustainable, long-lasting energy. So bust out that bag of apples!
Now let’s move on to our bodies and how we are built. Dr. Mike Wahl likes to use the analogy of building a house, and when I blog about raising children, I like to use a house as well. So I’m going to use it here too.
When you are building a house, you have a budget. This budget can be like calories. We count calories like money, and have a certain budget when it comes to consumption. So if we are building a house, and we spend 95% of the budget on one thing, like the landscaping (dream come true), the rest of the house can’t be built. That’s why we need to think of every aspect of the house, and every aspect of our diet. And split the costs evenly throughout the different food groups.
To build a house, we need three things: the construction materials, the workers, and the transport. The construction materials are like proteins. They hold stuff up and keep the structure strong. When we think of proteins, we think of meat. Don’t worry about it, everyone does, even Google again.
But the best kinds of proteins come from foods without legs. In fact, leg counting is key to eating the best proteins with the least amount of unhealthy additives.
Let me explain. Beans, lentils, eggs, fish – none of these have legs and they are the healthiest sources of proteins. What comes next – chickens, which only have two legs. Chicken breast is healthier for you than the drumstick, and it’s also farther from the legs (spatially on the chicken). Then comes pigs and cows. The more legs, the less healthy the protein.
One super cool research topic that I read about recently (last night) was about the Blue Zones. This term was coined back in 2005 and I stumbled across it while doing some personal research. The Blue Zones are areas on the planet where people appear to live a very long time. It’s not uncommon for people in these zones to live to 100 years and lead very healthy lives. One researcher went to all of these zones to compare the eating habits of the local peoples and found that their main source of protein was beans! Ninety-five percent of their diet is plant-based, meaning they only eat meat around five times a month. If you are interested in following up, you can check it out here.
Let’s come back to sugars again now that we are aware of the different kinds.
In our house analogy, sugars are the workers. Fruits, roots, vegetables, and legumes give us the energy we use throughout the day. The reason we need the packaged or complex sugars is that it comes in small amounts and lasts all day.
Imagine your worksite. The building materials (proteins) are all there lying on the ground. You need workers to start work. You eat a bunch of jellybeans.
Instead of having a manageable amount of workers complete tasks all day, you have an overload of workers for a very short period of time. The plumbers, electricians, scaffolders, and everyone else shows up at once! The supervisor, which is your brain, doesn’t know what to do so you send them all away to wait on the sideline. Now you have a bunch of material still laying on the ground and a crowd of people not doing anything. Wouldn’t it be much better to have a steady amount of energy that lasts the entire day? The right workers showing up at the right time?
Lastly, we have fats. Fats have a negative stigma around them simply because they are called fats and everyone is on a “low fat” diet. That is because different kinds of fats were only discovered recently (within the last couple of decades). And, just like sugars, there are good and bad kinds. And we need the good ones.
Good fats provide the mode of transport. They literally grease the roads to move faster. Bad fats cause plaque in your arteries which is also known as high cholesterol.
If you have a three lane highway (a major artery in your body), and you clog up two of the lanes, things begin to move rather slowly. Even if you have the best workers (sugars) trying to move the best building materials (proteins) calories can buy, it won’t matter if they can’t make it to the job site. And that can be a problem.
But good fats to the rescue! Because good fats actually slick the roads up again and get things moving! You can reverse any damage by eating the good kinds. Wonderful, huh?
So how can you tell the difference between the good and bad kinds? Well, again like sugar, it’s easy. Take a look at the foods at room temperature. If it is liquid at room temperature, it is a good fat. Nut oils, fish oils, avocado oils, and others are good fats. If you don’t cook much (guilty), just eat the fish, nuts, and avocados!
Bad fats are things like butter, bacon, steak, etc. At room temperature, they are solid and clog up our transportation networks in our house analogy and in our own veins running through our bodies. I learned this about a year ago, before which, I used to love butter. Now when I look at butter, all I can see is it smeared throughout my circulatory system and, I’m sure you’ll understand, I don’t crave it anymore!
Again, I can’ take credit for this analogy. I was inspired by Dr. Mike Wahl and wanted to tell a little of his story to you. To see more from Dr. Mike Wahl and how nutrition can influence your daily life and longevity, check out his story here.
So you see, nutrition has an extraordinary ability to affect our health and safety, and it’s our choice whether it affects us positively or negatively.
How is your house coming together and what foods do you think should make the cut? How did reading this change or not change your mind about foods and how they affect your and your family’s safety? We covered a lot of topics and even took brief looks at diabetes, depression, and high cholesterol. Nutrition really is the closest and most attainable health choice we can make for our families. I know that after writing this blog, I feel like I need to go over my grocery list again!
But first, I will leave you with this one final tidbit that I was given a long time ago by my grandfather. It really helped before I was so nutrition savvy – if in doubt, stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store. It covers most of the good, raw foods. The inside isles are where one can get lost.
Good luck and please reach out with any questions!