Sunday, February 12, 2012

Understanding Nutrition - I'm starting

You can't out-train the effects of poor nutrition is one of Kyoshi's sayings. In the long term, it's true. When I was in my teens and twenties playing lots of soccer daily, I could pretty much eat anything and still be a bone.  But long term, what we eat matters in terms of our shape and energy.

I recently admitted that I should learn more and so I've started reading and researching. A first step was attending Nicole's Health and Nutrition Seminar.  Here's my progress and thoughts so far:

1. I'm late and behind in learning about nutrition.  I'm a health nut and for the last few decades, I've focused on getting enough sleep, managing stress (not too much or too little), having a positive balanced outlook, getting lots of exercise, and eating sensibly.  The weak link in this list is the eating part. So my massive action plan (using Kyoshi's wording) is to study nutrition so that by the end of March, I understand it. Specifically, I want to be able to read food labels and fully understand their significance, have an intuitive level of understanding of how each food affects me, and have restructured my diet so that I get healthier and leaner.

2. There's no substitute for building an understanding of the basics such as the GI Index.  Nicole talked about the glycemic index which basically ranks foods in terms of how quickly they turn into sugar in the blood stream. Its central to understanding the impact of food on metabolism, energy, health, and weight control.  I've tried to research it and find a quick quide and I'm amazed at how few useful explanations can be found. Here's my effort to explain it. I've used the GI Foundation website (really technical, not useful), Wikipedia, the IdeaFit website,

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates according to the extent they raise blood sugar levels after eating.  are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. I think examples of this would be candy, Frosted Flakes, and orange juice.
Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. Low GI diets have benefits for weight control because they help control appetite and delay hunger.

Rather than try to research and understand this in one seating, I'll  end this session (and blog post) by trying to create a list of questions that I would like to understand. If any of you would like to help answer them with either a comment, or better yet, a guest post on this question, I'm very receptive.  Here's my current questions:

  1. I'd like to think about GI by category of food. For instance, can I think of sugary foods as group? Fried foods?  Meats?  Vegetables?  Fruits?  I'm not sure that this is going to work. For instance in fruits, I see that an apple is low GI but watermelon is high GI. So, I'd like to get the key fruits categorized (apple banana, grapes, and tomatoes are the key ones for me). 
  2. I need to learn the specifics of foods that have extreme impacts and/or which I frequently have to decide to eat or not. For instance, I've eaten a lot of cheese burgers in my time. Since I find that carbs don't really agree with me, I frequently will order a cheese burger with no roll.  But I recently learned that the fat content in ground beef is really really high and since I"m beginning to cut back on cholesterol. it's got to go in favor of leaner meats (and low fat cheese).  What else like this is there?
  3. In addition to the GI index, what are the other metrics that I really need to understand and manage? I expect that they are:
    1. Calories
    2. Salt 
    3. Cholesterol (I'm a guy over 50. So I have  two risk factors for heart attack before anyone even measures my cholesterol or weight)
    4. Fiber
    5. Heavy metals.  The fact is that while I love fish, I'm aware that man has polluted our oceans so that there's a lot of mercury and other heavy metals out there. These accumulate in the predator  fish that are highest in the food cycle such as tuna and swordfish.  I believe that they are really bad for people and so, we need to restrict our intake of them.  You'll notice that my entire focus is on my health, I'm somewhat dismissive of the concept of natural foods so as far as I can tell, natural foods are as likely to kill you as processed ones.  And since organic and natural became mainstream marketing terms, I try to ignore it.   Arsenic is natural, many vitamins are synthetic.  I'd choose the vitamins every time.   I do value sustainability but that's a whole different question. 
  4. The timing of eating. I've heard that there are certain foods not to be eaten in the evening and that after 7pm, we shouldn't eat at all.
  5. Number of meals.   I've heard that you should eat often (5x daily) since everytime you eat, you kick your metalism into high gear. This only makes some sense to me since there are probably other ways of picking up the matabolism (coffee, excitement, exercise) and the danger of always having food around is that we over-eat.  I've heard another rationale in that smaller meals are better than big ones (since they make you feel sluggish) which does make sense to me.  
  6.  The Interaction of exercise and nutrition.  Obviously, if I work out a lot, I should make a point of getting enough calories. If I'm working out less, I should cut back.  But what about timing? I remember from my soccer and long run days that the day before an event, we would eat a lot of carbohydrates and stay away from proteins (not digestible in time) and milk products (to avoid lactic acid buildup).  However, I now hear about prework and post work out foods.
  7. Alcohol. What is the caloric content and other impacts of different drinks. I drink very little these days but it might have more impact than I think.
    BTW, on my bookshelf are thre books on nutrition:
    The South Beach Diet - Never really read.
    Atkins. I read it and followed it loosely for a few years. Really worked for me in that I shed pounds, felt great, looked great and enjoyed it.
    A calorie counting book.

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