What does this mean?
The food we eat provides energy in the form of Calories / kcals. We are all probably aware of that, as we have become a society fixated on low Calorie snacks and will not hesitate to turn over a package of “food” to verify its caloric value.
So we are saying good nutrition accounts for a balance in Calories. Our bodies require a certain number of Calories, and nutrients, to operate efficiently. If one is in a severe caloric deficit, the body shuts down certain processes in order to preserve others that it deems “essential.” Systems such as reproduction, some parts of metabolism, and brain function can down regulate (Berardi, et al., 2016).
We not only have problems with too little energy coming into the body, but also with too much energy coming into the body. Not only can this result in weight gain, but the complications associated with an increase in body fat levels. Obesity may result in increased inflammation, insulin resistance, metabolic diseases, and other chronic diseases.
Landing in the middle of the two puts us in energy balance. We are not eating too much or too little. While there is a time for both, depending on certain body composition goals, if we are aiming to maintain our current weight, energy levels, and stay healthy energy balance is the objective.
Energy is important, as we just discussed. However, this is where I believe we can run into trouble by just focusing on Calories. Sure, we can be in “Energy Balance” eating pop-tarts, cookies, donuts and chips. Even a diet of processed and fast food, as long as one is in a caloric deficit can lead to weight loss. The question is, are we obtaining the nutrients our body needs that contribute to essential metabolic processes?
It is incredible whenever someone reaches their health goal, in this case maybe it is fitting into a certain article of clothing or getting to “x” weight. It makes one feel good, improving their self esteem, but if one only focuses on Calories without accounting for nutrient density, we can run into problems down the road.
There is a camp that touts If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM). Instead of focusing on counting Calories they aim to hit a certain percentage of macronutrients. For example, maybe your ratios are 25% of Calories from Protein, 30% from Fat, and 45% from Carbohydrates. This is still accounting for Calories, but is slightly more granular. This is very helpful, especially when your diet is composed of Real Food. Where this can go south is when people, again, focus purely on hitting their “macros” without considering food quality.
I will reiterate this concept throughout most, if not all, of my articles relating to nutrition. Real Food becomes essential. Real Food is:
What happens if we focus on Calories or Macronutrient ratios only, without accounting for Food Quality? If you are purely focused on fat loss / body composition, sure, you can obtain satisfactory results. It is also worth mentioning that along with weight loss comes other metabolic and health benefits, but will you be your healthiest self? What happens when one becomes deficient in the above mentioned nutrients?
There can be numerous symptoms! While mentioning all of them is neither possible, nor necessary, I will list a few. Depending on the nutrient deficiency, one could experience:
When we include Nutrient Dense Foods into our diet and also account for other lifestyle factors, much of the symptoms we experience can be resolved. Future articles will address the concept of Nutrient Density where I will discuss what are truly the most nutrient dense foods we can include in our diet.
Good Nutrition considers one’s goals in life. It would be silly to adhere to a Nutrition Plan that is meant for someone competing at a high level in a particular sport if you do not share the same goal. The breakdown of macronutrients, the amount of Calories, and even the types of foods may vary.
Let’s take someone who is extremely active and participating in glycolytic (requiring glucose as fuel) activities. They could be getting 40 – 50% of their Calories from carbohydrates, 25 – 35% from protein, and the remaining from fat. But is this macronutrient breakdown appropriate for someone who has insulin resistance, other metabolic diseases, and / or possibly gut issues? It may not be.
If one is eating 4,000 – 4,400 kcals per day, this requires a lot of eating. Ideally, one wants to be getting their Calories from real foods, but eating 400 – 500 grams of carbohydrates from potatoes, sweet potatoes, starchy vegetables, fruits, and legumes (if one tolerates them) could be challenging and may results in more GI (gastrointestinal) distress than desired. This is where acellular carbohydrates, like White Rice, could be utilized to increase calories and limit GI symptoms / distress.
Those of us not needing to consume such a large amount of Calories would have no problems meeting our carbohydrate needs from the cellular carbohydrate sources listed above.
This is the benefit of not having a One-Size-Fits-All approach when it comes to Nutrition / Diet. We need to consider each individual as a unique case. If you are 60+ years of age, maybe your goal is preserve as much muscle mass as possible and delay sarcopenia (muscle wasting). Maybe you have been diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes and instead of taking medications to manage your blood sugar you want to try addressing your diet. There is so much nuance that goes into establishing what one should eat, and this is where working with someone who emphasizes an individualized approach to diet and lifestyle can be very beneficial.
Nowadays we are bombarded by family, friends, and/or media telling us to eat a certain way. We hear, “You should try a Keto, Vegan/Vegetarian Diet and/or [insert diet here], it worked great for me and it will probably work for you!” At a certain point, we become desperate, so we believe what they tell us and give it a shot. It goes well for a while, but you eventually lose motivation, or you simply feel lost/stuck. Or you actually find a diet, or way of eating, that works for you. A way of eating that accomplishes all of the above areas associated with “Good Nutrition” and is something you feel you can sustain for your lifetime, which is excellent!
However, we often look to certain diets to fix issues that have accumulated over years, maybe even decades, of poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Instead of looking for “quick fixes,” one should consider what they can sustain in the long-run. Maybe we don’t start with a certain “diet,” but instead focus on one nutrition habit at a time and add as time goes on. This can improve adherence, increase likelihood of success, and is a step towards forming truly lasting health habits.
The question of whether we can feed our ever increasing world population using our current food production model is a highly debated topic. These paragraphs are not meant to address this question, but instead briefly comment on what we currently hear from Media.
We do often hear that eating a plant-based diet is the only way to save our planet, or are told adopting “Meatless Mondays” as a country will make a huge impact on environmental health by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Is this true?
I plan on writing an article addressing this topic, but will do so at a later time once I feel I have had enough time to unpack the research on environmental health and animal agriculture. Until then, feel free to look at Diana Rodgers’ website, Sacred Cow, as I feel this is some of the most accurate and digestible information currently available. Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf will be coming out with a book next year, and I very much look forward to reading it!
With that being said, I do believe eating in a way that is healthy for our environment is extremely important. What can you do now? Maybe it is shopping for produce locally, such as Farmer’s Markets. Or purchasing produce and meats that are raised sustainably. Any effort one has the means for is an excellent start!
If you have made it this far, I really appreciate you taking the time to read my first nutrition article. If you have questions feel free to Contact Me. Additionally, if you have feedback for me or requests for topics you would like me to write about, you can Contact Me or email me directly at email@example.com.
Thank you for sharing your time with me! If you know someone who would benefit or simply enjoy this content please feel free to share it with them. Enjoy your day!
Sources: Sections of this Article were inspired by Precision Nutrition’s Certification Manual
Berardi, J., Andrews, R., St. Pierre, B., Scott-Dixon, K., Kollias, H., & DePutter, C. (2016). Certification Manual: The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Precision Nutrition, Inc.
Gropper, S.S. & Smith, J.K. (2013). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.