Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food- Hippocrates.
Food is fuel for our bodies. It’s our energy source, along with being a powerhouse of nutrition. Not only does it satiate the body, but the mind is highly satisfied with the delicious flavors, textures, aromas, and, taste of course of various varieties of food. When we consume nutritious food, our body benefits from good energy levels, better health, increased stamina, improved sleep, and general well-being. On the same token, food that is harmful will cause one to be unhealthy. Many times we are unaware of the properties of the foods that we consume, as we are unconcerned about those, or are simply uninformed. In this way, it is easy to fall into the trap of eating foods that taste good, look good, and feel good, but many times are not wholesome. This article looks at some general foods facts that could help you make better food choices, giving you robust fitness and more expendable energy.
Excess Acidity Can Be Harmful
When we consume any food, it will release either an acid or an alkaline base into the blood, after it is digested, absorbed, and metabolized. Acid-producing foods include grains, fish, meat, poultry, cheese, milk, and salt. Alkaline producing foods are fresh fruit, vegetables, roots and tubers, nuts, and legumes. Our blood has a pH of 7.35-45, making it slightly alkaline. Our diet should be in coherence with this, and should therefore consist of more foods that are alkaline. When acidic food consumption increases, our essential minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium are thrown off-kilter. Our body then naturally tries to get back to homeostasis (i.e. to normal levels), but with constant exposure, it cannot keep up with the demands, which results in loss of nutrients, and brings you face to face with illness. The moral is that often foods that are healthy are also alkaline in nature, and therefore should be incorporated into our diet as a majority. An alkaline prevalent diet can help ward off rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, acid reflux, gout, etc.
Use Food As Your Medicine
As you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, your blood alkalinity comes within a good range. This is a great omen, as it boosts your cell health. Any positive effect at a cellular level will impact your whole body potently. A large research study in 2004 looked at a group of roughly 72,000 females and approximately 38,000 males, with respect to the consumption of fruits and vegetables and the incidence of heart disease, cancer, etc. The results showed that green leafy vegetables provided considerable protection against many chronic diseases and heart disease. The higher the intake of greens, the lower the risk of all disease and death. Also, remember that fruits and vegetables are a great source of antioxidants. Every food that you eat creates free radicals in the body that damage the cells, and that’s where antioxidants take over by combating free radicals. The take here is to again use fresh fruits and vegetables to heal your health, while also eliminating harmful foods.
Excessive Cooking Damages Food
As is most of us are not taking in enough vegetables, but we are unknowingly also destroying much of their nutrient value by overcooking them. Vegetables are extremely rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and enzymes. Cooking vegetables changes their chemical composition, and that generally reduces the nutrient value depending on the method of cooking, as well as the time exposure to heat. Let’s examine this in a bit of detail below:
- Enzymes in vegetables start to denature when exposed to heat above 118ᵒF.
- Water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C, and B-complex vitamins are unstable when cooked, and exposed to oxygen. It is important to store cut vegetables in airtight containers in a refrigerator.
- Fat-soluble vitamins like E and K are relatively stable when cooking, though vitamin E can be destroyed by deep frying. Vitamin A is a vitamin that is actually more easily absorbed and made available when cooked (such as in with carrots and tomatoes).
- Mineral content is not affected by heat but can get washed away in the cooking water. Try to re-use the water after boiling or steaming vegetables in soups or smoothies.
- Many of the essential fatty acids get destroyed when heated, as many of the cruciferous vegetables are rich in omega 3’s.
- In general, many of the phyto-chemicals (i.e. nutrients that serve as antioxidants) in vegetables are useful only in the raw form, with the exception of the carotenoid family. For example, a study found that the anti-cancer compound sulforaphane was bio available at the rate of 37% in broccoli if eaten raw, compared to 3.4% when cooked. Now, carotenoids like lycopene found in tomatoes, and beta-carotene as found in carrots is better absorbed in the body when cooked. But remember that, the raw form of carrots and tomatoes are rich in vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin K, biotin, carotenes, many minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
- It is important to chew your raw vegetables well. The nutrients are stored in the cell walls and need to be broken down to be released and absorbed by the body. As much as 70-90% of the nutrients may never get access to the bloodstream if not chewed well. You can also consider blending your vegetables into a smoothie or soup, which would break down their protein and phytochemicals, for better absorption into the bloodstream.
- Steaming for one to five minutes results in minimal loss of nutrients. Boiling as in a soup is the second-best method (while trying to keep the vegetable half cooked).
- So, try adding more vegetables to your diet, while cooking them minimally to ensure the preservation of their nutrition. Vegetables boost your energy and vitality.
Quick Food Tips for Instant Energy-Fat Is Not So Bad!
Fat is not always bad as it has been presented to us in the past. It can be classified into healthy and unhealthy fats instead. Unhealthy fats are saturated and trans fats (i.e. partially hydrogenated fats). These include fatty meat, lard, margarine, and many cooking oils. These fats increase your total blood cholesterol, as well as your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. That can further increase your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Healthy fats include monounsaturated (MUFAs), polyunsaturated (PUFAs), and essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s. Both MUFAs and PUFAs can be found in a variety of foods and oils. These both have been found to improve blood cholesterol levels, thereby reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. MUFAs may also help to regulate blood sugar levels, which is good for diabetics. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is very valuable to the heart. Some examples of MUFAs and PUFAs are olive oil, coconut oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, and corn oil (i.e. fats that are liquid at room temperature). Plant-based sources of omega-3s include flaxseed, canola oil, soybean oil, nuts, and seeds.
Fats are a requirement of the body and should constitute about 10-20% of the diet. Fats provide energy when burned, and a medium to dissolve fat-soluble vitamins in the body. The general idea is to restrict unhealthy fats and replace them with healthy fats. So, try cooking with heart-healthy fats, and carefully read food labels for saturated and trans fats to avoid them, or consume in moderation.
Re-Assess Caffeine In Your Diet
Many of us start off our day with a cup of tea or coffee. As the day progresses, some indulge in a soda or two, chocolate, and even energy drinks. These are all rich sources of caffeine. Though you need that jolt in the morning to get started, your body is craving for something else. After a full night’s rest, its basic needs include a good source of hydration and calories (in the form of whole grains) to ‘break’ your ‘fast’ of the night. Since most of the body is made up of water, it would be best to consume that first thing in the morning, as it serves as a stimulus to the digestive system. Caffeine, on the other hand, gives you a momentary jump start since it is a stimulant. In the same manner, it gives you a crash once it wears off. It has consequential effects on the adrenal glands (which control our stress levels) and can upset our blood sugar levels. Have a look at some more effects of caffeine on the body:
- Caffeine can be addictive as it stimulates the central nervous system, and cause some level of dependency. You can also experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop caffeine consumption abruptly (such as anxiety, irritability, and headaches).
- Caffeine taken later in the day can cause insomnia at night. Caffeine has a half-life of five to seven hours. Therefore, caffeine intake during the day won’t disrupt sleep, but late afternoon to evening consumption can definitely do so.
- At very high levels (i.e. more than 744mg/day), caffeine can increase calcium and magnesium loss in urine. This can increase your risk of osteoporosis if you’re not getting enough calcium in your diet.
- Individuals sensitive to caffeine can experience a temporary rise in heart rate and blood pressure with its intake. Be mindful of your caffeine consumption if you’re a heart patient, or have hypertension.
The take away is to consume caffeine in moderation and at the correct times of the day. Start your day off with something soothing and refreshing, like lemon water. This can later be followed by a cup of tea or coffee as per one’s preference.
These are a few simple food facts that can help you make wiser food choices. One food item changes its qualities and effects by simple cooking, storing, and even consuming at different times of the day. Just keeping these rules in mind can help you give greater health and energy. Try out some of these tips today!
by Pragya Sinha