Are You Nutritionally Fit?

So much emphasis is placed in our society on being physically fit, staying active, and exercising – and so little is mentioned about eating truly healthy foods – whole and traditional foods – to support your physical and mental condition.

So what is eating healthy? There are a bevy of ideas about what’s healthy to eat, depending on where you look and who you ask. It could be low-fat to one person, it could be avoiding red meat, or that you should maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet.

These are all very common beliefs among many people, and represent what you will hear from most doctors, dietitians, health & fitness coaches, and health “experts”.

If we don’t support our bodies, we will be unable to perform physically and mentally. But ironically, the way most people take care of their physical bodies and what they feed themselves is a far cry from what is needed to properly maintain health. Schools, fitness clubs, doctors, health experts – all share a common consensus of teaching that fat and cholesterol are the enemies and must be stamped out. At the same time these sources urge us to exercise and work out regularly, and to burn fat. When you try to maintain a schedule of exercise but persist in eating foods that don’t support your body, and may in fact be depleting your body, you will eventually run into problems.

Your heart needs good nutrition!

As one example, the cardiovascular system needs certain nutritional components in order function at optimal levels.  The most commonly held theory of medical and health experts is that diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol create deposits in the arteries. These occurrences cause the build-up of plaque which causes atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

This connection between the diet and heart has overlooked many factors, not the least of which is the heavy consumption of factory meat and dairy products. And this consumption dominates habits in the Western diet. Other considerations would the persistence of medical and health authorities at large in thinking that polyunsaturated fats are good while monounsaturated fats are unhealthy to eat. It is no small coincidence that our heart-disease, obesity,  diabetes, and auto-immune disorder rates continue to skyrocket while our overall diet profile continues to consist of heavy amounts of industrially-produced foods such as meats, dairy products, and rancid vegetable oils (canola, soy, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower), genetically-modified foods (soy, wheat, corn, produce, and a variety of meats), irradiated foods, and pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables.

For nearly half a century the lipid hypothesis has remained a dominant tenet of medical and health theory as it relates to heart disease. It’s premise is that diets containing high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol cause plaque build-up in the arteries which block blood flow. If the blockage is severe enough, a heart attack will happen.

Even as educated scientific sources have revealed irrefutable errors in the lipid hypothesis and during the coincidental increase in heart disease with a decrease in consumption of saturated fat, this belief continues to be the pervasive stream of consciousness about cardiovascular health. “The diet-heart idea,” said the distinguished George Mann, “is the greatest scam in the history of medicine.” This anemic theory is used without exception and has been the impetus behind support for low-fat rhetoric and justification for prescribing cholesterol-lowering drugs to adults and more recently, to children. Because people persist in the idea that saturated fats are harmful, most establishments serving food offer the types of choices which will actually cause health to decline and degenerative disease to occur – like cardiovascular disorders, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Yet in order to maintain good heart and brain health, we must eat healthy saturated fats to be healthy.

School daze

During my junior-high and high-school, years, kids were singled-out in P.E. if they were unable to run the mile around a track on the field behind our school. I also  recall the feeling of shame that accompanied my inability to run, not walk, the mile in under ten minutes. I wasn’t what most people would describe as “athletic”, but looking back I also realize some other factors which definitely had an effect on my performance. As kids growing up in the 80′s, our diets were less than healthy. Many mornings I skipped breakfast at home and bought Squirt and Sour Cream and Cheddar Potato Chips from the vending machine at school. Had I known then what I was doing to my body, would it have made any difference?

We ate so much processed food; that was mostly all that was available. All those years I spent in school – some of the time feeling depressed, emotionally-wrought, and often fatigued and too worn-out to focus…could some of those feelings been because of my diet? What about the other kids? I haven’t much faith that theirs were any better than mine. Nonetheless, it was expected of everyone to be physically active and participate in sports. Just consider the competing factors in this scenario – children, who are growing and developing but are not adequately fed, are required by the school system to physically perform and excel in sports. How much more wrong could this be???

On top of all this, there was also the diminished sense of liking physical activity I possessed which was certainly affected, if not caused, by this terrible cycle of events – eating poorly, feeling tired, having no desire or motivation to be physically active, and eventually receiving poor marks in class because of it all. For years, I actually believed physical activity was unpleasant, and I dreaded it. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I had started eating better and physical activity started to appeal to me the way it is supposed to. I realized that I didn’t have to compete against others to be physically fit, and that when I ate well, I performed well.  What’s more, I got something positive out of it, and wanted to continue doing it. What a simple equation!

I am now watching my son begin to experience the same thing. Not unlike me, he’s really not into organized sports. He’s eight years old, very bright, loves science and math, and is very active. He loves swimming, bike riding, and climbing, but when he’s supposed to perform in his P.E. class, he often doesn’t like doing the activities because it isn’t something that interests him (usually it’s running or some team sport) – and it is more pronounced when he has not eaten well and lacks the energy. Unfortunately, we cannot control all factors in our kids’ lives, and this is no exception. Even though I hand-deliver a fresh-made, organic, whole-foods lunch to him daily, sometimes he doesn’t eat it – either because he is being finicky or is too distracted by friends and going outside. In any case – if he fails to eat, he complains that he’s tired and/or his mood noticeably starts to degrade. It’s very predictable.

Are our health attitudes and habits healthy?

I’m constantly amazed at the way society views health, physical fitness, and nutrition – as though they are separately constructed and have no causal connection to one another. I’m astounded that fitness instructors and personal trainers lack the common sense  about healthy eating and that many of them drink Gatorade or Powerade and reinforce low-fat diets to their clients.

It also makes little sense to me why health clubs place little to no effort on training their members about real nutrition. The health club where I used to work had a snack bar, but supplies its customers with unhealthy choices. I suspect this is probably typical of many health clubs. But it’s ironic that in a place like this you find so many inconsistencies about health – we are told to work out regularly and stay fit, but the environment is full of toxic chemicals like chlorine from the pools and saunas, piped in air from an HVAC system that likely doesn’t get filtered properly, vending machines containing unhealthy, processed foods, and the snack bar which offers not much in the way of healthier choices.

Outside the health club, there are a variety of fast-food restaurants selling industrially-produced food being marketed as healthy to eat (like Subway, Quizno’s, and Burger King). Much of the time it would be the kids I’d see going out and buying the food, bringing it back, and eating it because their parents were nowhere to be seen and had not taken the time to address this important part of their kids’ lives – nutrition! And they leave it up to corporations and large entities who are really only concerned with making profits, not making people healthy. To me, this is one of the most mixed messages being sent to the public about health we have.

As a nation, we are the most undernourished and overfed of the industrial countries. Our obesity and heart disease rates are skyrocketing! Yet we have food available everywhere you look, 24/7. What’ s wrong with this picture? There is a problem trying to feed 306 million people, but the way we go about it is all wrong. We’ve turned food into a commodity and all about profits instead of about nourishing and maintaining health. When you ask the question as to whether you are nutritionally fit, what’s the answer?

Ask yourself another important question: if you are exercising regularly, but happen to be neglecting your nutritional fitness, is your health likely to be in good condition? Make a checklist of the following to find out.  Do you eat processed foods – even those that you may believe are healthy – such as the following:

  • store-bought breads
  • cereals
  • crackers
  • “food” bars
  • rice cakes
  • pretzels
  • chips that are baked
  • muffins
  • scones
  • croissants
  • English Muffins
  • bagels
  • pasta
  • tofu
  • soy milk
  • almond milk
  • rice milk
  • low-fat & non-fat dairy
  • industrial meats

If you answered yes to any of the above, consider sustainable alternatives:

  • Consume organic, sustainable, grass-fed meats, pasture-raised chickens and eggs from the same source, safe-source fish (like salmon and mackerel), and raw dairy products (butter, ghee, cheese, milk, cream, home-made yogurt, and kefir)
  • Get enough fresh organic fruits and vegetables in your daily meals, and also cultured and fermented vegetables
  • Eat raw nuts and seeds
  • Buy healthy fats for cooking such as butter, coconut oil, lard or tallow from meat or poultry from a healthy source for cooking and monounsaturated oils like olive and flax to use on salads and other raw foods
  • Switch from processed, dead foods to fermented live foods with cultures such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kim chee, or lacto-fermented vegetables.

Real, sustainable food solves all of these problems – it feeds people in local areas, supports the economy, supports agricultural efforts, treats animals humanely, takes care of the environment, and delivers a wholesome, healthy product to nourish people and the land.

Now is the time to consider taking a second look at your diet and determining if there is a way to make changes. When your diet consists of processed and refined foods from industrial sources, your health ultimately will suffer. You will find that both mentally and physically you cannot function the same way as when you feed your body and mind whole foods from clean sources. If you are eating well, your body and brain can do the things they should to support your health throughout your lifetime.

 

2 Comments

  • localnourishment
    May 15, 2009 - 11:43 AM | Permalink

    Raine, the snack bar and vending machines in your health club are providing a stream of income for the club owners. Unless they find a reason that speaks more loudly than money, it is unlikely your bosses will consider speaking out against the foodless food that is lining their pockets.

  • May 15, 2009 - 3:11 PM | Permalink

    Yes, unfortunately I know all about the profit-driven factor in the vending machines and snack bars. We’ve been struggling with the school district on that issue as well for nearly a year. We’ve been telling the school district (as I have also told the health club where I work) that local is better for health, the economy, and our environment – and provided plenty of examples and evidence of this. So far they’re not listening (but that’s nothing new). When money drives everything, as it does in this world, it makes it very hard to get anyone to stand on principles of ethics, morals, or health.

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