About a week ago a college friend of mine shared this article with me on twitter, asking what I thought of it. Although we talked about it and the points made, I felt that it was hitting on a point other than the ones directly addressed within the article.
It seems that no matter where we are or who we talk to, there is a new food that is now bad for us or a new way of cooking that makes certain foods better for us.
It’s not just foods either, even ways of eating are claiming to be better than others. It used to be Atkins and slim fast, then it was (and very much still is) low-fat, and now intermittent fasting and the paleo diet are taking the world by storm.
It seems that every few years everything we know about food and diet changes. What we once did is no longer the “best way” or may even have been bad for us. This makes starting a process to either lose weight or just become healthier can be very daunting and overwhelming, especially as there is usually a vast amount of conflicting information out there on the exact ins and outs of what we should be doing.
Really, I feel that it is a great deal simpler then that. For good health, the food you should be eating most should come from sources which have low levels of processing involved. Fresh vegetables and fruits, organic sources of meats, healthy fats and plenty of natural fluids will go along way to increasing your general health and aiding in any fat loss you may be aiming to achieve.
Following this method does not directly rule out any one type of food or rate any particular micronutrient as being the “be all and end all”. Along with this it allows you to eat when you want, which most fad diets (Or even legitimate ones, such as highly sports or body composition specific ones) do not.
What it does do however is rule out a great deal of food that is doing more harm than good. Chips, crisps, microwave burgers and soft drinks to name a few. These, along with most other highly processed foods, all contain ingredients that are there to help preserve, enhance and visually improve the look and taste of the product. These additives are not required with fresh food because they do not need to be stored for months or even years whilst still maintaining a certain taste, look or texture.
This isn’t to say that these foods can not be enjoyed ever again, and I would be lying if I said I never eat them. What it does mean though is that for 80-90% of the time, your meals should not include them. Not only will these processed foods contain fewer nutrients for our body due to breakdown over time and these other additives, but they will also fail to sustain you for as long as fresh or low processed foods do, resulting in overeating and weight gain.
Below, I have given my thoughts on the foods covered in the article which gave rise to this post and the impact I think they have on our health.
Within the body, high cholesterol levels are linked to heart disease and being overweight. Eggs get a bad rap because they contain high levels of cholesterol and people associate this high dietary cholesterol (cholesterol which enters the body through food) level with increases in blood cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a naturally produced type of lipid (Fatty type of compound) which is connected to vitamin D production, natural steroid production and is found in cell membranes. It is produced by the liver and is distributed around the body via the bloodstream. However, because it is “fatty” it does not mix well with blood and so has to be transported within a certain lipoprotein framework.
This framework comes in two forms, low density lipoproteins (LDL’s,) and high density lipoproteins (HDL’s). LDL is responsible for bringing the liver produced cholesterol to the rest of the body and HDL is responsible for bringing excess cholesterol back to the liver for processing. Having excessive LDL levels (Most commonly called bad cholesterol) over HDL levels (AKA: Good cholesterol) is what leads to plaque buildup in arteries and heart disease.
To date the consumption of high cholesterol foods has shown no significant impact in either HDL or LDL levels. High cholesterol is affected much more by general quality of food with higher processed and “unhealthy” foods leading to higher LDL levels.
So if you are worried about your LDL levels, rather than skipping the eggs you should eat a diet consisting of high quality, low processed foods, lose some body fat and start exercising!
Gluten is a type of protein, which is most commonly found in wheat and barley but it is found in other grains also. As such, it is common for foods such as breads, pastas and baked goods to be high in gluten.
The issue with celiac’s (People suffering from gluten intolerance or allergy) is that their body sees the presence of gluten as an attack on the immune system. This triggers the white blood cells in the body to attack it which then causes inflammation.
A “once off” case of this has little to no long-term impacts (Of course, depending on the severity of the intolerance and levels of gluten eaten) but may cause the person to have an upset stomach, headaches or diarrhea. This is fine if isolated but the issue becomes more severe when a celiac eats gluten on a more regular basis.
Ongoing gluten consumption can lead to chronic (Ongoing) intestinal inflammation which can cause cell wall weakening, disease, scarring and greatly reduced gut health which will reduce the body’s ability to absorb and digest foods which do not contain gluten. This can lead to illness, weight gain or loss and even infertility.
As bad as these all are, this is only the case for people with an intolerance to gluten which in Ireland is around 0.2% of the population. For the majority, the body does not react like this and gluten can be consumed and processed by the body without causing this inflammatory response. As such, the removal of gluten from your diet if you are not sensitive will have little to no impacts on your general health.
Admittedly, I know little on the effects red meat has on the body. I know that cuts of steak which are cooked and eaten rare are harder to digest than similar sized pieces cooked a bit more and that leaner cuts are regarded more healthy than others, but it is something my knowledge is very limited on. I have not read any studies or many articles from authors I trust on the matter and as such will not comment hugely on the effects it has on the body.
What I do know is that when it comes to red meat, the choice of where the meat came from is an important one. Often, cheap cuts or cuts which are mass-produced come from factories or farms where animals are fed a diet consisting of low nutrient, highly processed corn meals. This, along with being in a very stressful environment changes the characteristics of the meat which is passed onto us when we eat it.
These cuts are usually lower in nutrients and contain excessively high levels of omega 6. Omega 6, like its more well-known omega 3 counterpart, is a polyunsaturated Fat. This means that it has multiple breaks in its molecular chain which changes how the body uses it. Unlike its omega 3 counterpart however (Which is great for immunity, cell health and reducing inflammation) it can lead to a rise in cholesterol, systemic chronic inflammation and a reduction in the ability of omega 3 to be effective.
Stemming from this I would recommend that your consumption of red meat should follow the same rules. Be organic, free range and have as little processing as possible. Bonus points if you can get a cut that comes from grass-fed beef.
Coffee, or more scientifically Caffeine, is associated with giving people a ‘buzz’ or getting them off to a start in the morning. When ingested, the caffeine itself actually does not directly stimulate the body like other compounds such as adrenaline. In fact, stimulation occurs because the caffeine restricts the ability of the body’s central nervous system (CNS) to stabilise and sedate itself as it normally does. As as result of the CNS not being able to calm itself down, it has no other response other than becoming stimulated.
Coffee gets a bad wrap for many reasons. Whether it be a dependence type of response (Not being able to operate in the mornings or a lack of focus) or one of excessive stimulation (The jitters or not being able to sleep at night), most people when asked would probably say that caffeine is something to be avoided.
On the other hand, caffeine has some very real world and vast benefits. These range from aiding in fat loss at a hormonal level to being helpful in increasing sports performance due to the effects it has on the CNS. These have been very well-studied and the benefits of caffeine are very well accepted.
However, what must not be overlooked is that caffeine is a drug. The effect is has on the body is not one that occurs in similar levels without it and caffeine is not produced naturally by the body. As such, different people are affected by caffeine differently.
Generally, there are two types of people when it comes to caffeine, namely slow metabolizers and fast metabolizers. Slow metabolizers are subjected to everything negative we associate with caffeine. Jitters, shakes and are wired into the wee hours of the morning. Fast metabolizers (of which I am lucky to be) however may only be slightly more alert not feel the effects of the caffeine at all.
If you find you are more of a slow metabolizer then I would limit coffee consumption to the earlier parts of your day, drinking no more than one or two cups. If however you find caffeine has little effect on you, I’d say you’re good to have three or four cups (Although I wouldn’t go much higher) throughout the day.
Alongside this I would say that regardless of your metabolization speed of caffeine if you find yourself dependant on it, be that in the mornings or at any stage during the day, to cut all caffeine out. Although it does have its benefits, you should be able to function without it and as such, having a dependency will not help anything.
Potatoes are a starchy root vegetable known as source of carbohydrates. They are known for being included in many an Irish meal and are usually advertised as something that will “Keep you going”. What people also associate them with is weight gain, a high glycemic index and as something that should be eaten sparingly.
The glycemic index of food is simply a way of measuring how fast blood glucose rises after eating it. Fast blood sugar fluctuations are deemed to be bad as frequent events of such can cause health issues such as insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. While this is true, along with the fact that the “Spud” has a high glycemic index, it is a number that should be taken with a pinch of salt.
The number does not account for any other foods eaten alongside one another or the other nutritional benefits to foods and is simply a measure of one foods effect on blood sugar levels when eaten on its own. More often than not, potatoes are eaten as part of a meal containing vegetables, meats and fats which reduces the effect of the potatoes GI index. When you pair this with the vast amount of nutrients and minerals within a potato and the satiety effect it has in keeping you fuller for longer it is definitely something that can be included frequently as part of a healthy diet. Just be mindful of the milk, butter and cream used when preparing potatoes as this is more often than not the source of the majority of calories when looking at the preparation of potatoes.
I am aware that the list of foods is far from exhaustive and really I just wanted to give a more in-depth analysis of this article. I don’t think there is any food on this planet that is not given the status of being healthy or unhealthy. Given the nature of Peoples health and the fact that global obesity levels are rising I don’t think we ever will be in a position where that goes away. People who are looking to get healthy will always look for foods to enjoy and ones to avoid.