Most people know that we are what we eat. If we consume wholesome, nutritious foods, our bodies will radiate with a healthy glow. But when junk food dominates the diet, poor health is often the consequence.
In case you missed the memo on what makes up a good diet, let’s take a quick peek at what is considered a health-giving regime today.
Contrary to what you might have learned in school, the United States Department of Agricultural’s food pyramid we all studied in school is wrong.
The USDA food pyramid was used from 1992 to 2005 as a guide to what every healthy human should eat every day. The pyramid was divided into four layers like a cake. Each layer had little pictures of all the kinds of food of that type.
The bottom layer of the pyramid had four servings of carby grains, the next layer up had three servings of carby fruits and veggies, the layer above that had two servings of proteinous meats and dairy, and the top of the pyramid had one serving of fats, oils, and sweets (to be used “sparingly”).
As you can see, the USDA was recommending that we get most of our calories from carbohydrates, at the expense of proteins and fats.
Thanks to researchers like Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Taubes we now know that the USDA pyramid is bass-ackwards – or rather, upside down. In his best-selling books Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories, Taubes explains how he reached the conclusion that eating fat burns fat.
The gist of it is that the body uses proteins and fats to build muscles. Carbohydrates produce energy and are rare treats in nature. Carbs deliver bursts of energy that get processing priority over proteins and fats.
If you ate a sugar donut, your body would react immediately by producing insulin to direct the converted energy toward parts of the body that needed it as fuel. Absent that, insulin would redirect the carbs to fat storage cells for future need.
When someone continues to eat more carbs than the body can burn off, the excess is converted to stored fat. When the fat cells are stuffed too full, they distend (enlarge). At that point, the person is in a pre-diabetic state.
By the time the body’s fat cells have become distended, the body has become confused. “Why is this person eating so many carbs? We must be starving!” is what the body starts to think.
At that point, the body does not want to give up any fat. This is why medically obese people find losing weight extremely difficult. They reduce their calorie consumption but lose very little weight as their bodies get more confirmation about continuing in starvation mode.
People who consume too many carbohydrates for long enough may well develop Type 2 Diabetes (adult onset). One way to stop that from happening is to “make that change,” in the words of Michael Jackson.
The good news is that the solution to maintaining a healthy diet is easy to understand and to achieve. In fact, it’s not really a diet at all – it’s what you choose to eat because you know how it affects your metabolism and nourishes your cells.
Don’t worry, it’s easy: just flip the USDA food pyramid upside down. Every day, eat plenty of fatty meats (bacon, mmmmm) and dairy, a good and varied amount of fruits and vegetables, and little to no sugars or starches.
In his first book, Dr. Atkins talked about making food substitutions to get rid of bad carbs (donuts and bread) and replace them with good carbs (apples and carrots). Substitute ham and eggs at breakfast for the sweetened cereal.
Weaning yourself from starchy sweets may be the hardest thing you ever do but it is so worth it. After three years of eating mostly fats and proteins, I broke my sugar addiction. For the first time in my life, I knew when I was full and stopped eating.
Now, I can’t even eat a whole sugar donut. My blood sugar level shoots up and my body screams, “Nooooooooo!”
Be warned: if you experiment with a low-carb diet and start to eat fatty meats and dairy products, eating sugars will sabotage your efforts and pile on the weight. The combination of fat, protein, and sugar will pack on the pounds in short order.
Research is confirming that what we metabolize as food influences every other aspect of our well-being, including mental and emotional health. A nutritious diet strengthens the body’s disease-fighting immune system.
The Linus Pauling Institute says that “cognition, problem solving, memory, alertness, sleep, and information processing” are all improved by healthy foods.
There is no combination more powerful than a varied, nutritious diet coupled with regular exercise or physical activity. Cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and obesity all respond well to this double-punch technique that many fit folks embrace.
A study from Columbia University found that all three of the leading causes of death in the U.S. (coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer, and stroke) are linked directly to diet. Each of the underlying risk factors (blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight) associated with these life-threatening conditions can be controlled through better food selections.
Because no single food source can provide all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates a body needs to flourish, it is important to eat a wide assortment of foods.
Just remember that the body burns energy from carbs, absorbs vitamins using fats, and grows muscle and other tissues from protein. Then put down that Twinkie and pick up a slice of cheese. Mmmmmmm.