Aims of the hack
- Understand the fundamentals of nutrition for the body
- Understand nutrition makeup of Food
- Resistance to advertising, fad diets
Anatomy of the Hack
- Mild information dump
- Some practice exercises
- Some simple hacks
This is what I would recommend teaching kids about nutrition - set them up to cut through the advertising hype, the latest fad diets etc. This is a distillation of information that I believe we have scientifically documented, verified, Peer reviewed. This is not based on any one fad guru. This section will be brief, there is a mountain of information out there that I cannot be bothered to reproduce, but can easily be searched for and verified.
The building blocks:
Your body needs vitamins and minerals, unquestionably. A broad and balanced diet will deliver the vitamins and minerals you need (and sunshine as a source of vitamin D3). Blood tests can establish if you are deficient in any of these.
Your body needs protein: These are broken down into amino-acids which the body uses to build new proteins, and a myriad of other bodily functions. Humans do not directly use proteins, the proteins are always broken down into the amino acids that they are made of. There are many excellent sources of protein (obviously meat) but also things like Legumes(Beans, Lentils), Quinoa (an ancient Incan grain) and Bananas(contain every amino acid that the body requires). Note that Gluten (found in bread) is a protein.
Your body needs carbohydrates - Glycogen (a carbohydrate) is the only thing that passes the blood-brain barrier, and your brain uses a tremedous amount of energy. Carbs are essentially sugars that the body can use directly for energy, these get broken down in the gut and passed into the bloodstream for your body to use.
Fats are not evil, you need fats (there are of course good and bad fats). Fats are a great source of energy for the body and support many important functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important for bodily functions - especially brain health. Eating fat as part of your diet makes you feel 'fuller', it helps to tell the brain when you are full, and it doesn't spike blood sugar like carbohydrates. Fats help with Vitamin and Mineral absorption in the body. Fats help fight inflammation, and the good fats help to regulate your cholesterol.
A calorie is a unit of energy. Scientifically speaking, a calorie is the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water up 1 degree Celsius. When we talk about calories in food, we are actually talking about a kiloCalorie (1000 calories). However the word Calorie is used in most literature.
The measure of Calories tells us roughly how much energy is in that food.
This can easily be calculated with the following formula:
1 gram of Protein = 4 Calories (* or 3.2)
1 gram of Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
1 gram of Fat = 9 Calories
Calories can be calculated by knowing the amount of these three things in the food. Note that there are studies that suggest the net calories provided by Protein is more likely to be around 3.2 Calories per gram due to the way the body processes it.
The body burns calories by a process called metabolism. This process uses enzymes to break down the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into materials that can be transported through the bloodstream and used by cells. Here the energy is either used immediately or stored for later. Generally the calories that are stored, are stored as fat.
Therefore if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. If you consume more calories than your body can use, you will gain weight. (Weight variance could be either muscle or fat).
Your body uses (burns) a large amount of energy (your Basal Metabolism Rate) to just function day in and day out. The body breaks down Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates into useful materials using enzymes, which then enter the bloodstream for you body to use.
When there are too many calories being consumed for the body to use immediately it generally converts those materials into fat for later use.
Your metabolism changes with your stress levels, your environment and your calorie intake. The most important take-away is that reducing calorie intake (going on a calorie reduced diet) lowers your metabolism, so your body tries to use less calories. Things like skipping meals and fasting in general lowers your metabolism - so while you can certainly lose weight doing this, it is not as simple as weightloss = calories in minus calories out. When you lower your calories in, your calories out also lowers (of course this is likely to be slightly different for everybody).
So when people say weightloss is simply calories in minus calories out, they are only loosely correct.
How Many Calories Do We Need?
When reading food labels, the "Percentage of Daily Intake" variables are based on a calorie intake of a standard 2000 calories per day.
Everyone of course has a different calorie average requirement based on their basal metabolic rate, how much activity/excercise they do, genetic predisposition, gender, stress levels, health (and others).
Men will mostly have higher calorie average requirement than women. This is mostly due to a higher proportion of muscle to fat.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy the body needs to function while at rest, there are many free tools online that will quickly calculate your BMR based on your weight, height, age, and level of activity.
The energy we talk about with BMR is used to keep the heart beating, temperature regulated, your Brain and other organs functioning.
Are All Calories The Same?
As a unit of energy, a calorie is a calorie - no matter where it comes from. However there can be differences in individuals depending on the nutrient makeup of their diet. This seems to be something that is unique to individuals - meaning you and your friend might have a different response to an identical diet.
Also, some foods do not satisfy us in the same measure. 100 calories of pure sugar will not satisfy our hunger in the same way the a protein/fat combination would (such as an egg).
The Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the power of foods (or specifically the carbohydrate in a food) to raise blood sugar (glucose) levels after being eaten. It is a relative measure of the quality of the carbohydrates in food. A High GI food will have a large sugar spike after eating it, and will not stay in your blood for long (eg 1 hour). A Low GI food will release sugar into your bloodstream much slower, and will last longer (eg 3 hours). The effect of High GI foods stresses your system with the need for insulin to control the blood sugar
This is probably more important than just the Glycemic Index alone. The Glycemic Load refers to the actual effect of the carbohydrates in your food on your blood-sugar levels. Some foods are High GI, but do not actually contain many carbohydrates (eg Pumpkin) so can definitely be eaten with the knowledge that it will not spike your blood sugar when eaten as part of a balanced meal.
So to break it down for kids:
- Protein is an important building block for your body and there are are found in many foods other than just Meat
- Carbohydrates are the sugars in food and is an excellent source of energy for the body
- Fats are important in your diet
- Calories measure the energy your food contains
- Your metabolic rate is the energy your body needs to work
- If you eat more calories than your body needs (Metabolic rate plus exercise) you will gain weight
Some Simple Hacks
- Pasta, when cooked 'Al Dente' is a low GI food. The Glycemic load is somewhat entrapped in the structure in the pasta, but if you cook it until it is completely soft, the carbohydrates are more available for your body and it turns into a high GI food.
- Limit 'white' carbohydrates like Bread, Rice, Potatoes. These are High GI and should be eaten in moderation.
- Limit drinks with calories; drink water
- Eat Fruit and Vegetables for their vitamin and minerals, try to avoid overcooking them. Eat them with good fats - Extra virgin Olive oil, coconut oil, Macadamia oil.
- Start the day with a breakfast of Protein and low GI foods to give you lots of sustained energy for the day
- Observe your body and how it feels after eating meals. Adjust and experiment to see what your body likes.