Every time I saw an unrecognizable, weird-looking, funny smell, and horrible texture piece of food on my plate, my skills as the new food Houdini came to practice. I would do as if I were eating it to trick my parents. I would put as much as I could on a napkin, hide it in my pocket (of course if lucky enough to be wearing shorts with pockets) and sneak it out as soon as I finished eating. I would also happily fed the dog under the table, who was always interested in trying that new food I wasn’t going to enjoy anyways.
For some reason, the portion of that new and strange alien food on my plate, was way bigger than my precious chicken nuggets, my homemade French fries or the tiny little bugger pads I so much loved to eat. On my eight years old expertise about food, Pasta had to come with red or white sauce, no green stuff on it, Chicken was meant to be eaten every single day, salads were made of one little piece of lettuce and one tomato slice, so there will be enough room for dessert.
“We need to get out of the comfort zone about what we eat and how we do it…”
Back in the days, I believed myself to be allergic to eggplants, radish, cucumber, cabbage, and zucchini. I didn’t know why carrots were given to human if they were meant to be for rabbits, and the only fruits I recognized as edible, were the ones in ice creams, fruitcakes or popsicles. Yeap!, life was simple. Why did we have to get so complicated about the food I ate?
The truth is, we do need to get complicated and get out of the comfort zone about what we eat and how we do it; otherwise, we might end up complicating our doctor’s bills and visiting pharmacy stores more often than we should. Monotony in food is as harmful as it is in life. If we limit ourselves to a small list of ingredients in our daily intake, we won’t be giving our bodies essential nutrients needed to keep us healthy. It is crucial to keep variety in our food, but it is also important to know what to mix and how to mix it.
Why? And How?
“It’s all about the nutrients…”
It’s all about the nutrients our organism absorbs from what we eat. If only there were a one super food containing all the nutrients that we need to survive and live healthily… well, there is not! And I’m happy for that, “boring” is the word that flashes my head when I think about eating every day the same stuff over and over again.
But before going deep into the ocean of nutrients, we need to understand what they are. Nutrients are “substances that provide nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life” Google search. In short, nutrients are components in the food that our body absorbs and uses to maintain its proper functioning. Once we eat, our GI tract (Gastrointestinal tract), through a very complicated and very efficient system separates the many nutrients contained in the food and allows our body to absorb and use them as needed. The extra nutrients that are not needed are either released via stools or urine or stored for future needs.
“Eating only one type of food creates deficiencies in our micronutrients intake… Visits to the doctor will increase”
Nutrients are classified into two main groups, Macronutrients, and Micronutrients. Macro means big, so it refers to large amounts. These are the nutrients that our body needs in large quantities in order to survive. The main macronutrients groups are Carbohydrates, Proteins (amino acids) and Lipids (fats). Micronutrients, in contrast, refer to small amounts. Our body needs small amounts of the micronutrients to survive, but these are important. Main groups are vitamins and minerals.
Each macro and micronutrient is used by our body in different tasks or is needed to accomplish different goals. Carbohydrates are mainly required to produce energy, proteins help in building muscles, and fats helps our body to absorb some types of vitamins. On the other hand, Vitamins are needed to keep healthy our immune system, to build up and maintain properly functioning our cells reproduction, to help absorb minerals into our system, etc.
If we only eat one type of food, we will be eating probably only one type of macronutrient, very few vitamins, and minerals. What it is missing from our diet, our body won’t have a way to obtain it, and deficiencies will come, our body will get sick, and our visits to the doctor will increase. This is why we need to vary what we eat; our daily intake must be mixed with different ingredients to make sure our system is getting as many macronutrient and micronutrient as possible. All of them are important!
But how we do it, is as well important. Too much of one or another can make you sick. So, moderation is the word to keep in mind when you eat, and varying the food helps you also feel satisfied faster and keeps in balance the amount of macro and micronutrients that you consume.
“I use colors as a guide to decide what to eat…”
To help us know how we should vary our daily intake, the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) started a program called ChoseMyPlate which gives guidelines to help people understand and decide how to eat in matters of proportion and variations of the food. This program is designed by experts to incentive people to eat healthy, to vary the content of food and gives a lot of tips on how to do it. The picture or logo of the program is a plate divided into the proportion for each group of food. It is divided into Vegetables (main and most important food group), Fruits, Grains, Proteins, and Dairy. The biggest portion of the plate are for vegetables, and there is a huge reason for that, many of the vitamins and minerals our body needs to survive come from greens.
In my experience, I use colors as a guide to decide what to eat. Go to a farmers market, or any supermarket, and stand up in front of the vegetable racks and you will see a full, broad, colorful landscape of products; ingredients waiting to be taken and cooked, full of nutrients. Orange from carrots, red from tomatoes, light green from peppers, dark greens from spinach, yellow from bell peppers, white from turnips, purple from eggplants, it is amazing! All of them are rich in different varieties of micronutrients; vitamins and minerals that will boost your body and will help you keep away from the doctors.
Mix them, and you will have a colorful meal full of nutrients. Your body will be thankful!
Follow fruits choices under the same rule of colors. They come in such a variety of colors, red, green, yellow and all of them rich in micronutrients and fibers. Eating the whole fruit is much better than drinking it in juices since fibers are not included in the juice of the fruit; besides, you will need many more fruits to get the juice to drink than what you will need to satisfy your appetite. Sugar intake may be better controlled if you eat the whole fruit as well.
“Cook your food and take control of the quality of what you eat”
Vary also your protein intake, not only meat or animal products comes packed with proteins. Legumes come up packed with a good source of proteins, all kind of nuts, beans, lentils, peas, they all provide an excellent source of proteins as well as fibers, healthy fats, many types of minerals and vitamins. You can find different kinds in the market and to vary them is important.
My favorite suggestion is to cook your food. When you cook, you are the master of what you eat, you decide what goes into your body, and you can control the quality of your food. Start with simple meals like salads, add at least two types of greens, lettuce, spinach, or kale and chards, and add some nuts, some fruits. Vitamin C in oranges goes great with the iron in spinach; scientific studies found that ascorbic acid (vitamin c) helps absorb iron in the GI track during the ingestion.
Remember, life is short and knowledge helps us make the choices to live a better life. Eat better, feel better!