Saturday, March 6, 2010

Common questions and answers about nutrition!

So, before I go outside on this wonderful New England spring day to soak up the warmth of the sun, I thought I would post some common questions that I either get asked directly or have to clarify during my workshops. Enjoy! Hopefully I'll see you outside!

Question #1: What is a calorie?

Calories are not the amount of fat in a food, a calorie is a measure of energy – energy that acts as your body’s fuel. One of my colleagues put it very nicely comparing calories in the human body to gasoline that a car uses. What you put into your car gets consumed by everything that your car does, obviously using more of it the more the car does, the faster you go, longer distances, etc. The same thing happens in your body – you use or ‘burn’ calories when you sleep, when you walk or run and everything in between. Your body needs calories, about 1,500- 2,500 a day depending on gender and activity level, but what is important to take note of is the type of calories, if you want your body to run smoothly you need to put the proper fuel in, all humans deserve premium fuel.

Question #2: What is the difference between a complex carbohydrate and a simple carbohydrate?

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, your body does not have to break down simple sugars at all in the digestive system they can immediately be absorbed in you bloodstream and distributed throughout the body to be used by cells in the body as energy to do work – muscle contraction, brain synapses firing, respiratory system, and so on. Complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugar that your digestive system breaks down and slowly absorbs into the body. Ever heard of a sugar high? And then the inevitable sugar low? This is because your body processes the sugar so quickly that you run out of energy and hit a low. With complex carbohydrates like whole grains and fruits and vegetables your body doesn’t get a rush of energy and then crash, it is sustained energy. Foods that are complex carbohydrates tend to be more fibrous as well which makes you feel fuller faster, keeps you from overeating and keeps your digestive system regular. Simple carbohydrates (which include refined grains, sugar, corn syrup, etc.) get absorbed so quickly you have no opportunity to feel full and overloading your insulin receptor with sugar (glucose) can lead to type 2 Diabetes.

Question #3: What is the difference between good fats and bad fats?

In overly simplified terms fats that come from animals are bad – butter, cheese, lard, fatty tissue in red meat. Good fats are ones that come from plants – avocado, nuts, fish, olive oil, flax seed oil. Bad fats- saturated fats - raise bad cholesterol, increasing your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease. This is the kind of fat that causes people to have the risky but increasingly more common double, triple and even quadruple bypass surgeries! (But “Genetics!” some of you may cry, and yes, often times heart problems are genetic but unhealthy diets significantly increase the risk of heart problems.) Good fats- unsaturated (either mono or poly)- raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. Trans fats are the worst of all though, trans fats are partially hydrogenised oils – meaning that an unsaturated fat in liquid form (like vegetable oil) was forced into taking more hydrogen in order to solidify – making a kind of fat that is found nowhere in nature, only in packaged foods! Trans fat not only increases your bad cholesterol but also decreases your good cholesterol!

Question #4: How do people get fat?

Being overweight or obese happens when you consume more calories than your body needs over an extended period of time, it does not happen overnight. The excess calories that your body does not use are stored as fat in specific areas of your body – belly area, backs of arms, chest, thighs, buttocks etc. These are muscle areas that your body typically uses so your body sends fuel to these places and they aren’t used then they stay there to be turned into fat.

An extra 200 calories a day than your body uses can add up to more than 10 pounds in a year. An extra 240 calories is one 20 ounce bottle of soda, two oreos are 320 extra calories – that’s more than having one large plain baked potato extra a day! Its no wonder that college kids can gain the freshman 15 pounds in one year just by not considering their soda intake or their late night snacking. Sitting in front of the TV or computer while eating is one of the easiest ways to overeat because you have no idea of portion control, especially if you are eating straight from the box or bag. An easy way to fix this if you do need to do some work while snacking, fill a Ziploc bag with a sensible portion of a healthy snack like almonds or grab a medium or small sized apple or orange. Often times people who are overweight have no idea what a proper portion size is for their food and they end up overeating that way.

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