Food for Thought: National Nutrition Month

By Julia Fisher, RCC Counseling

There are a lot of polarizing thoughts about food. What is good for us? What is bad for us? The answer to these questions comes down to this: What are your goals with the food that you eat? For instance, are you interested in providing fuel for your body and brain so that you have energy to get through the day? Are you trying to gain muscle? Are you trying to lose body fat? Are you interested in preventing health issues or mental health issues? Each of us will have different answers to these questions. 

For some, there is not a lot of choice about food; there is not enough money to be thinking about choices, so we eat what is given to us or what we can afford to buy. Or, others may cook for us, so we eat what we are given. Maybe we are living on our own for the first time and don’t really know how to cook or what to cook. Possibly we’ve dealt with eating issues, eating disorders or diet culture in the past, and this impacts our food choices. Food can be very complicated and there is a lot that goes into the choices we make about food. Ultimately, we each need to find what works best for us considering all of these factors.  

Our government has set guidelines, telling us what they believe to be the proper way to eat. This way of eating may not work well for everyone and may not even be the healthiest way to eat, depending on what our goals are with the food that we consume. There is substantial research that shows refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cookies, bagels, cereal, crackers, chips, — yes even “heart-healthy whole grain” versions of these) and sugar are not good for humans, yet much of the food available in grocery stores and in restaurants is this food. This type of food is engineered to be easy and delicious to consume and is highly addicting. In fact, eating sugar and fast-digesting carbs can activate pleasure centers in the brain (you ever get that hit after eating a handful of Doritos?).  So, foods are designed with this in mind, which can lead to a cycle of addiction without us really even being aware of it. When thinking about nutrition, it’s best to use a whole-food approach: if it comes in a package and/or has many ingredients, it is generally not a whole food.   

Two more hot topics: grains and fat. Are grains a necessary component of our diet? Some say yes, some say no. I personally do not consume grains, and I am alive and well! I feel best when I eat this way, and it’s in line with the goals I have for my nutrition and my health. I recommend that you check out the following books to learn more about why grain consumption may not be best for us:

  • “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis
  • “Grain Brain” by Dr. David Perlmutter
  • “The Obesity Code” by Dr. Jason Fung  

There is also a lot of conflicting information about how much fat one should consume. In the more recent past (since around the 1960s), dietary fat became demonized and was believed to contribute to a number of health issues. After 1980, the low-fat approach became an overarching ideology, promoted by physicians, the federal government, the food industry, and the popular health media. (Do you remember SnackWell’s low-fat cookies filled with terrible ingredients and “Wow” fat-free potato chips? The latter caused “anal leakage,” but at least the chips were fat-free, right?)

Is low fat really good for us? There has been a lot of talk about this, and more research has come out to show that dietary fat is not the demon we once thought it to be, and in fact, consuming dietary fat is important for our bodies, our brains, and can help with feelings of satiety. Consuming fat does not make you fat. If you are interested to learn more about this, I suggest that you read “The Obesity Code” by Dr. Jason Fung.  

We’ve been talking about “what” to eat, but equally, or possibly more important is “when” to eat. Think about our ancestors. They were not surrounded by food 24/7 as we are today. They did not snack and couldn’t go through a drive-thru in the middle of the night. They had periods of feasting (when they made a kill and harvested enough plants/berries) and periods of fasting (no consumption of food). We have moved so far away from this model that we could eat something almost every hour of the day if we wanted to. Is this good for us? Research indicates that it’s not.

Our bodies were designed and meant to go through periods of feasting and fasting. You may have heard about intermittent fasting in the media, as this is something that is gaining popularity. When you fast, many things happen in your body. Insulin drops, you go into “fat-burning mode,” your body preserves its muscle mass. You can also develop a laser-like focus and your brain will kick into high gear. Consider a lion that has not eaten for a few days. Are they tired and sluggish? Or are they ready to pounce and make a kill? Think about yourself after a Thanksgiving feast. Are you alert, energized and ready to tackle the world? Or are you ready for a nap?

Fasting has been shown to have many health benefits such as autophagy, which is the recycling and removal of old and defunct cells. The research on autophagy is in its infancy, but there is indication that it can stall the growth of cancer cells, increase liver health by preventing the progression of liver diseases, and there is evidence that autophagy may improve the outlook for cells with infectious and neurodegenerative diseases by controlling inflammation. For more information about fasting and its benefits, I recommend “The Complete Guide to Fasting” by Dr. Jason Fung. Humans can fast for long periods of time without having negative side effects.  

Resources to learn more: