To Your Health
July, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 07)
The Science of Sustained Nutrition
By Clair Dainard, BSc
We eat for so many reasons - because we are happy, to reward ourselves, to relieve stress; sometimes simply because we are bored. With food being involved in so many aspects of our daily lives, it is easy to forget the real reason why we need to eat: to provide fuel for our body.
In today's busy world, many of us are plagued by low energy and constant stress. Unfortunately, this can often lead to poor food choices that can further impair our energy levels. The foods you eat throughout the day can help maintain energy as well as enhance your ability to cope with stress. By pairing the correct foods at the right times, you can enjoy the benefits of sustained energy throughout the day.
The Macronutrients: Carbs, Fats and Protein
Carbohydrates, fats, and protein are known as the energy-yielding nutrients. These are the dietary components your body can actually break down to create molecules of energy known as ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). While many diet plans emphasize focusing on one macronutrient over the others, a healthy diet represents balanced intake from all three groups. Lets take a quick look at each macronutrient and how it impacts energy levels.
Carbohydrates are often seen as your body's preferred source of energy because they can most easily be broken down to create ATP. In fact, for several of your body's tissues, including your brain, carbohydrates are actually the main source of fuel. Several years ago, carbohydrates got a bad reputation when they were highlighted as a cause of weight gain during the "low carb diet" trend. Unfortunately, this movement failed to elucidate the differences between "good" and "bad" carbohydrates and their relative impact on energy and overall health.
Simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, cookies, and anything made with refined flour, provide the body with a rapid rush of energy as they are quickly metabolized for fuel. Unfortunately, this energy rush is often followed by a fall in blood sugar, felt by the individual as an energy crash (and of course, hunger). This phenomenon is why a diet high in refined carbohydrates has been linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, and elevated triglycerides.
On the other hand, a diet high in complex carbohydrates - whole grains, fruits, and vegetables - can offer unlimited health benefits. These carbohydrate sources contain dietary fiber, which provides a slower release of energy and contributes to feelings of fullness and satiety. When selecting whole grains, look for options that provide at least 3-4 grams of fiber per serving and stay away from anything that lists "enriched flour" as a main ingredient. Fruits and vegetables, cooked or raw, are always a great option. However, stay away from fruit juices, which often contain added sugar and no fiber, as well as jams, jellies, and any other generally processed products.
Just like carbohydrates, fat has received some negative publicity when it comes to a healthy diet. However, fat is actually the most energy-sustaining nutrient since it provides 9 kilocalories (kcals) per gram (protein and carbohydrates only provide 4 each). Fat is also digested more slowly and when consumed correctly, can help provide a steady, slow release of energy and contribute to feelings of fullness.
Much like carbohydrates, when incorporating fat into your diet it is important to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fat sources. While saturated and hydrogenated fats can negatively affect health, omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish, can contribute to neurological and cardiovascular health.
Another form of healthy fats, MCTs or medium chain triglycerides, is metabolized differently by your body and provide unique energy-yielding benefits. As the name suggests, MCTs are shorter in size than the long-chain fatty acids consumed by in the average diet. While most dietary fat must travel through the lymphatic system before being metabolized in the liver, the smaller MCT molecules are almost immediately taken up by the hepatic metabolic enzymes, making them a very efficient fuel source. Studies have shown that a diet rich in MCTs can actually support weight loss.
MCTs can be found in coconut and palm oil. It is important to remember that MCTs are still a fat source and by nature are relatively calorically dense. Make sure that the MCT levels you consume still fall within your recommended daily calorie allowance.