Proper Nutrition in a Nutshell

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Well, today I’ve decided that what I want to spend a little time writing about is food and nutrition in general. I’ve had many conversations with people that are looking to lose some weight, look healthier and feel healthier, but they just don’t seem to properly understand what a good healthy diet looks like. With the modern society that we live in, especially in North America, good information about proper eating can be hard to come by because so much is influenced by the profit of big corporations. So big corporations will always try to sell you on some miracle ingredient, fad diet or expensive supplement, and in the grocery stores, even the foods that are marketed as diet foods are not always the best choices for improving the health of your body.

So where do we begin?

Well, let’s start with the basics and cover the 3 macronutrients which we as humans consume on a daily basis for nourishment and sustenance. For anyone that’s unfamiliar with what a macronutrient is, well, this is typically broken down into 3 categories; carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Let’s talk about these in a little more detail.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a staple of the modern human diet. Carbohydrates are converted by the body into glucose which is then used to support bodily functions, the brain and it can also be stored within your muscles to provide fuel to the muscles during strenuous exercise.  The National Institute of Health recommends that the average human’s diet consists of 45-65% carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates can come from a number of very healthy and very unhealthy sources, so making sure that you are eating healthy sources of carbohydrates is actually way more important than just trying to eat a certain quantity of carbs. Every gram of carbohydrate that is consumed is equal to 4 calories of energy for the body.

Healthy Carbs – Healthy carbs are generally fibrous carbs that are slow to digest within the human body, therefore releasing energy slowly over time rather than in one big energy spike. A slower absorption of carbohydrate will create a smaller spike in insulin levels and less of the digested carbohydrate will be stored in the body as that hard-to-lose fat. It also facilitates better overall health because insulin resistance will be minimised this way and you will have a much lower risk of developing debilitating chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.  Some examples of wholesome and nutritional carbohydrates include; brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole oats, whole grain cereals and pasta, lentils, legumes (beans), fruits and vegetables.

Unhealthy Carbs – Unhealthy carbs, on the other hand, are digested by the body far too quickly because they have usually already gone through some sort of processing in a factory and have been stripped of most of their fibre and nutrition. This ends up spiking the glucose levels in your blood and your insulin levels, leading to further insulin resistance over time and weight gain. White bread, white flour and white rice can all be just as hard on your body as sugar, although sugar is by far the one carbohydrate that everybody should strive to minimise within their diet as much as possible. Even fruit juices are hard on the body because all of the fibre that was in the fruit has been stripped away and it’s essentially just the sugar from the fruit that is left within the juice. It’s far better to eat your fruits than to drink them.

Fats

Fats, like carbs, can be both a good and a bad thing for the human body depending on the type of fats that you are taking in and the quantities in which you are consuming them. There are healthy, heart-friendly fats that are beneficial to both your cardiovascular system and your brain. These fats are mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are found in fish, nuts, avocados and certain oils like olive oil. Also, there are unhealthy fats such as Saturated and Trans fats which, in abundance, can lead to cardiovascular issues, cholesterol problems and plaque build up within the arteries. Trans fats are artificial fats that are created within the food industry by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils to make the oil more solid. It is sometimes used to improve the texture of certain foods. Saturated fats are often found in foods such as butter, red meats like beef and pork, and peanuts. Unlike carbohydrates and protein, fat is very calorie-dense and contains 9 calories of energy per 1 gram of fat and this is why fat foods can really put you over your daily calorie goals.

The best way to manage your fat intake for optimal health is to stay clear of the bad fats as much as possible and to indulge in some healthy fats to make sure that your body is getting the fat that it needs to operate efficiently.

Protein

Last on the list is protein. Protein is found throughout the human body in abundance. It’s in our skin, muscle tissue, organs, hair, bones, etc. Protein consists of a group of amino acids which are required for many important functions within the human body, including muscle and tissue repair, but also maintenance of the bodies haemoglobin that accommodates proper oxygen circulation in the blood and other chemical reactions within the body. Protein can also come from good and bad sources, just like the other two macronutrients that we’ve covered already. This is mainly because of the fat content associated with certain types of protein. Like carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein will provide the body with about 4 calories of energy.

The healthiest options for protein sources are lean meats such as poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, and healthy sources of protein can also be found in beans and lentils along with some carbohydrates.

The least healthy options for protein would be sources that come with a lot of unhealthy fats, such as deep-fried meats, big cuts of red meats like steak, and way too many eggs. This doesn’t mean that these sources can’t be enjoyed in moderation, but being aware of what you eat and how much you eat of it is the key to maintaining a healthy balance in your diet so that you can live a healthy life and feel great also.

Fibre, Micronutrients and Staying Hydrated

Last but not least are a few other components of a healthy diet that are worth mentioning so that nothing is left out.

Fibre – It’s very important that adequate fibre is consumed on a daily basis to not only ensure that what you consume is moving through your body easily, but also because it helps to clean out the intestinal tract and it can help improve the body’s cholesterol levels. 1 gram of fibre is recommended for every 100 calories consumed in a day, so an individual that consumes 2700 calories on a daily basis should aim for 27g of fibre in their diet to go along with that. This will help to keep the body operating efficiently.

Water Intake – This actually pairs well with fibre recommendations because the more fibre that you take in the more water you need to keep everything moving properly also. For Men, about 3 litres of water is recommended daily for proper hydration and for women it’s slightly less at about 2.2 litres of water. Staying hydrated is important for all areas of function in the human body. Digestion, cognitive thought, detoxification and physical exercise. If you don’t think that water is important for keeping the body clean and operating efficiently, just try washing your dishes without water one night and see how far you get.

Micronutrients – Now lastly, micronutrients. These are your vitamins and minerals which the body needs to operate at its best. Some of these can be acquired through vitamin pills and supplements, but everyone should aim to acquire a good portion of these nutrients through their daily food intake. This means vegetable and fruit sources. Also, it’s important to vary these sources to ensure that you’re receiving a variety of micronutrients. Try eating vegetables and fruits of all different colours and tastes. If you’re a person that doesn’t like to eat too many veggies on a daily basis, well today is always a good day to start, and after a few weeks or months of putting in that effort, you might actually grow a taste for them. I know that when I was a kid I couldn’t stand vegetables and avoided them at all costs, but now as an adult, I feel a little cheated if my meal doesn’t include some nutritious vegetables in the mix.

Finally, it’s important to remember that just because you want to make a change to eat healthier does not mean that you have to cut out entirely those foods that bring you so much pleasure right now. Creating a sustainable and balanced diet that you can carry on following for the rest of your life requires a bit of flexibility from time to time.  A great sustainable diet does not need to feel like a chore. Make little improvements week to week so that the transition to healthy eating feels natural rather than a shock to the system but keep in mind your ultimate goal of where you want to be. Always remember the benefits of eating clean for both yourself and your family, so that everyone in your life can enjoy life to the fullest. Eating doesn’t have to taste bland, but it should provide the body with the energy and nutrition that it needs to operate at it’s best.

Intermittent Fasting and My Experience So Far

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I have not yet made a post about this, but over the past 12 weeks, I have been on a quest to get into the best shape of my life. I am a major health and nutrition geek and I have slowly been making changes to my diet and lifestyle over the years to create something very healthy, enjoyable and effective, which is also sustainable over the long-term.

The most recent change that I have made to my daily eating regime has been to squeeze my daily calorie intake into an 8-hour window so that my body is in a fasted state for 16 hours every day. So typically, for myself, I’m eating every day between the hours of noon and 8 pm. Outside of those hours, I am able to drink black coffee in the mornings, carbonated water like Perrier and herbal teas that don’t have any added sugars or calories. It has only been about 11 days for me so far, but I have found this eating regime to be extremely effective, easy to maintain and actually quite enjoyable. The best thing about intermittent fasting is that if you are putting your body into a calorie deficit, it hardly feels like you are because by the time lunch time comes around, you have so many calories to squeeze into your 8-hour window that your meals feel quite large and very satisfying.

Now, besides intermittent fasting being a great tool to use when trying to cut down on body fat, it also has a slew of health benefits that can help you to live a healthier and longer life.  This is also a very important aspect of this eating regime for myself, and one of the biggest reasons why I’m likely to keep this regime up for months and possibly years to come, even while trying to gain lean mass.

Here are a few of the benefits of following an intermittent fasting eating regime:

Intermittent Fasting Alters the Function of your Cells, Genes and Hormones

While in a fasted state, your body will change the way that it operates at a cellular level. Since it does not need to spend so much energy on digestion it can focus more of its energy towards things like cellular repairs and it will alter hormones so that fat becomes a more easily accessible source of energy for the body.

Blood levels of insulin will drop significantly, which aids in fat metabolism.

Blood levels of Human Growth Hormone can increase drastically, as much as 5 times normal, and this can aid in muscle growth, fat loss and has numerous other benefits to the body.

The body will become much more efficient at removing waste at a cellular level and repairing cellular damage.

There are beneficial changes that can occur within several genes and molecules related to longevity and disease protection.

Intermittent Fasting Boosts Metabolism and Facilitates Increased Fat Loss

Due to lower insulin levels, higher Human Growth Hormone and increased amounts of norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, the body becomes much more efficient at metabolising fat and using it as a source of energy for the body.

Short-term fasting has been shown to actually increase the metabolic rate in humans by 3.6%-14% because of these physiological changes in the body, and since it’s harder to pack in the calories during an 8-hour eating window, most people also take in fewer calories than they normally would be able to eat in a day. Which means more calories out and fewer calories in.

One study has even shown that intermittent fasting can reduce muscle loss during calorie restriction when compared to daily calorie restriction in general.

Intermittent Fasting Can Lower the Risk of Developing Type-2 Diabetes by reducing Insulin Resistance

Intermittent fasting can help the body to lower and stabilise blood sugar levels in humans.

Some studies have shown reductions in fasting blood sugar levels by 3-6% and fasting insulin levels of 20-31%.

One study in diabetic rats also showed that intermittent fasting protected against kidney damage, one of the most severe complications of diabetes.

Intermittent Fasting Reduces Oxidative Stress on the Body

Studies have shown that the bodies ability to fight free radicals can improve while following an intermittent fasting eating regime and that markers of inflammation are also reduced. Both of these factors lead towards ageing of the body through damage to the cells within and can lead to health issues and diseases.

Intermittent Fasting Can Improve Heart Health

Intermittent Fasting has been shown to improve blood pressure, lower over and LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers and blood sugar levels in animals leading to overall improved heart health.

More scientific studies are still needed to be performed on humans, however.

Also…

Intermittent fasting may provide a host of other health benefits such as a reduction in the risk for many types of cancers, improved brain function, prevention of Alzheimers disease and lifespan extension.

And Finally…

So for these reasons, and to meet personal fitness goals that I have set for myself, I have decided to follow an Intermittent Fasting eating schedule. So far in my experience, the benefits have all been positive. In the first few days, I would feel a little hungry in the morning, especially a few hours before I would break my fast, but the body adapts to this eating routine eventually and the hunger becomes more and more bearable, often even non-existent. During the fasted state I feel sharp, focused and productive with energy to spare most of the time. After I break my fast, my energy levels skyrocket again and I continue to feel great. One of my worst eating habits before had been late night snacking and this pretty much has crushed that problem for me. At the end of the day, I like to stuff myself with something very thick and filling like a big bowl of oatmeal with lots of fruit and cottage cheese just to make me feel really full before I begin the next fasting phase. This helps to keep me from feeling hungry late at night.

Overall, I love Intermittent Fasting at this point and plan to keep it up for the foreseeable future. I enjoy eating fewer but much larger meals. I enjoy cooking less frequently and having fewer dishes to clean on a regular basis. It simplifies my mornings and my life in general. I would recommend this regime to anyone that feels like experimenting with new methods for improving their health or physique. There is a lot of great information on the web and quite a few studies proving the benefits of this choice of lifestyle. I will add a blog post of my progress pictures at some point for anyone interested in following me through this journey. I hope you learned something!

Week 12 of New Fitness Kick

12 days of intermittent fasting. 12 weeks of tracking my macronutrients. Looking to get into the best shape of my life. Still so far to go, but happy with the results.

Sources:

https://authoritynutrition.com/10-health-benefits-of-intermittent-fasting/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-intermittent-fasting-might-help-you-live-longer-healthier-life/

http://www.livescience.com/48888-intermittent-fasting-benefits-weight-loss.html

Benefits of Meditation

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Most people have some idea of what meditation is. However, a lot of people in the Western world have no idea why one would decide to pursue meditation or what the overall health benefits of meditation are, both mental and physical. So, today I would like to explore this subject a little bit and share some of that information with the world.

First of all, I would like to explain what meditation is to those of you who may be unfamiliar with the practice.

Sure, it looks like simply sitting in a quiet room with your legs crossed for a long period of time, but there is more to it and the benefits of meditation can actually have a profound impact upon your life. In the typical, untrained mind-state the brain is very active, unfocused and emotionally reactive to the events that occur in day-to-day life. Meditation is about pulling away from that emotionally reactive mind-state and giving yourself the ability to see situations with more clarity, from a less biased perspective and to be less affected by the negative occurrences that are natural to humanity. We spend so much time within our own ego, our own perspective, that we sometimes get tunnel vision and miss out on the bigger picture. Understanding the bigger picture can put our difficulties into perspective and bring us greater peace of mind, and a more profound sense of well-being.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing on something, whether that’s your breathing, a spot on the floor, a candle etc., and then while focusing on this object or action – allowing your mind to become a blank slate. When a thought enters the mind, you recognize that you are thinking and then let that thought go, re-focus on whatever it is you were before and make your mind a blank slate again. This will likely be very challenging in the beginning, yet it becomes easier and easier with time alongside the benefits of the meditation itself. One can easily sit on a pillow or folded blanket to keep their rear from getting too sore and there are many different methods of meditation that can be found on websites like Youtube to meet your personal preferences. The more that you enjoy your meditation practice, the more noticeable the benefits will be in your life.

As your meditation practice develops, so will your ability to make critical decisions in stressful situations. Your overall sense of awareness will be more advanced. You will have enhanced focus and improved determination. Your understanding of both the world and yourself will change and evolve. Your mind will become more calm and quiet. If you are the type of person that suffers from anxiety or is guilty of over-thinking things then meditation could be your best friend. Meditation is about seeing the truth in reality. It helps us to see the difference between what is important in life and what is not. It also helps us to be more present in life. It helps us to live in the moment and to spend less time inside of our heads thinking about the past or dreaming about the future. It allows us to use our precious time on Earth more wisely by making the right choices at the best possible times and in the most appropriate ways. It allows for insight and perspective. Perspective that is not necessarily our own, but that of the Universe. An outside perspective without the ego attachments. It can also increase the compassion that you have for others and your capabilities for empathy.

Studies have shown that meditating as little as 20 minutes per day can begin to yield benefits in a person within just a few weeks. Don’t stress about hitting that 20 minutes every day though, even if you are super busy and can only squeeze in 5 or 10 minutes on occasion it is still better than nothing at all. You will still end up with your results, maybe it will just take a little longer. If you feel like stretching it to an hour, then go for it! It’s all personal preference.

Personally, I have found my experience with meditation to sort of be like my experience with physical fitness. The first few weeks are challenging while your mind adjusts to the new routine, but after it becomes a part of your daily life and the benefits start to appear, it becomes a pleasurable part of the day that is looked forward to. The mind just needs to become accustomed to this new habit.

The Benefits

More and more, Science has become a strong supporter of the benefits of meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven to not only increase the overall mental well-being of the practitioner, but science has proven that meditation can actually increase the volume and density of brain matter in an individual. It can actually decrease the degradation of the brain with age also, preserving more grey matter in the long run.

Mindfulness meditation has been proven to decrease activity in the “me” centers of the brain that affect self-referential thought and mind-wandering. Mind-wandering is typically associated with less happy thoughts and so it is the goal for many people to dial this thought-process down.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to match anti-depressants in battling depression, anxiety and pain.

Regular meditation practice has been found to increase the cortical thickness of the hippocampus in the brain which is responsible for memory and learning. It has also been shown to reduce the size of the amygdala which is responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.

In just a few weeks meditation can help to improve concentration and attention spans because of the focus that meditation requires to concentrate on an object or thought or activity.

Meditation can help with addiction because of it’s affects on the control-regions of the brain. Those who meditate are many times more likely to be able to follow through with their plans of abstinence then those who do not practice meditation.

Short meditation breaks have even been shown to increase good behavior in children if implemented in to their daily school rituals. One district in San Francisco started a twice daily meditation program in some of its high-risk schools – and saw suspensions decrease, and GPAs and attendance increase. This will take some time before this practice gains more widespread acceptance.

In Summary

The benefits of meditation are becoming more and more established in the scientific world. It is one of the cheapest and easiest methods available to all, to increase your quality of life. Meditation does not require any special tools or equipment. The practice can be accomplished at any time, in any location. The benefits are the same whether you are rich, or whether you are destitute. Ultimately you need to be the one that decides whether meditation is right for you, however, before deciding that it is not, why not give it a try and decide based on experience? You have nothing to lose except for 10-20 minutes per day and everything to gain. It might possibly be just the activity that you were missing in your life.