There are a number of aspects of food and the food industry as a whole that affect our health. This article will be the last of a three-part series where we briefly examined the economic impacts of food, the environmental variables, then finally, here, the nutritional considerations of the way we eat.
Up until about 10,000 years ago humans survived mainly on hunting and gathering. We were nomadic, moving our families and homes to where food was. We ate what was available and hunted what we could. There were many instances of feast and famine. The agricultural revolution changed all of that. Whether agriculture was developed as a necessary tool to support population growth, or population growth was an outcome of agriculture is left to question. But what’s for certain is that after millions of years of human existence, the way we eat has been forever changed.
Nutritional Considerations and Our Choices
In his book Sapiens historian and author Yuval Noah Harari argues that early human hunter-gatherers had a much broader selection of foods than we do. Their diet consisted of a wide variety of fruits, nuts, various game meat, and vegetation. According to Harari, an unintended consequence of the agricultural revolution is an albeit more abundant, but less varied food pallet. However, some experts would argue that we have a wide variety of choices, but various aspects of culture, economics, and social norms have created a narrow field (food pun intended) of options.
What is unequivocally true is that many Americans suffer from a lack of nutrition, despite having access to more calories than ever. According to the CDC, 10% of Americans are deficient in number of different micronutrients like B6, Iron, and Vitamins C and D. These deficiencies are caused by both digestive ailments and lack of balanced food intake. The CDC also reports that on any given day over 1/3 of US children and adolescents eat fast food. The average American consumes three lbs of sugar every week–well over the (somewhat inflated) recommended allowance of sugar per day.
We have the knowledge, for most people we have access to a variety of healthy foods, so why then is obesity on the rise and metabolic syndrome ever more common in our communities?
Confused and Hungry
Diets or programs with specific guidelines and themes for eating are prolific in our culture. As fitness professionals, we know that they all have similarities; calorie control, reduced sugar, decreased processing, and macronutrient balance among other features. There are shortfalls to these programs, for example, lack of proper habit development or attention to the negative relationship to foods or eating. But there is also an undeniable, and almost immutable force with which we must contend with regard to nutritional considerations: human behavior.
We make approximately 35,000 decisions everyday, at least one every three seconds. Behavioral scientists suggest that over 90% of our decisions are left to our subconscious, and at the same time, we can easily suffer from what is called cognitive fatigue, also known as decision fatigue. So we can fight human nature, or try to leverage it.
That being said, using standard guidelines for macronutrient consumption is a popular, and generally effective way to help people maintain a balanced diet and healthy body weight. Ideally, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats can make up 50%, 30%, and 20% of someone’s intake respectively. Since we use approximately 20% of our calories simply to fuel our brain and base functions, carbohydrates and fats remain very important in our diet. Weight loss or weight gain objectives might require a different balance.
It’s also important to consider a balance of micronutrients. Some professionals spend years studying the makeup of various foods, proper balances, the hormonal effects of certain foods, not to mention the various additives that need to be considered. With an understanding that it might be hard to expect the average person to have an in-depth understanding of all of the vitamins and minerals that they need to balance in their diet, we can at least try to get a grasp on a few aspects.
For example, including whole grains, leafy greens, fresh fruits, and lean proteins. Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium, and Iron are all important parts of a nutrient-dense, healthy diet and help to maintain functions like sight, blood pressure, scar healing, and hair growth.
What To Do
Often, too much information, like too many diet choices, can have an adverse effect on our clients, success. Choice overload, and another phenomenon called loss aversion, can prevent a person from even trying to develop better eating habits. Delivering simple guidelines like those in the “My Plate” guide make it simple and easy for the general public to interpret the proper balance of macro and micronutrients. Diets might never be perfect for most people, but keeping it simple can help us all succeed.