Updated: Mar 20, 2020
What we eat is extremely important to our health. The nutrients in food enable the cells in our bodies to perform their necessary functions. Being aware of our diet has become more and more important everyday. There is a quote from the textbook Perspectives in Nutrition, written by Wardlow and Insel, that describes how the nutrients in food are essential for our physical functioning. "Nutrients are the nourishing substances in food that are essential for the growth, development and maintenance of body functions. Essential meaning that if a nutrient is not present, aspects of function and therefore human health decline. When nutrient intake does not regularly meet the nutrient needs dictated by the cell activity, the metabolic processes slow down or even stop."
By affirming and recognizing that, we can say that nutrients ‘give our bodies instructions’ about how to function. As an elite athlete I have always thought of food as the best way to recover and everything I consume is always meticulously calculated in order for me to achieve maximum performance in the pool. I do understand though that most people don’t worry as much as I do because they simply do not have the same need, essentially. Although you might not be an elite athlete or someone that is on a fitness journey to lose weight, I find it interesting to always be conscious and aware of what types of foods and drinks are going into our bodies given the considerations I showed in the last paragraph.
Thinking about food in this way gives us a view of nutrition that goes beyond calories or grams, good foods or bad foods. This view leads us to focus on foods we should include rather than foods to exclude.
In this article I want to touch on the subject of proper health and its relationship with our nutrition and how small everyday choices can make a huge impact in how we feel and perform at our jobs, sports, careers and lifestyle.
I want to start off with the example of our sugar intake. It is a known fact that many adults eat much more sugar than necessary, unfortunately. Reducing added sugar intake is without a doubt a very healthful idea for most people. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, estimate that adults in the United States get around 15% of their calories from added sugars alone. This sugar intake does not even include natural sugars, such as those in products such as fruit and milk - according to Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D. from Medical News Today.
Marengo also affirms that “replacing high sugar foods with healthful options can help a person get all of their essential vitamins and minerals without the added calories. It may also help them lose weight, if necessary.”
Cutting back on added sugar might seem complicated at first but it’s no monster, I guarantee. As I have mentioned in past articles, when I started lowering my added sugar intake I started small by quitting to add sugar/sweetener on my coffee. It might seem like a small thing but I promise I was able to change my entire lifestyle based on that.
Having a good reason behind the goal of cutting back the sugar intake will also be extremely helpful when adjusting to this type of diet. The primary goal of a low sugar diet is to maintain a healthy level of glucose in the body: High blood glucose levels can act negatively in a domino-like effect in the body, leading to a number of health complications. A low sugar diet has been known to help with and/or prevent diabetes, heart disease, brain health, mood levels, weight loss, inflammation, and even the health of your skin.
As an athlete, adapting to a new lower sugar diet has helped me in many ways. To start off, I noticed that my sleep and muscle recovery after hard sessions of training has been incredibly impacted, not only in a timely manner but in a qualitative aspect as well. Not only that, I started feeling more ‘refreshed’ as I like to say, for any activity of my life. Having to divide my time in between swimming workouts and my job as a Marketing & PR manager, I found it extremely beneficial to my productivity to have my sugar intake drastically decreased. It just “slows me down.”
I’d advise you to try it out and let me know how it goes. Whenever you start off, do so gradually. Alternating the diet plan or eating sugar on special occasions may help some people cope with the loss of sweetness in the diet. Cutting back on sugar is a great idea for many people, as it not only helps reduce the risk of many conditions but it can also improve one’s overall health.
Another thing I wish to bring up to the spotlight in terms of proper nutrition is my vitamin intake. Fruits, Vegetables, quality meats, cereal and quality nuts are awesome sources for essential vitamins to our bodies. According to an article from Harvard Health Publishing, “Vitamin and mineral supplements from a bottle simply can't match all the biologically active compounds teeming in a well-stocked pantry. By focusing on the big picture, it's easy to get plenty of the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients you need to keep you healthy and prevent disease. Vitamins are organic substances found in plants and animals. Minerals are inorganic elements from the earth (soil and water). Both are essential for normal growth and optimal health.”
I try and eat as “clean” as I can, at least for week-training days as I would call them. I won’t deny that every once in a while I let myself have some ice cream, or any sort of fried food. But at the end of the day, I have to make sure I am aware of what my goals are in terms of how my body feels and performs just so I can achieve my goals.
Home cooking is also my biggest ally in order to eat as healthy and clean as I can. While cooking at home I make sure I know exactly what’s going into my body. Adding less or no salt to my food and not using less ‘ready-to-go’ products is a good way to avoid too much sodium in my diet too.
Luckily, there are already healthier options of foods and drinks on the market that can help people get their essential vitamins and minerals without the extra calories from added sugar intake. Products like whole grain rice or pasta, oats, fat-free or low-fat dairy, zero-sugar yogurt are already available on any market and can drastically help with the switch to a low-sugar diet. If you ever feel like you don't have enough knowledge or time to adjust into a better nutrition schedule, I'd suggest finding a professional of that area to better help you achieve your specific goals.
In case you are like me and like to practice sports or physical activities on a daily basis, there are also electrolyte replacement products available that are low-sugar and low-calories. Hydra-Guard Sports Drink for example is a great way of replenishing your essential electrolytes after a workout but keeping the calorie count low and consuming only 5g of natural sugars per bottle. You could use the code PM10 for a special 10% discount on their website, and I also recommend you to subscribe to their newsletter because they are always releasing special codes for even higher discounts on their products.