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November 27, 2012 / jeremycarr

Science of Nutrition- Part 1

I have an insatiable thirst to drink deeply from the well of life. Energy and a sharp mind are the critical daily building blocks that make everything possible. For most of my life I’ve done an ok job with what I eat, but have largely ignored nutrition… Well hang on, isn’t nutrition a critical driver of energy and sharpness of mind, what gives!? In the spirit of holiday self improvement, I want to make some renovations and upgrade my dietary powerplant!

It’s incredibly difficult in the modern age to tell up from down with nutrition; there’s a new revolutionary diet, evil ingredient, or blessed nutrient coming out every week. Certainly different people need different nutrition, and different types of food have different purposes in one’s diet. Nonetheless, I wanted to be a little more cognizant of how what I eat is impacting me. To understand is to know what to do; I want to build a helpful framework for thinking about my nutrition.

I set out with the goal of understanding how my diet might help me have more consistent energy, a sharper mind, and contribute to my longterm wellbeing; not to create a strict diet. As I dug in, I found it helpful to think of nutrition on two dimensions- nutrients and energy (see part 2).

Nutrients

The ingredients of a long, healthy life: anti-oxidents, anti-cancer, omega-3, calcium… There are a plethora of positive nutrients generally best sourced from a balanced diet of whole foods, but supplements are ok in a pinch. There were a few nutrients in particular I needed to be mindful of:

Omega-3: There are two critical Omega-3 fatty acids- EPA and DHA. Omega-3 (fish, flax) increases immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth. Unfortunately many Omega-6 fats (refined vegetable oil, nuts) while lowering blood cholesterol, also increase inflammation, inhibit blood clotting, and cause cell proliferation.  Japan is the closest to the ideal ratio of 4:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3, while the US clocks in at… 19:1. Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 is critical for health, so I’m taking 2 gram/day fish oil supplement (increase Omega-3), while cutting oily fried food and reducing red meat from my diet (decrease Omega-6).

Calcium: Calcium is important for nerves, muscle function, and bone strength. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium most efficiently. Unfortunately, I’m lactose intolerant and can’t have dairy/cheese, a chief source of calcium. There are other ways to get calcium (yogurt, tofu top the list)… but I’m almost certainly deficient, so I will take a supplement.

Vitamin B12: This vitamin is critically important for neurological function, the nervous system, and red blood cell formation. Typically found in meat and dairy, but unfortunately not vegetables. Generally difficult to get sufficient from anything other than fortified cereal… I’ll be covered with a multivitamin.

Potential Anti-Nutrients

I also found two important types of food to treat with care:

Sugar (careful): Aside from the havoc sugar wreaks on energy levels (see part 2), sugar also has other negative effects including contributing to the development of hypoglycemia and diabetes. Cleverly replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners (aspartame, saccharin, etc)?  With minimal health risks according to the FDA, I’m nevertheless skeptical.

Red Meat (careful): Red meat is protein and iron rich, however there are a few gotchas to keep an eye out for. Firstly, red meat can be deceptively high in saturated fats, so it’s important to keep an eye out for lean cuts. Secondly, Omega-3’s are so important because grain fed meat has an extremely high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio (20+:1) compared to grass fed meat (3:1).  Thirdly, red meat has a variety of general health risks.

In part 2I went on to explore the effects diet has on energy levels.

Lessons Learned

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6 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. JG / Nov 28 2012 9:14 pm

    Easiest way to greatly reduce your sugar consumption: stop drinking soda and “energy” drinks.

    The better thing to do: give up all caffeine.

    I did this and my body loves me.

    • NBI / Dec 20 2012 3:25 pm

      But caffeine and sugar are two different things. Although they are often packaged together, and we could entertain the idea of caffeine being another potential anti-nutrient, I think they should be discussed separately.

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  4. http://www.Gamezebo.com/ / Apr 14 2014 1:31 pm

    Very good post. I am dealing with a few of these issues as
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  1. Science of Nutrition- Part 2 « Simple Chaos

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