What is Nutrition?

Nutrition is the name given to the process by which all living creatures absorb compounds essential for life. These compounds are known as nutrients and include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and water. With them, we can generate the energy we need to function, regulate and repair ourselves.

However, for optimum health, our bodies need other things as well, one of the most important of which is fiber. This is found only in plants – meat and fish do not contain any. Fiber is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet and helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers. It also improves digestive health.

Another essential element is calcium – a compound used to build and maintain bones. However, a nutritious diet is just one factor in achieving good health. It’s also important that the energy created by nutrition, i.e. calories, is actually used, i.e. we exercise. If it isn’t, two things happen:

The first is that we gain weight. This is due to the fact that our bodies store energy as fat in the anticipation that it may be needed at some other time – essentially, it’s a backup. Exactly the same thing happens if we eat too much – the body has more energy than it can use and rather than just throw it away, it stores it in the form of fat for a rainy day. Do this too often, as so many people do these days, and weight gain will be the inevitable result.

The second is that we become weak. This is because our bodies are controlled by muscles and without them we can do absolutely nothing. The more we use these muscles, the stronger and more efficient they become. This leads to increased physical strength, endurance and stamina. Our organs are controlled by muscles as well. For example, cardiac muscle in the heart is responsible for pumping blood around the body. The stronger all these muscles are, the greater the overall health of the body.

However, if we don’t exercise to use the energy, the opposite happens. Our muscles become weak and so we are able to do less physically – everything becomes an effort. More dangerous, however, is the effect on our vital organs, i.e. the heart, lungs, liver and the kidneys. Weak, under-used muscles in any of these results in reduced functionality that makes us feel unwell, restricts our ability to do basic things and, ultimately, are the cause of illness, disease and, all too often, premature death.

Our diets can also be affected by factors such as genetics, our environment, age and culture. Many people have to take these into account when deciding what they can and cannot eat. For example, there may be a family history of heart disease, or risk factors such as high blood pressure, that rule certain foods out. Young and active people need more food than older or less active ones. Also, people who are trying to lose weight can find it difficult to get the nutrients they need due to their necessarily restricted diet.

The information on this site shows how to ensure you have a healthy, balanced diet that will keep your body firing on all cylinders. This will, without doubt, be the single most effective thing you can do, to not just feel good but also vastly reduce the likelihood of getting dangerous conditions and diseases. The ones we are talking about are cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis. Currently, these are all rife, particularly in the western hemisphere, and ruin millions of lives every year. Much of it is preventable and a healthy diet is the starting point.

Some pertinent quotes:

“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food” – Hippocrates

“He who has health has hope, and he who has hope has everything.” – Arabian Proverb 

Fat – Why We Need It

The subject of dietary fat is very confusing to many people. Some experts say fat is good for us while others say the opposite. Some say we need a certain amount of one type of fat and less of another. What’s the truth though? Who do we believe?

Well, to start with, it’s an indisputable fact that fat is an absolutely essential part of our diets. It provides our bodies with energy and supports cell growth. It helps protect our organs, keeps our skin and hair healthy, and stops us getting cold by placing a layer of insulation directly under the skin. Fat helps us absorb nutrients, and much of a food’s flavor comes from the fat it contains.

However, it comes in several types and it’s this fact that causes much of the confusion. To get the benefits mentioned above, we need to eat the right types, and in the right proportions. Get either, or both, wrong and it can actually be extremely bad for us.

The four main types of fat are:

  •    Saturated fat
  •    Polyunsaturated fat
  •    Monounsaturated fat
  •    Trans-fats

These all have different chemical structures and physical properties. Lets take a look at each in more detail:

Saturated Fat
This is a type of fat that has two main sources. One is red meat – lamb and beef in particular. The other is vegetable oils – of these, palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil contain the most. In fact, coconut oil is nearly 90 percent saturated fat.

For many years now, the medical establishment has been telling us that saturated fat, especially from animals, raises the level of cholesterol in our blood. This supposedly increases our risk of getting cardiovascular disease. However, despite fierce resistance from these people, the current line of thinking is that the theory has been wrong right from the start. The truth of this is indicated by the fact that levels of heart disease and stroke have continued to rise despite food companies reducing the amount of saturated fat in their products.

In reality, saturated fat has been the fall guy for many years. It is actually very good for us but only when eaten in sensible quantities. Overdo it and you’re in trouble – no question. Don’t eat enough though and you miss out on a wide range of nutrients that are vital for your health and well-being. The key, as with most things in life, is finding the right balance.

Polyunsaturated Fats
This type of fat is found mostly in plant-based foods and oils, such as safflower oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, flaxseeds and nuts (especially walnuts). Plants apart, the best source is oily fish, such as salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel and herring.

Polyunsaturated fats provide a wide range of nutrients that help to develop and maintain the body’s cells. Vitamin E, for example – this is an antioxidant vitamin that many of us don’t get nearly enough of. They are also necessary for blood clotting and muscle movement.

A type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 is considered to be beneficial for a range of conditions that include Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, inflammation, diabetes and many more. Because of this, omega-3 fats are currently all the rage and the food companies are taking advantage by adding them to their products.

However, all is not as it seems – as ever, the food companies are being less than honest. To understand why, you need to know that there are actually three types of omega-3 fat:

  •    DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
  •    EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
  •    ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)

The main source of DHA and EPA is oily fish and it is these two omega-3 fats that confer the health benefits. ALA is sourced from plants and is far less effective. However, as it is much cheaper, it is ALA that the food companies add to their products and advertize for its ‘amazing health benefits’. Once again, a complete con!

A related issue here is that of omega-6 fats. When eaten in excess, as they typically are in the western diet, they can be very dangerous as we explain here.

Monounsaturated Fats
Monounsaturated fats are found in a variety of foods and oils. The latter include peanut, canola, sunflower and sesame oil. Another good source is nuts and seeds of all types. Yet another is olives and avocados.

The major benefit of eating these fats is that they are good for cardiovascular health. This is due to the protection they offer against metabolic syndrome – a term that covers a range of related disorders, such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Monounsaturated fats are also effective against insulin resistance, bone weakness, many cancers and mood issues such as anger and depression.

Trans-Fats
Trans-fats are made from vegetable oils in an industrial process known as hydrogenation. This involves adding hydrogen to vegetable oil which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature. The benefit it offers the food companies is that it doesn’t go off as quickly as natural oil does. As a result, foods made with it have a much longer shelf life.

Just one of the problems with these trans-fats is that they cause calcification in our veins and arteries. This narrows them, thus decreasing the space available for blood to flow. If an affected person then has a blood clot, particularly in one of the coronary arteries, a stroke, or even death, can be the result. Furthermore, studies have shown that trans-fat consumption can also cause Alzheimer’s disease, prostate and breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, liver dysfunction, infertility and depression.

Trans-fats are found in all types of processed food – baked goods (pies, bread, cakes, biscuits and muffins), snacks (popcorn, chocolate and potato chips), fried food (fish, doughnuts and chicken), plus many more. It is also a main ingredient in margarine.

Bottom Line
Limited amounts of saturated fat, animal or vegetable, are very good for us if not essential. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are also good for us and can be eaten more freely than saturated fat. Just remember they are fats and, as such, are fattening.

Trans-fats are a different story altogether and should be avoided like the plague. This means you should stop eating all processed foods as of now! While it is true the food companies are beginning to reduce the amount of trans-fats in their products, their use is still widespread and will be for a long time to come. 

Lose The Love Handles

By ‘love handle’ (also known as a spare tire), we mean the fat around the waist and hips. It tends to accumulate in this part of the body due to the close proximity of the liver, which is of course an organ that plays a major role in the processing of body fat.

Unfortunately, once a love handle has developed it can be extremely difficult to get rid of. In fact, it’s quite common for people to diet right down to their correct weight and still be left with a love handle, albeit a smaller one.

So, on to the million dollar question; the one we get asked more than any other. Is it possible to lose a love handle and, if so, how? The answer to the first part of the question is a straightforward yes; the answer to the second part is less so.

The first thing people need to be aware of is that it is simply not possible to target any specific part of the body with regard to losing fat. Basically, it’s all or nothing. If you take in less calories than your body needs, you will lose weight all over, including around the hips and waist. The same basic rule applies to exercise; despite what you will read on dozens of websites, there is no exercise that will get rid of fat anywhere on the body. Exercising will build muscle but it cannot remove fat.

What we are saying therefore, is that there is no magic panacea with regard to getting rid of a love handle. The only way to do it is to knuckle down and go on a weight-loss diet. As your body sheds the fat, your love handle will diminish – it’s as simple as that.

However, there are steps you can take that will help the process. These are as follows:

  • Stop eating junk food – junk food is basically the majority of what the processed food industry churns out. High in sugar and unhealthy fats, and low in nutrients, it is the major cause of the obesity crisis currently sweeping around the western world
  • Exercise more – simply going for a long walk and doing weight bearing exercises such as pull-ups, press-ups, planks and squats will help enormously. You don’t need a gym
  • Cut out alcohol – studies show that alcohol is one of the main offenders with regard to stomach fat. It contains a high amount of ’empty’ calories which don’t have any nutritional value. Women are more likely to store the fat created by surplus calories on their hips, thighs and arms, while men store it on their tummy, i.e. the ‘beer belly’
  • Get plenty of sleep – sleep is one of the most important aspects of overall health and wellbeing, especially when it comes to managing weight. In one study, it was shown that women who slept for less than five hours a night were significantly more likely to gain weight around their stomach than those who slept seven hours or more
  • Eat plenty of protein – there is evidence that suggests protein is a very important factor when it comes to losing stomach fat. Firstly, it releases the hormone PYY which sends a message to your brain that you’re full. Secondly, studies have been done that prove people with a high protein intake have lower levels of stomach fat
  • Stop counting calories – quit calorie counting and, instead, start eating a healthy diet comprised of unprocessed fresh foods, such as fish, eggs, meat and vegetables. Don’t be afraid of eating good fats, such as avocados, nuts and oily fish

We said at the beginning of this article that it’s quite common for people to diet right down to their correct weight and still be left with a love handle. So the only option for these people is to continue the diet until the love handle has gone completely. By the time they have achieved this, of course, they will be well under weight and probably looking somewhat skeletal.

It’s at this point that they have to start putting weight back on. However, it’s absolutely essential that they do so by only eating foods that contain healthy fats. Processed food will be a no-no. By eating healthy foods that are free of refined sugar and starches – in other words, eating as they should have done right from the start – they will be able to put on weight without developing another love handle.

Omega-6 Fats

We’ll begin this article by stating that fat is an absolutely essential part of the human diet – this is an indisputable fact. Not only does it provide our bodies with energy and support for cell growth, it helps protect our organs, keeps our skin and hair healthy, and stops us getting cold (by placing a layer of insulation directly under the skin). Fat helps us absorb nutrients, and much of a food’s flavor comes from the fat it contains.

Fat comes in many different types, the main ones of which we looked at here.  However, to get the benefits mentioned above, we need to eat the right types and in the right proportions. Get either, or both, wrong and it can actually be extremely bad for us. This applies particularly to a type called omega-6.

What are omega-6 fats?
Omega-6 fats, and a related type called omega-3, are a type of polyunsaturated fat – one that our bodies can’t make. This means we have to get them through our diet. However,  a crucial factor here is getting them in the right proportion. This should be approximately 4 of omega-6 to 1 of omega-3. If we eat them in this 4:1 proportion, in conjunction, they play a crucial role in the maintenance of good health.

If we don’t though, we leave ourselves open to a range of diseases and illnesses. Too much omega-3 isn’t a problem. The danger comes when an excess of omega-6 is eaten. As we have seen, the recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1 or less. Unfortunately, in the western diet, it is currently anywhere between 10:1 and 50:1.

Why are omega-6 fats dangerous?
The answer to this question can be summed up with just one word – inflammation. Omega-6 fats increase the risk of inflammation dramatically. When this happens to a person, their body’s response can eventually damage healthy cells, tissues and organs. Over time, this can lead to the following conditions, to name just some:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
  • macular degeneration
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • asthma
  • cancer
  • psychiatric disorders
  • autoimmune diseases

Furthermore, some of them can lead to more dangerous conditions. For example, obese people are very likely to end up with type 2 diabetes.

Which foods are high in omega-6 fats?
Another very easy question to answer – processed foods and deep fried foods. A very good example is the diet commonly eaten in the southern United States of America. This is rich in deeply fried foods, and people who eat it regularly have a 40 percent higher risk of stroke than those who don’t.

The processed food industry use unhealthy vegetable oils in virtually all their products for the simple reason they are the cheapest and most convenient available. Furthermore, the processing these already unhealthy oils are subjected to makes them even less healthy. The oils we are talking about are soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and corn oil.

How to optimize your omega ratio
One of the most effective measures is to eliminate all foods that contain the above-mentioned oils. To do this, simply examine product labels. Be warned though – these oils are present in virtually all processed food and so this will radically change your diet. Don’t be concerned about foods that contain coconut oil or olive oil though – these are both very good for you.

Another is to eat foods that are high in omega-3 fats. One of the best of which is meat, both red and white. One issue to be aware of here though, is that much of the meat in the supermarkets has been raised on a grain-based diet that usually contains soy and corn. This does reduce their content of omega-3. Therefore, meat from free-range, grass-fed sources is a much better choice – if available, If it isn’t though, even conventionally raised meat is good, as long as it is not highly processed as found in sausages, bacon and the like.

It’s also a good idea to eat free-range eggs which are higher in omega-3 fats than eggs from hens raised on grain-based feeds.

Eat seafood once or twice a week. Fatty fish like salmon (as long as they are not farmed) are particularly good sources. Alternatively, take a fish oil supplement such as cod liver oil.

There are also some plant sources of omega-3 fats – flax and chia seeds are two. However, these do contain a less effective type of omega-3 called ALA which our bodies cannot utilize as well as omega-3 from meat. For this reason, animal sources are usually better choices. However, vegan-friendly supplements containing EPA and DHA from algae are available.

It’s important to realize that benefiting from a diet low in omega-6 fats is a long-term process that will require permanent lifestyle changes. This is because most people have an immense amount of omega-6 in their body fat, and so it can take some time to get rid of it.

Bottom Line
The importance of correct omega-3 to omega-6 balance simply cannot be overstated. For people who want to increase their overall health and energy level, and prevent conditions like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s,  arthritis, diabetes, and a host of other diseases, one of the most important strategies at their disposal is to increase their intake of omega-3 fats and reduce their intake of omega-6 fats.