Excess body weight is a contributing factor to many chronic diseases. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excess body weight increases an individual’s risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, liver and gallbladder disease, respiratory issues, sleep apnea, arthritis, and cancer, among other conditions.
For those struggling with excess weight, what is the best way to lose those excess pounds that contribute to the development of many of the chronic diseases people suffer today? Is the answer as simple as consuming fewer calories and exercising more? Or, should we shift our focus and consider what food means to the body to gain a better understanding of how the human body was designed to manage and maintain a healthy weight effectively?
Let’s take a look at two ways to think about the foods that we consume and the effect they have on the body…
Nutrients are chemical substances that are used by the human body to grow, develop, and sustain life. These nutrients are in the food we eat such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, meats, fish, nuts and seeds, and even in the water that we drink.
The human body requires many different nutrients to build and maintain proper body structure and function. When a required nutrient is not present in the diet, the body will make adjustments to maintain proper functions. For example, when calcium is not present in the diet, the body will take calcium stored in the bone to maintain other functions such as blood clotting, heartbeat, and muscle contractions. This “borrowing” of calcium weakens the bone structure.
Some research suggests that nutrient deficiency can lead to food cravings, which can lead to overeating and the consumption of highly processed food products that do not meet the nutrient needs of the body.
Although studies have not conclusively tied a particular nutrient deficiency with any one food craving, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has found that vitamin and mineral deficiencies can create food cravings.
One study highlights the theory that chocolate cravings may be motivated by a magnesium deficiency, as chocolate and cocoa contain fairly high concentrations of magnesium (100 mg/100 g and 520 mg/100 g, respectively). Further, this study communicated that when magnesium was supplemented, it lessened the chocolate cravings for some.
Energy-dense, nutrient-deficient diets, such as the Standard American Diet (SAD), can create nutrient deficient states in the body that negatively impact our metabolism and overall health and wellness. Further, low-fiber, highly-processed food diet, such as the SAD, can result in gut problems like leaky gut, which can inhibit proper nutrient absorption.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic, nutrient deficiencies can become the underlying cause of weight loss resistance in the body.
Dr. Hyman highlights these eight strategies to optimize nutrient levels to help burn fat, stabilize hormones, balance blood sugar, and build and maintain muscle mass:
1) Heal your gut by eating whole, unprocessed foods
2) Prioritize eating plant-based fats like EVOO, coconut oil, nuts and seeds
3) Eat protein at every meal (about 4-6 ounces, grass-finished or wild caught)
4) Consume nutrients like zinc and glutamine to heal the gut
5) To uncover deep-rooted issues work with a Functional Medicine Doctor
6) Manage stress levels (chronic stress can deplete nutrients like B vitamins)
7) Get proper sleep/rest
8) Exercise daily
Calories are a means of measuring energy intake and are defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 ml of water at 15 degrees Celsius by 1 degree Celsius.
The U.S. government, through the Dietary Guidelines, estimates caloric needs based on Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) equations, using reference heights and weights for each age/sex group. These calorie ranges are reported as 1,600 to 2,400 calories/day for women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories/day for men.
Many factors contribute to an individual’s caloric needs. A person’s age, sex, height, weight, level of physical activity, need to lose, maintain or gain weight, and other factors all contribute to how many calories an individual should consume daily.
Calorie tracking can be further complicated due to the processed food items that many regularly consume in America today. For example, one medium-sized apple contains about 95 calories, close to the same amount of calories found in 2-3 Apple Pie Oreo cookies. However, the way in which the body metabolizes (processes) the calories is quite different. Further, the apple contains nutrients that the body needs and recognizes to be used for proper growth and maintenance, while the cookie contains ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors, which have been found to cause dysfunction in the human body.
So, we can see with this simple comparison, the apple to the apple pie Oreo cookies that the body will process (metabolize) the same number of calories differently, depending on the form in which they are presented. This difference in processing (metabolizing), can lead to excess fat storage.
Further, if we use the apple to apple pie Oreo cookie calorie intake example, we can also see that when consuming the cookie, we do not get the valuable nutrients that we would if we were to eat the apple instead. Choosing the highly processed foods, such as the apple pie Oreo cookie, over a period can then lead to nutrient deficiencies.
According to The Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health, “For chronic disease prevention,…the quality and food sources of these nutrients matters more than their relative quantity in the diet. And the latest research suggests that the same diet quality message applies for weight control.”
Food, such as vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish and grass-finished animal products, is the means to fuel and support the proper growth, maintenance, and overall health of the human body, through the nutrients it contains.
Losing excess or unwanted pounds can be a difficult task.
However, when we better understand the types of foods that our bodies were created to “run” on and begin to make the better choices and consume the foods that fuel and support our body processes, we can begin to see progress toward a healthier body.
Psalm 65:9-13 “You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.”
Bruinsma, K., & Taren, D. L. (1999). Chocolate: Food or drug? American Dietetic Association.Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99(10), 1249-56. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/218393486?accountid=158302
Mahan, L., Escott-Stump, S. & Raymond, J. (2012) Krauses’s food and the nutrition care process (13th ed.). St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier