You are what you eat – so what are you?
We all love eating and drinking some things that we know we shouldn't. And that's OK, as long as it's in moderation. Yay! Nandos anyone? Eat too much of the wrong things and it will lead to weight gain or worse, health problems. But eat too little of the right things, and you've still got problems.
There's a worrying trend, especially among young people including dancers, to follow the latest fad diet in an effort to lose weight or maintain weight – no carbs, no protein, no fat / low fat, cabbage soup, fasting, boiled eggs and lettuce... and so on. NO!
There are 50 nutrients classed as ‘essential’ that are required by your body in order to function adequately. These include carbohydrate, protein, fats, fibre, water, minerals, vitamins, as well as sunlight (so no hiding away in front of your TV or tablet for days on end). Each of these nutrients works in synergy with one another, some requiring the presence of others in order to function at all. Every single cell in your body is made up of molecules derived from the food we eat (carbohydrates, protein, fats) and the substances we drink (water).
Balance, variety and moderation are the key words to achieving good eating, not repetition, limitation or abstinence. The latter will only lead to misery, feelings of deprivation and perhaps binge-eating. But as obvious as a healthy and balanced approach to eating seems, in practice it's all quite different.
Carbs are a good thing... honest!
We've all tried it – ditch the carbs because they're bad. Not true. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel for energy and should play a significant part of your diet. This means bread isn't off the menu, neither is pasta, rice, potatoes and cereals, but go easy on the sauces and the toppings as this where most of the calories come from. You should also get carbs from other sources such as fruits, and green and root vegetables.
Carbs combine with oxygen and are ultimately changed to glucose, which is then converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles until required. This is why carbohydrates are the preferred food of athletes, who often carbo-load before a race or meet to ensure adequate energy supplies. Of course, excess carbohydrate intake over and above the energy your use in the day leads to the glucose being stored as fat instead, resulting in weight gain. So go easy on that pasta.
So, as a dancer, you really need to include 'good' carbs into your diet to give you the fuel you need to get through those energetic dance lessons and competitions. You can still enjoy what are called refined carbohydrates though – sugar, cakes, biscuits, sweetbreads, pastries, chocolate bars, desserts and candy – but in sensible quantities. Eating too much of the wrong type of carbohydrate can lead to weight gain and, in severe circumstances, health problems such as adult-onset diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
Protein is the family name for a group of chemicals called amino acids, vital for the development, growth and repair of all the cells, muscles and organs within your body. Approximately half of the body’s total protein content is found in your muscles and skin.
Protein molecules are required for a healthy immune system, and receptors which carry information between and within your body's cells, plus a whole range of other necessary substances. So, it's essential that you include sufficient ‘high biological value’ (HBV) protein in your diet from sources such meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs. With more people going vegetarian and vegan, you can still get good levels of protein from soya products, beans and lentils. Quorn is also considered a 'complete' protein as it contains all eight essential amino acids, so include these other great protein sources into your diet.
The fear of fats
Finally, let’s discuss the scary word 'fat'. But is it really? The body is approximately 13% fat – not as horrific as it sounds, even in these media-pressured days that make us all feel the need to be model thin. The body absolutely needs a certain amount of fat in order to function, and 'good sources' need to be incorporated into your healthy eating plan.
Fats are distributed throughout the body’s cells to fulfil an enormous number of vital functions. The fats you eat mix with oxygen to provide the body's cells with energy, and they are a carrier for the neccesary fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. A healthy level of body fat is a structural component of brain tissue, and provides an important protective layer around the body’s essential organs and nerves.
There are 'good' fats and not so good fats. All foods contain a mix of saturated and unsaturated fat – saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature (i.e. lard, butter, meat fat, cheese, cream, full fat milk) while unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature (i.e. corn oil, vegetable oil, rapeseed, olive oil). Saturated fats are known to elevate total blood cholesterol levels, which can ultimately lead to heart disease, and should therefore be eaten in moderation. Therefore, limit the chips, crisps, fried foods in general, and extras such as excessive mayonnaise and cheese.
On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats play a vital role in many of the body’s key metabolic processes. Divided into two groups known as Omega-3 and Omega-6, they are essential for the brain, plus the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems and the skin. You've probably seen these products on the pharmacy shelves in supermarkets. Principle sources are plant oils, nuts and seeds, and oily fish such salmon.
Vital Vits & Mins
Most of us at one time or another have taken supplmental vitamins and mineral tablets on a daily basis. And you've most likely noticed the promotional messages on your breakfast cereal boxes that they are 'fortified with iron and B vitamins.
Vitamins are a diverse group of complex, organic substances that contain vital nutrients essential for maintaining optimum bodily health, growth and systemic function, and are obtained via the foods you eat. Each one performs a different function within the body, including acting as antioxidants. Like vitamins, minerals are essential for systemic functioning of the body, yet amazingly much of the UK population is deficient of one or more minerals as well as vitamins.
But this is a huge and really important subject, so we'll come back to this another time.
The last 3 letters of Treat are EAT!
Your body is composed of approximately 63% water, 22% protein, 13% fat, and 2% vitamins and minerals. Which, in a nutritious nutshell, means you should be ensuring your diet is a combination of all these elements.
Of course, what we eat not only fuels the body and ensures effective development of bones and tissue, what we eat can also poison the body and inhibit functionality. An excess build-up of toxins and poisons (i.e. alcohol), an acid build-up from an excessive consumption of acid-forming foods (i.e. concentrated proteins such as meat, fish, eggs, and cheese), or ineffective digestion (which leads to fermentation and/or putrefaction) all lead to bigger health problems.
It's therefore imperative that we pursue what some have dubbed ‘optimum nutrition’; a varied but considered approach to eating in order to provide our bodies with an abundance of all the essential nutrients. This is achieved only by ensuring you have a varied diet comprised of the following five food groups:
- Bread, rice, pasta, cereals and potatoes (33% of dietary intake)
- Fruit and vegetables (33% of dietary intake)
- Milk and dairy products (15% of dietary intake)
- Meat, fish and alternatives such as soya, beans, nuts, seeds and pulses (12% of dietary intake)
- Fatty and sugary foods (8% of dietary intake)
It's important not to knock out whole food groups, and don't feel guilty about enjoying a few treats. It's allowed! Just eat and drink those treats in moderation. Food is fuel, and eating is a balancing act: Upset the balance and the body falters.
So eat, enjoy, love yourself, your body, and your life! But, remember, you are what you eat - just don't be a bucket of KFC, or a barrel of lager! :-)
Author: Allie Mae Taylor
Not only is Allie Mae UDO's Marketing Manager, but she also has Diplomas in Sports Nutrition, and Diet & Nutrition
#healthyeating #optimumnutrition #youarewhatyoueat