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Psychiatry & Psychology
By: Dian Shepperson Mills, Cert. Ed., B.A., Dip ION, ITEC, M.A.,
OBGYN.net Nutririon Correspondent
Information Manager, Medical/Nutrition Library Resource
Lamberts Library Trust, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK
Your body is made from all the foodstuffs which you have eaten in the recent past and the water you have drunk. We are almost 60 per cent water, 23 per cent protein, 14 per cent fats and 3 per cent minerals. The quality of what you put into yourself is obviously a key to the health of the cells and tissues which are built from this daily intake. What should we be eating to maintain good health? We hear constantly that if we eat a balanced diet we will be fine. But what exactly does that mean.? "Many people regard healthy eating as difficult to achieve and that it requires great psychological effort to maintain a healthy change" (6).
People worry about their ideas of time in food preparation, self-control, and the cost of fresh food as obstacles, and the fact that "the experts keep changing their minds" as another 'fad' comes into vogue. Indeed sometimes mixed messages are given which can be totally confusing. In the end people feel bamboozled and give up, and just continue eating the foods they have grown up with and those which they enjoy.
In the UK the Balance of Good Health uses a picture of a plate divided into five segments with foods grouped into: fruit and vegetables, bread and other cereals and potatoes; milk and dairy foods; fatty and sugary foods; meat, fish and alternatives. In the USA the fourth edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans use a Food Pyramid (Fig 8.1) to emphasise the number of servings recommended from six food groups to meet the guidleines (7). For our purposes we will use the Food Pyramid as it comes closer to the desired intake of nutrients. Later on we look at what foods should be eaten to maintain health. By looking at the diagram of the food pyramid it can be seen that we need to keep variety at the forefront of our choice of foods. The guidleines are as follows:
- Drink one litre of fresh filtered water each day
- Eat 3-4 helpings of fresh green leafy vegetables per day, 2 servings of red-orange vegetables and 2 pieces of fresh fruit
- Eat 2-3 servings of wholegrain cereals such as rice, oats, rye, corn, millet, quinoa or wheat , unless you are grain intolerant. Then you can use root vegetables, sago, tapioca or arrowroot, banana or chestnut flours..
- Eat 30gms of fibre foods each day, this would come from the fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals or nuts and seeds.
- Eat some complex carbohydrate foods daily such as cereals, root vegetables, or pulse vegetables (legumes) as this supplies slow-releasing sugars into the body to sustain energy levels
- Eat 1 tablespoon of fresh cold pressed oils each day from sesame, sunflower, safflower, olive or eat seeds and nuts or use 1 tablespoon of ground linseeds with breakfast. Avoid trans fats.
- Eat some 50-75gm of protein foods per day, choosing from a variety of sources so that we take in a wide range of amino acids e.g. pulse vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, eggs, dairy foods (cow, goat and ewes) and fresh fish or lean organic meats.
The foodstuffs we eat are divided into different groups by their chemical structure and the way in which they act when metabolised by the body. The main divisions are: 1) Macro-nutrients comprising of the proteins, carbohydrates and fats, 2) Micro-nutrients which consists of tiny amounts of vitamins and minerals, essential oils and phytochemicals. There are also the non-digestible fibres and water which we require to stay healthy. Eating a balanced diet just means that we have to choose wisely from all these areas and not eat too much of one thing all the time, but maintain a variety. Variety ensures that the nutrients are taken in from a wide list of foods.
Protein is Greek for 'I am first'. These are the building blocks of life, without them we cannot build new cells, tissues, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, macrophages and neurotransmitters. Twenty-two amino-acids are known and in different combinations they build new cells. Think of the 26 letters of the alphabet and of a number of words in a dictionary. Then you can imagine the many uses of amino acids joined together in chains, the variety is almost endless. Therefore the quality of the protein which you eat should be the best. Fifteen per cent of our daily food intake should be protein, around 75 grams or 3 ounces, depending on body build. This should come mainly from vegetable sources, with meat, eggs, dairy foods and fish being eaten only occasionally.
Animal protein foods are rich in saturated fats (which need to be kept low). Include in the diet small amounts of organic pork, lamb and dairy produce from cows, sheep and goats in order to keep saturated fats levels low. Chicken, turkey, venison, game birds, eggs may be eaten to provide protein as they are lower in saturated fats. Remember that fibrous foods bind to cholesterol and oestrogen to remove it from the body, so by balancing fatty foods with say, oats and legumes you are allowing the body to maintain its homeostasis naturally. Vegetable proteins are found in pulse/legume vegetables (peas, beans and lentils), a few in seed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) and the wholegrain cereals, and of course nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds contain the good quality cis-oils which our cells so desparately need. If you are vegetarian or vegan you need to take in sufficient vegetables and grains to meet your needs as well as ensure you have adequate B12 supplements in your diet. Two helpings of vegetable protein each day would be adequate. Many of the enzymes and hormones required by the reproductive and immune system are made from the proteins you eat.
There are three forms of carbohydrate, simple sugars such as glucose, and fructose; double sugars such as sucrose (table sugar), maltose, lactose; and the long-chain carbohydrates like fibre in cereals and vegetables which have to be broken down slowly and therefore only release sugars steadily into the blood stream. This is the way our bodies evolved in order to keep a constant supply of energy production in cells.
Fast-releasing simple sugars dump too much glucose too soon into the bloodstream for our pancreas and liver enzymes to deal with and this can lead to illness. In 1907 people ate on average 7 pounds of sugar each year, by 1991 this had risen to 120 pounds per person, some even more - and our body cells and panceas are not designed to deal with such vast amounts. The 8 pints of blood in the body only require 2 teaspoons of glucose to be circulating in it at any one moment. Insulin which requires zinc, and glucose tolerance factor which requires vitamin B3, chromium and manganese help to maintain this fine balance. But if you munch on bars of chocolates, cakes and cookies all day you will use up all the zinc, B3, chromium and manganese and end up with a stressed pancreas and liver. Use such foods as occasional treats so that they stay special, rather than as everyday foods. When you are feeling hungry the body is sending a message that it needs more vitamins and minerals, it does not want and cannot use sugars and fats in vast quanitities. Therefore eat nuts and seeds or fruits as snacks. The body burns the carbohydrate glucose to provide energy in every cell.
But we do not have to eat sweet foods to provide glucose. Our digestive system makes the enzyme amylase, which breaks down all the complex carbohydrate foods we eat into simple sugars, but this is done gently so that the blood stream has a constant supply of glucose to keep cells able to build energy. Foods such as wholegrain cereals, root and the legume vegetables, fresh fruits contain these slow-releasing carbohydrates.
Whereas sweets, cakes, cookies, pastries, honey and most refined foods are laced with sugars which release glucose into the blood too quickly. One Mars bar contains 8 teaspoons of sugar, a small pot of yoghurt may hold 7, and a glass of alcohol 8. This can lead to problems like diabetes, or hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) where we suffer from high and low mood swings and dizziness. Now polycystic ovariies have been linked through new research to hyperinsulinism so this is important for those women too. All refined sugars are unnecessary and should only really be eaten occasionally as a treat - as our ancestors did when they found a honeycomb.
Complex carbohydrates come neatly packaged with vitamins and minerals combined, look at bananas, seeds and legumes! Whereas refined sugars have been so processed that the essential vitamin and mineral content is depleted. Two-thirds of your daily carbohydrate diet should come from dark-green leafy vegetables, legumes (peas, beans and lentils) and root vegetables (potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnip. swede), whole grain cereals and fresh fruits.
Dian Shepperson Mills
Institute for Optimum Nutrition
London SW15 2NU
Electronic Publishing Advisor
Lamberts Nutrition Library
1 Lamberts Road
Kent TN2 3EH