07 November 2011

Put your money where your mouth is when choosing foods to fuel the body

As the holidays approach, so do the temptations of processed, sugary, nutrient-deprived, high calorie foods ever-present at the looming events and parties. Though there are many tactics you can utilize to stay in control, one I find most effective, and most sustainable, is by simply changing the way you look at food. Begin to look at it as an investment. What is its net worth? After deductions, what’s the bottom line? I think we can all agree that food is fuel for our body. And I think we can also agree that we all strive to achieve and maintain good health. So when we consider what we put into our mouths as an investment in our health, the stakes change.

We are so conditioned to ‘eat with our eyes’ first. If we spot a pretty cupcake topped with fluffy frosting, our mouth begins to salivate. Usually, we grab the cupcake and devour it without giving ANY thought whatsoever to the investment (or lack thereof) that this cupcake may be to our body and to our health. We eat purely for the taste, and for that euphoric feeling that a ‘sugar-high’ can give. Now I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t relish the taste our food. But when we eat and take pleasure in our food, we should also do so with intention. For example, if you took a split second to consider the net worth of that cupcake, you may not be so quick to grab it. Let’s see... it is probably very high in refined sugars, which means that it will spike your blood sugar, and then lead to a ‘crash’, after which you may feel tired and moody (and will probably result in you craving ANOTHER cupcake). And what nutrients is this cupcake providing you to promote your health? Maybe a small amount of fiber in the flour (and this is very minimal if white flour was used). Maybe a tiny amount of protein if it was made with milk (hopefully non-dairy). What about hearty doses of vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting antioxidants? Negative. In fact, you are depleting precious nutrients in your body just to digest this processed food. So essentially, you are putting pennies in your bank (at best) when you could be putting $100 bills. Most of you know what the ‘healthier’ choices are, such as vegetables, fruits, etc. Basically, the less-processed and the closer to whole-food form, the better investment it will be. For further guidance on the foods with the most bang for your buck, Dr. Joel Fuhrman has created ANDI scores for many foods (you can currently find these ratings on many items at Whole Foods Markets). And it's no surprise what comes out on top (kale, collards, turnip greens) or on bottom (fish, beef, chicken, dairy).

Now I most definitely delight in the decadence of a sweet treat now and again. But I do so with the awareness that I am getting little to no nutritional value from this choice, and that knowledge prevents me from over-eating and bingeing on junk. In my opinion, nothing feels worse than a stomach full of food that I know has given my body no net gain. If you find that you are constantly hungry, even with a full stomach, this a distinct sign that you are nutrient deprived. Your body will tell you what it needs. So if you aren’t ‘depositing’ the right nutrients in your body, your hunger signal will stay turned on. That’s why we can eat foods like cookies and cakes, and the infamous white rice from Chinese take-out, and still feel hungry an hour later. We have invested only pennies, and our body wants the big bucks!

So if you are going to put food in your mouth and fill up your stomach, why not get the most bang for your buck? Would you put pennies in bank and expect it to yield millions for you? You could expect a much greater return if you invested a little more. In the same way, the quality of the food you put in your body, has a direct link to the level of health you will achieve. And investing in yourself, and your health...what’s a wiser investment than that?

Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is an animal-loving, life-loving vegan who is passionate about spreading the message of better health through a vegan diet. She works as a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance and follow her on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/suckamc