Food is fuel… How many of you think that or say that?
A lot of you have probably heard the analogy that your body is just like your car. You need to fill it with enough fuel, but not too much and you need to fill it with the right fuel or else it will stop and break down. Thankfully, our body is not entirely like a car. Food is so much more than just calories and energy and fuel.
Sure, food contains macronutrients, which when broken down and assimilated and converted into ATP, the body can use that as fuel. But food also contains micronutrients, phytochemicals, zoochemicals, water, and so much more. These particular things are probably more important from a total health perspective, yet provide no “fuel” whatsoever. They are the building blocks of many of the other vital processes that have to happen within our body, from bone growth, cell division, protein synthesis, nervous system function, etc.
So to say that food is fuel; food is so much more than that.
This is my main problem with the whole IIFYM and flexible dieting scheme as it is portrayed in America today. IIFYM tells you that you can get shredded by only eating pop tarts or burgers and fries. Now, I love a good pop tart or burger, but if this was all you ate, or foods like this for years on end, sure you may put on some muscle, lose some body fat or whatever the goal was, but what you are forgetting is your health on the inside.
This is why there are so many nutrient deficiencies in the US and why we are one of the world’s most sick (diseased) nations. When you neglect the health on the inside by not supplying it with what it needs to function properly, you open yourself up to the risk for disease and ailments and that is true no matter how much “fuel” you put into your body.
So let’s discuss those other materials that food contains as we listed above.
Let’s begin with micronutrients. Micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals, which are extremely important in our diet, as without them our bodies would break down. Some important ones that we can highlight are:
Vitamin A-great for vision, plays an important role in bone growth, essential for reproduction, supports immune system, and supports skin health.
Vitamin C-necessary for growth and repair of all body tissues. Aids in the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, and the strength of the immune system.
Magnesium-plays a role with in more than 300 enzymatic reactions and helps with blood sugar control, energy production, blood pressure regulation, muscle and nerve function and protein synthesis.
Pyridoxamine (B6)-stimulates co-enzymatic activities, strengthens immune system, positively affects metabolism, benefits hormone control, and helps protects against cardiac diseases, kidney disorders, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
This just scrapes the surface but I think you get the picture that micronutrients are very essential to other processes within the body but don’t actually supply our body with any useable fuel.
As mentioned earlier, the media has portrayed food as only serving one purpose and that is to be fuel, which turned into people eating anything as long as it fit their carbs, fats, and protein requirements. A lot of individuals tend to forget that food serves other purposes. So when you don’t give your body what its needs in order to function optimally, sickness comes about, you feel lethargic, you don’t sleep as well, you don’t recover properly, etc. As said previously, this is going to happen no matter how much food you give your body. The quality of the food and what it contains is what matters.
Next, let’s talk about phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are non-nutritive plant chemicals that have specific properties in regards to protection and disease prevention. They are not required by the human body for sustaining life but because we live in a society where there is a high amount of disease, the ingestion of these phytochemicals can help protect the body from disease. There are many different phytochemicals, but the most common being lycopene (tomatoes), isoflavones (soy), and flavanoids (fruit).
Phytochemicals have antioxidant activity and protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of certain cancers developing. Flavanoids (fruit and vegetables), polyphenols (tea, grapes), carotenoids (fruit, carrots), and allyl sulfides (onions, garlic) are highest in antioxidant activity.
Isoflavones found in soy have a hormonal action associated with them. They imitate human estrogens and help to reduce menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis. This is very important, especially for females.
Indoles found in cabbage, stimulate enzymes that make estrogen less effective and reduce the risk of breast cancer.
As you see, there are many different phytochemicals and they have many different roles. The main takeaway about phytochemicals is that they are highly antioxidant and help ward off free radicals which are known to cause disease. They protect the body from the inside out. The easiest way to get these nutrients is to diversify nutrient intake. Eating different sources of vegetables, fruits, herbs, beans, and whole grains is the best way to incorporate these nutrients into your diet. The best sources are going to be fruits (especially blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and apples), and vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and broccoli). These foods are all great sources of nutrients, but they are not fuel.
Next, let’s discuss zoochemicals. Zoochemicals are very similar to phytochemicals except they are nutrients that are received from animals. These zoochemicals can include EPA and DHA from cold water fish, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) from meat and dairy, creatine from beef and other animals, and carnosine from poultry, beef, pork, and eggs. Now it should be noted that zoochemicals are fat-soluble, which means that they are present in the fats of these animals. A low fat or no fat diet, which was popular for some time, would limit the intake of these beneficial nutrients. Just like phytochemicals, zoochemicals provide the body with protection or beneficial activity to help prevent a decline in health. For example, EPA found in salmon and other fatty fishes, reduces inflammation and blood clotting and can even help reduce the risk of arrhythmia, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. CLA suppresses cancer cell development, boosts the body’s immune system, and can help build lean body tissue and reduce body fat. Creatine, the most studies supplement on the planet, helps to provide cellular energy and support and is tried and true in its benefits towards muscle, brain, bone and liver health. Zoochemicals are not fuel for the body however.
So as you can see, the food that we eat is so much more than just fuel. Our bodies run on carbs, fats, and proteins, but they also function and are supported by many other nutrients that have very specific and key roles in our body when it comes to processing, digestion, and how the food eaten is utilized. So, just because you eat something every day doesn’t always mean you should. The overall whole picture of the diet has to be looked at. Focus on great quality food sources first and foremost, to do your body a favor and give it the nutrients it craves and needs in order to remain healthy, and also understand moderation. I am not saying to never eat a piece of cake or a big greasy cheeseburger, but it goes back to moderation and keeping good habits consistent, and understanding that the food we eat has many more jobs than many have been trained to think.