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Can I eat that…? A Look at Modern Nutrition and Dietary Habits

Posted Sep 21, 2017 | Blog Post

Hello everyone and welcome back to Turning a New Leaf! Over the past summer months, we have examined the impacts of agriculture on our environment through ocean acidification, soil erosion, water depletion and biodiversity loss. Although our environment remains a critical aspect of sustainable farming, understanding our nutritional needs and where nutrition comes from- is just as important. For the next few months, we are going to be examining all that is nutrition: what it is, what “good” nutrition means, why ‘veganism’ has become the rage, what impacts the sugar industry has had on our diets, and why there is a lack of accessible healthy produce worldwide, just to name a few. However, this week we start off simple with a simple question: What is actually considered “eating well,” in our confusing gluten-free, meat-free, calorie-free, dieting world? Welcome to Turning a New Leaf: The Green Revolution.

 

 

Increasingly important over the past two decades has been the rise of “fab diets,” which claim to have “life-changing” results. From the “Five-Bite Diet,” (eating whatever you want-but only five bites) to the “Master Cleanse/ Lemonade Diet,” that pretty much relies on subsisting on lemon juice, maple syrup, or cayenne pepper mixed in water; people have tried it all to lose weight and “be” healthy. Aside from the fact that we know these fab diets do not work because of their lack of sustainability, their side-effects (ex: fatigue, dizziness, nausea and dehydration) cause true nutritional harm.

The Modern Diet

Let us begin with the state of world’s nutrition. Currently, the dominant global diet is the North American ‘Western’ Diet. This diet predominately consists of saturated fat, large amounts of processed carbs, and excessive total calories. Furthermore, it’s not just excessive fat and carbs that define the Western diet but also the lack of unprocessed fruits, veggies, and whole grains that leads to deficiencies in essential minerals and vitamins. This diet has been correlated with several chronic illnesses including cancer (both colon and liver), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic diseases. Furthermore, this diet continues to predominate because the food is cheap, quick to make, and easily accessible.  More and more this diet has become a global trend due to the perceived desire to consume ‘fancy’ high-calorie Western food in low and middle-income countries, which has been resulted in a spike of chronic diseases and obesity within these populations. Therefore, if the North American diet is not the way for good health moving forward, what then is considered ‘good’ nutrition?

 

Although we need fats, carbohydrates and sugars in our diet for a healthy body, it is the excessive amounts of these inputs and even more-so, the absence of protein, vitamins, fiber and essential minerals that leads to the negative health outcomes mentioned above. Nutrition is about putting back in your body what you waste in a day of activities. Therefore, proper nutrition is about providing your body the essential components it needs to replenish itself, and keep your cells happy and healthy so that they do not become sick. Furthermore, through proper nutrition we benefit from compounds such as anti-oxidants and carotenoids (pigments) found in leafy greens, that have huge health benefits such as protection over the deterioration of eyesight, and even anti-cancer properties.

Super-foods 

Let’s look at leafy greens, which are a gold mine of essential vitamins, minerals and compounds that promote a good immune system and child development, while at the same time lower your chances of mutations that occur with aging. Leafy greens are packed with carotenoids, flavonoids and other powerful anti-oxidants that have significant cancer-protective properties (which we will focus on at a later blog). For example, in a health contest between kale and spinach, both leafy greens are exceptional in fighting inflammation, a primary root cause of heart disease and other chronic diseases. Moreover, leafy greens contain essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin K for bone health, Vitamin A for immune function, folic acid for pregnant mothers promoting healthy neurological development, and iron, calcium and magnesium.

 

The Dietitians of Canada recommend five tips for healthy eating: go for whole grains, load up on vegetables and fruit, go lean and alternative (in regards to meat), choose healthier fats, and enjoy your milk products. If this seems pretty vague to you, that’s because it is! Nutrition needs to be personalized because there is no one diet that can make everyone healthy. Rather, you should focus on foods that will give you the most bang for your buck in regards to replenishing your energy needs and keeping your cells healthy.

 

When thinking about a morning fruit smoothie, it is not about how much you spend on that smoothie that makes it nutritious, but instead what compounds inside the that smoothie will replenish the waste your cells produce daily.  Nutrition is a personal path. There are daily recommended goals to keep your body healthy but only you know what you need based on your family history, activity level, metabolism, etc., that can create healthy habits. Good nutrition stems from putting good things in your body, and leafy greens, protein and complex carbs are examples of good things that are at the heart of a balanced diet.

 

Author: Bojana Radan

Photo Credits: US Department of Agriculture