• Lucy Brown

Nutritional Health 101 - Part 1

One of the things that has struck me more and more since I discovered the LCHF way of eating, is just how little most of us, me included, know about how our bodies function - the basics of how our bodies process food, use that food to fuel us and how this impacts every element of our well being - mental as well as physical. So here I am going to try to explain in simple terms the basics and why adopting a low carb, healthy fat (note not high), diet can help. All food is made up of one, two or three macro nutrients - carbohydrates, protein and fats. For the past fifty years, we have been told that fat is bad for us and carbs are good. More recently, we have been told that fats can be categorised as good and bad fats and that saturated fats - found mainly in meat - will basically increase something called cholesterol and ultimately kill us. To replace fats we are advised to eat more carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, and low fat processed foods have flooded the market. Another recent piece of advice is to cut back on salt and sugar. And so the current food pyramid - lots of carbohydrates, moderate protein and low fat - has prevailed. Let's look at what actually happens when we eat? When we consume any carbohydrates, whether sugar or grains, enzymes in our saliva immediately start breaking that food down into sugar, or glucose. That surge of glucose triggers a hormone called insulin, which tells your body to store available energy in the bloodstream in fat tissue and other forms. And the later surge-crash makes you feel hungry, encouraging you to eat more. But fats are another story. Fat isn’t processed the same way as carbs. It can’t be broken down with saliva, or fully digested by stomach acid. Instead, your small intestines, with the aid of bile secreted by your liver, break it down. This happens much later in the digestive process, so fat digestion is much slower. The different fats interact with your hormones in complex ways that, unlike carbs, don’t cause a massive spike in insulin. And good fats are really important for your body to function properly. So eating fat does not make us fat, while eating carbs tells our bodies to keep storing more fat, making us fatter. And here's another thing, did you know that insulin is a hormone, just like progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone? Anyone who has ever experienced hormone fluctuations knows what an impact these can have on us and that is the case with insulin fluctuations as much as with those hormones we associate with defining our sex and hormone cycles. What and how often we eat has a profound effect on how our bodies produce essential hormones, such as cortisol, adrenalin and serotonin, and it turns out that these have an important part to play in the digestive process. The final part of the puzzle is inflammation. Eating certain foods and activities causes inflammation and irritation in our bodies. Guess which foods? Yes, sugars, processed carbohydrates, and also industrially produced seed oils. When inflammation occurs in our veins, our bodies produce cholesterol, which is transported to the location to protect and fix the problem. An elevated cholesterol reading is therefore just an indicator that you have inflammatory activity in your body and cholesterol is actually the ambulance sent to help you out. If the increased volume of cholesterol is not being cleared out properly because of some other reason - which can be genetically as well as nutritionally driven - such as insulin and leptin resistance, then plaques can accumulate and cause blockages. But it is the over consumption of the carbohydrates and the ensuing irritation that is the cause and not the poor maligned cholesterol just trying to do its job. And remember that the fats that we have been shunning are actually essential for our well-being. Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil and avocados. This good fat helps reduce inflammation and levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol in the blood. Polyunsaturated fats in foods like sunflower seeds, walnuts, and fish also have significant health benefits. Fish oil, for example, consists of one type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids -- which have been found to decrease blood pressure, increase HDL or “good” cholesterol, and may also protect against heart disease. The story around saturated fats is more complicated and I would recommend reading this article if you would like to investigate further. Basically the relationship between saturated fat intake, elevated LDL cholesterol and particle levels seems to vary from person to person, especially for those on a low-carb diet. If your own LDL values increase significantly after adopting a keto or low-carb diet, you may be able to help lower them by cutting back a bit on saturated fat and eating more nuts, olive oil, avocados and fatty fish. The biggest change to how we eat has taken place in the past fifty years, shifting from what was basically an evolution of a hunter gatherer model, where we consumed a nutrient dense diet consisting mainly of meat and fish, wild fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and some starchy plants and tubers, to the modern diet of processed foods, packaged in bags and boxes, full of refined sugar, refined flour and industrialised seed oil. We moved from a diet that was naturally anti-inflammatory, high in nutrients and low in calories, to one that is inflammatory, low in nutrients and high in calories. Even if we focus on eating less processed and more real, whole foods, if these foods are mainly carbohydrate based - wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, the overload explained above still takes place and our bodies store the glucose they are broken down into as fat. Is it time to review how we eat and how it is impacting our health - now and more importantly into the future? Stayed tuned for Part 2...

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