Healthy Choices Episode I

Most people ask the billion cedi question; “How can I eat and maintain or lose weight.” Others even ask a more expensive question; “How can I eat anything I like and still look good naked.” Well, all those asking are in luck because am here to allay all doubts and put all misconceptions to rest. From these two questions three topics arise; Nutrition, Training and Fitness and Lifestyle Change. I am definitely not going to discuss all three topics in this article, I will making it a series and the first episode will be on, you guessed, Nutrition!

One of my followers on my Facebook Fan Page popped a chat with me to ask for a request from Life & Cooking It. She is one of the many people who is trying hard to lose some pounds and get in shape (apparently round is a shape #humour) but keeps hitting her head on a wall. Her request; "I want a tasty and healthy meal for those of us still trying to lose weight. Even if possible, a smoothie”. Since my profession requires me to dedicate my life to helping people and I have a strong passion for staying strong and fit and to make people achieve their fitness goals I accepted the request.
In this episode I am going to talk about Nutrition. This is going to be an in-depth discussion on the intricacies of nutrition. No stone will be left unturned and all misconceptions will be attended to.

The basics first. There are three major food groups; Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat and these are known as macronutrients. Knowing the types and how to manipulate these very well in your diet is the key to having a very healthy meal. Problem is most people get it all wrong at this level, an example is with Fat, most people assume that since excess fat cells make us fat then logically it is the dietary fat we eat that contributes to it. Others too think if they ate mostly protein they will not gain weight, but skimping on one macronutrient will cause to increase another, fat, and most at times they eat the unhealthy fats, those that come with the meat and this leads to many health issues such heart disease.

Without wasting time let’s start with the most popular and widely accepted Carbohydrates. Everybody loves carbs. They are sweet, come in many forms, are affordable and easy to prepare. Carbs come in two main forms, High & Low glycaemic index (simple and complex carbs).

Glycaemic index, GI, is a measure of how quickly blood sugar (glucose) and insulin rises after eating a particular type of food and this measure is relative to consumption of pure glucose. Glucose has a glycaemic index of 100. So having a drink which is high in simple sugars with very high glycaemic index is different from eating brown rice which is much lower and has complex cards.

So now let’s apply what we just learnt without getting too scientific. We humans are genetically hardwired to store carbs in fat cells as that ensures survival. Now there are two pathways by which the body handles carbohydrates; (1) Storing in fat cells and (2) Utilizing it as energy. Consuming High GI carbs primarily takes pathway one and the simple logical reason being, sugar enters the bloodstream much faster than the body can utilise it this causes a high insulin surge resulting in the shuttling of glucose straight to fat cells (insulin does that especially when the sugar is released too quickly). So obviously when you consume Low GI carbs the opposite of the above happens, pathway two is favoured.

There are also other factors that affect the GI of carbs, like the protein or fat content that comes with it. Presence of protein or fat will lower the glycaemic response, this is so because protein and fat slow gastric emptying (dietary fibre does that too) hence delaying absorption. Meaning eating cornflakes (High GI) with a cheese omelette can significantly lower its glycaemic response. While adding protein or fat will lower the GI, the relative differences remain. That is, with or without additions, there is still a higher blood glucose curve and insulin response after eating a high GI meal than after a low-GI meal.

Now one would ask if eating High GI carbs makes you gain a lot more body fat why then do other people get away with it. There are many reasons why this is so. You see as I just explained in the previous paragraph what you eat with that High GI meal might either increase or lower it's GI. Ice cream has sugar but then again it has fat too, so Ice cream's GI is 61 (medium), huh? So why is it considered bad? We will get to that shortly. Another reason why one would get away with eating High GI meal is because that High GI meal is eaten in moderation or at the right time (manipulating nutrient intake to suit required needs), I am driving at something here we are getting real close. Third reason is a high metabolism, remember pathway 2, yep, it's not only affected by Low GI meals a high metabolism will also determine which pathway sugar should go. A high metabolism is either naturally occurring or obtained through working out. Lastly, Nutrient Partitioning or Insulin Sensitivity and this is linked to muscle mass and somehow to exercise and training. Big terms with very simple meanings. When you exercise your metabolism increases, you build muscles and they become more metabolically active, you burn fat and get lean. The less body fat you have the more efficiently you utilize nutrients (due to some hormonal mumbo-jumbo) and this is where insulin comes in. Efficient utilization of nutrient is directly linked to insulin sensitivity. Remember I said humans are hardwired to store fat and insulin is responsible for fat storage (well not only fat storage, it’s function is to shuttle nutrients into fat cells, muscle cells and all other body cells). Well when your muscles become more metabolically active insulin sensitivity is enhanced, meaning nutrients are shuttled to these muscles instead of fat (pathway two).

GI is a measure of quality. It stands to reason that, just using the GI of a meal to eliminate it from your diet completely or tag that food as 'bad' would be a flawed decision. GI does not take into account the amount of glucose in a carbohydrate meal, it only reflects the type and/or quality of a carbohydrate in a particular food, and how a specific portion reacts metabolically as it is digested. In other words how it raises blood glucose levels, affects insulin secretion, stimulates Fat-storage Mechanisms and affects the pancreas. This is where I'd introduce Glycaemic Load (GL). GL is a related measure of GI and factors the amount of glucose in by multiplying the GI of the food in question and the carbohydrate content of the actual serving.

Now let’s get practical. Remember I was talking about how ice cream is considered bad yet has an intermediate GI? There I go with GI, am I not the same person who said GI is only part of the equation? Well yes, ice cream with a 16 gram carb content has a not so high GL; 10. Compare that to Honey, a GI of 55 and GL of 9. I am not saying ice cream is as healthy as honey, no it's not and I am also not saying honey not good because it is. All I am saying is you can still eat ice cream and not get fat if you eat it in moderation and manipulate it to suit your needs. What do I mean by 'manipulate to suit your need'? Example High GI food increases blood glucose concentrations more rapidly, thus providing energy to the body in a short period, this is suitable for energy recovery after exercise (after exercise insulin sensitivity increases hence glucose goes straight to the muscles for recovery instead of fat storage) or for a person experiencing hypoglycaemia. Sadly the insulin released in response to the rise in blood sugar rapidly lowers it, this rapid decrease reduces energy supply and triggers mild to intense hunger. Ever wonder why you get really hungry even after eating a bowl full white rice, indomie or bowl of commercial cereal e.g. cornflakes, rice krispies etc.

To conclude I'd say certain foods have their place, as I said you can manipulate those foods to suit your needs. Ice cream when eaten on a low calorie diet readjusts hormones in your body which enhance fat burning, same as pizza (I will talk about it in my next article on Fats). Make healthier choices, know that you are not on a diet or restricting yourself but rather you are eating healthy and making smart choices based on your day to day activity. You will obviously not eat white rice or potatoes before bed. We grow when we sleep and sleeping gets us in a fasted state so you would want to eat food that will digest slowly so it can feed your muscle and repair cells for a much longer time ;) (Manipulation) else all you’ll be doing is get fat while you sleep. After a workout have a High-GI smoothie or shake (post workout shake) or when you feel drain or hypoglycaemic, 30 minutes after eat a low-GI meal that way your glucose level will not be dropped so rapidly by insulin hence you will still have a steady release of energy from you low-GI meal ;), that way you will not be vulnerable to that mild-intense hunger that usually follows causing you to eat a lot more unnecessary jfood unk food leading to a vicious cycle.

I could go on and on but the article is already overly long. All your questions and doubts are welcome. Will do my best to answer all. Watch out for my next article in the series, Proteins, Fats, Training and a summary of all for articles (Lifestyle Change) will follow. Till then 'Train dirty and eat clean' ;).