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BBQ’s Take on Nutrition

Nutrition 101

It goes deeper than just calories, but let’s start there. A calorie is defined as a unit of energy equivalent to the heat energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1° C. This means a calorie’s role in the body is to promote thermogenic change. When we consume food that contains calories, it sets off a cascading effect throughout the body. One effect is the body has to now work to maintain homeostasis and not allow the calorie to raise the temperature too much. It takes calories to break down calories. 

To dig a little deeper, calories are the same no matter what food you consume as it is simply a unit of measurement. The source of the calories taken in is what matters the most. It is more than just “calories in vs. calories out.” For example one thousand calories of candy is not the same as one thousand calories of sweet potatoes. This is a simple example, but it can go a long way when considering your health goals. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, e.g., losing weight, gaining muscle, building endurance, etc., the food you consume matters more than how much you are consuming. An example would be if someone is trying to lose weight and typically has a hard time doing so, simple carbs, such as candy or white rice, would not be recommended to be a staple in their diet. They would benefit from having more complex carbs, such as brown rice or fiber rich fruits, as their staple carb source. Simple carbs? Complex carbs? Simple carbs, in simple terms (pun intended), are easier to break down in the body. These types of carbs can easily be used as energy. If not used soon enough, it can turn into fat. Complex carbs take a longer time to break down in the body. They can be the source of longer lasting energy, which takes a longer time to turn into fat. Sources of simple carbs include, but are not limited to: refined sugar, white bread, baked goods and fruit juice concentrate. Sources of complex carbs include, but are not limited to: whole grains, fruit, vegetables (yes, vegetables are carbs) and oats.  

There are three macronutrients, which is defined as the nutrients we need in larger quantities that provide energy, that we should pay closer attention to. The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbohydrates and protein each have four calories per gram, and fat has a staggering nine calories per gram. Even with this knowledge, still keep in mind the food source trumps the quantity. A half stick of butter, full of saturated fat, has roughly 400 calories. A whole medium sized avocado, full of monounsaturated fat, has roughly 250 calories. I know… Saturated? Monounsaturated? Consumed fat is broken down into a few categories: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can potentially be beneficial to our health by lowering our blood cholesterol levels and thus, decreasing our risks of developing heart disease. Saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, are to be avoided as much as possible, if not entirely. These fats pose the threat of clogging arteries and raising the “bad” cholesterol (LDL). They can increase the chances of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and/or heart disease. Sources of monounsaturated fats include, but are not limited to: nuts, avocados, vegetable oils (olive and peanut) and peanut butter. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include, but are not limited to: salmon, chia seeds, walnuts and tofu. Sources of saturated fats include, but are not limited to: fatty cuts of beef, high fat dairy foods (whole milk and cheese), dark chicken meat and tropical oils (coconut). Sources of trans fat (the worst fat there is) include, but are not limited to: fried foods, baked goods, margarine and processed snack foods (microwave popcorn). 

The body requires different nutrients to perform different functions. For instance, the body’s primary source of energy are carbohydrates. The body uses fat as energy storage and for thermogenic regulation (keeping the body at a normal temperature). One primary function of protein is muscle repair. There are many different sources of protein, ranging from animal products to rice. Whenever someone hears of another person being vegan, one of the first questions asked is “what’s your source of protein then? You need to eat meat for protein.” One of the reasons this has been a thought is because of things called essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks to protein. When something is considered essential, it is not produced in the body and must be consumed. Animal products have all nine essential amino acids, which make them complete proteins. What most do not know is there are plant based proteins that are also complete proteins, such as quinoa, soy and chia seeds. These would have to be consumed in higher quantities of course, but it is possible to have a balanced diet without animal products. 

When it does come down to quantity, it is important to factor in how many calories you are burning as well. Burning calories is often thought to only be when exerting energy through exercising. You sitting/lying/standing there reading this is burning calories as well. In fact, everyday activities like breathing and digesting food accounts for about 70% of the total daily caloric expenditure. This is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is defined as the minimum amount of calories your body needs to perform necessary functions. This is something that changes based on our body composition. Someone who has more lean mass (more muscle, less fat) will burn more fat than someone who is less lean. That is why people who have a “fast” metabolism are typically more muscular/slim. If you want to burn more calories, even in basic everyday functions, it would be beneficial to have more muscle and less fat. One way to do this is to increase the amount of protein in your diet. This process can be expedited if lean protein is consumed. This means less ribeyes and more white chicken meat or quinoa.

Bottom line is this: our food is more than just fuel. That old saying of “you are what you eat” is as true as it gets. Everything we consume will eventually either become ingrained into our DNA or will be excreted through waste. A calorie is, in itself, not a bad thing. The problem lies when we have too much of it. Not only too much, but not from the right sources. There are benefits and risks to any food we eat, we just need to know the difference and make the right choices. Nutrition is a complex subject, as I only dove into things on a surface level, so it does you no good stressing about it too much. Something that can help keep you on track is keeping note of what you eat. This could be done by manually writing it down in something like a journal, or downloading/using a food tracking app. This helps hold you accountable while educating yourself on what you’re putting into your body. 

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