Fundamentally speaking, food is energy and we use the calories in food along with vitamins and minerals to carry out specific tasks like digestion, regeneration and repair (sleep), detoxification as well as managing our stress. All these things require energy to power their actions which is why when it comes to sitting down to a meal, thinking about what you're eating is such a profound aspect of your decision making process. It would be best to have a diet tailored to you specifically but not everyone has access to a professional to undergo a consultation. Therefore it is my intent to give you a guideline of how best to make decisions that optimize your health when it comes to deciding what to eat.
What will it do to my blood sugar?
When we eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system will break them down into sugar allowing it to enter the blood. This causes our blood sugar to rise and in response the pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that prompts cells to absorb blood sugar for energy. When this happens we blunt our ability to burn fat and instead use the easily accessible energy within our blood.
Sugar is the biggest offender especially if it enters the blood stream as glucose, which doesn't need to be broken down by enzymes, so it's absorbed immediately. Starch can be in the same boat when it comes to offending blood sugar, sometimes worse if it's in the form of gluten-containing, nutrient-depleted grains. So where does that leave us?
The best choices are always based upon the following criteria: Low starch vegetables (baby corn, jicama, kohlrabi, rutabaga, water chestnuts, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, turnips, green beans, cucumber, bean sprouts, brussel sprouts, asparagus, artichokes, okra, zucchini, green peppers) have a high ratio of fiber and nutrients compared to the content of carbs present. Moderate starch veggies like sweet potato, beets, or carrots are still reasonable but it is wise to watch the serving size. Low-sugar/low-fructose fruitssuch as Kiwifruit, Blueberries and raspberries, Grapefruit/lemons/limes, melons, pear with skin, and coconuts are decent choices that have their place in a season context, however avoiding fructose altogether is likely a safe bet for most people especially those who are obese. Lastly some gluten-free grains are acceptable for people who have the genetic ability to process carbs, but grains often irritate the digestive systemas well as blood sugar control mechanisms for a significant amount of people.
Does it contain quality protein?
Many foods from both animal and plant origin contain protein, but not all protein is created equal. Protein from high quality animals, think grass-fed, free-range or wild-caught, contain a superior nutrient profile containing essential amino acids as well as essential nutrients like B-12, Omega 3's and Carnitine that are often lacking in a vegetarian diet but are necessary for optimal health.
Protein is broken down into organic compounds called amino acids. There are 13 essential, meaning they cannot be produced from other substances and must be consumed, and there are 12 that are considered nonessential. A protein is considered complete when it has the appropriate quantities of amino acids for optimal absorption. Meat and fish are considered complete proteins; foods such as rice and beans are considered incomplete proteins because they are lacking in certain amino acids. As such vegetarians need to pay special attention to combining their foods so they their amino acid profiles complement each other -- an example of a good combo would be rice combined with beans or chickpeas.
This is whymeat consumption becomes superior as most forms of vegetable proteins are needed to be accompanied by large quantities of carbohydrates to achieve complete protein status. Getting quality protein at every meal is important to not only maintain healthy blood sugar levels but to supply your body the amino acids needed for structural repair.
What kind of dietary fat does it supply?
This is generally the most misunderstood aspect of optimizing your diet. To give you the basics there are 3 types of fats you should include in your diet; saturated (Eggs, Butter, Ghee, and Dairy Fat, Fresh (not processed) Meat), mono-unsaturated (Macadamia Cashew, Almond, Pecan Brazil and other varies of nuts or seeds, avocado, olives/olive oil, peanut and canola oil) and poly-unsaturated (wild-caught fish ). Under all circumstances avoid trans-fats (deep fried foods, margarine, donuts, fast foods).
The ratios have long been debated as to how much you should consume, and there is probably not ever going to be one absolute answer. So look at it like this: if you are on a low carb diet make sure you include a decent amount of saturated and mono-unsaturated fat as they are good for your energy metabolism and saturated fat and cholesterol help maintain healthy cell repair mechanisms. Poly-unsaturated should be included at lower quantities as they are sensitive to oxidation, but they include specialized roles to help optimize cell function, cognitive behavior and inflammatory modulation. Avoid the toxic range of omega 6 oils (palm, soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower) never cook with these poly-unsaturated fats.
Fats are the best source ofenergy for human metabolism, help provide the raw materials for all sex hormones and don't influence blood sugar. Important tip: eating high carb and high fat at the same meal is not a good idea as insulin promotes fat storage in the wrong environment!
Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are found in many vegetable oils, including safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils, as well as in nuts and seeds. The omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flaxseeds, walnuts and some fatty fish, such as salmon and herring, while omega-6 fatty acids found in pecans, Brazil nuts and sesame oil.
What is the Nutritional Status?
This description does not refer to calories or macronutrient (protein/fat/carb) breakdown but instead refers to vitamins, minerals antioxidants and phytonutrients. These are the specific nutrients that run the machine that is our body. All chemical reactions taking place in our bodies require vitamins, minerals are building blocks for structural components in our bodies, antioxidants and phytonutrients influence genetic expression while protecting us from excessive damage potential free radicals may create. They also have specific benefits under circumstantial conditions. For example, brassica vegetables help hormone metabolism in the body, turmeric and ginger help modulate inflammation processes and specific bitter foods help optimize digestion processes.
Here is a simple criteria to follow:
Start with a foundation of low starch, high fiber vegetables with different colors
Add in quality proteins from wild or properly raised conditions
Utilized high quality fats as a primary energy source and as a way to enhance nutrient absorption from other foods in the form of good oils
Consistency is the key with diet, and the more time you take to research and consider your options, the better your decision making criteria will be.