Eating for success

The next time you wonder why you can’t think straight, or get everything done that you need to get done, consider pointing the finger at your food.

It’s a scary concept, that our thoughts and ability to succeed can be so affected by what we eat, but for millions of people around the globe it’s a day-to-day war their body and mind pit against each other.

Even on very simple terms, we need the fuel within food to survive. While fasting can be used by some to clear the mind during certain events, as a general rule our brain needs feeding. And it needs the right kind of feeding to do well. We get plenty of health and nutritional advice all the time. In fact in many ways it’s thrown at us from every direction. Even the fast food giants now tell you exactly what’s in their products.

However it appears that the more we know about nutrition, the more we studiously avoid the facts. In less than ten years, nearly three quarters of the western world is on the path to being classified as overweight (or worse, obese or morbidly obese). The numbers of people looking to pharmaceutical relief for depression and addictions is growing and our energy levels are collectively at an all-time low. It might feel like we know a lot about food but are we using that knowledge? And how can we be sure that what we are putting into our bodies is health, strength and energy?

For most of us, the sorts of foods we eat now are very different to the foods we grew up on.

There weren’t constant ads on TV on how to lose ten pounds in ten weeks. Takeaways were a real treat and no one did home deliveries. Mothers tended to be at home, where they cooked often plain but also pretty nutritious food (meat and two veg anyone?). There was probably home baking too, but it was made with natural ingredients and didn’t have things like corn syrup and fancy chemicals to keep it fresher for longer. Supermarkets were not open twenty-four hours a day. We had to walk down to the corner shop to get bread, and that is all we got, because everything else was so expensive. There were less impulse buys on junk food.

The old adage ‘we are what we eat’ has never been truer than when talking about our ability to focus and work. With our heavy use of computers, cell phones and televisions, we don’t move so much. We spend our days behind the wheel, behind the desk and then behind a cushion when snuggled up on the couch. Not only are we expending less energy, but we’re filling our bodies up with so much more food and treats because we feel we deserve it.

Choice has become one of our very worst enemies. The average family needs about 140 different products from the supermarket over a monthly period. However finding the right 140 products when you’re faced with over ten thousand choices (the amount in an average sized supermarket) is fraught with stress. Most of us have a fair understanding of nutrition and what is good and bad for us. The problem is there are just too many things to choose from. Even if we want to, how on earth have we got the time to read every label and make so many right choices? Sometimes it’s just easier to order in pizza.

Of course there is a time and a place for these things. Just like there is a time and a place for pizza, chocolate and ice-cream. The issue isn’t what we are eating so much as it is how and why we are eating. We need food. It refuels us, gives us the energy we need, works with our bodies to keep us alive. We use any nutrients we eat to create new cells, grow our hair and repair our bodies. If all we give our bodies is junk, is it any wonder that we’re not feeling the love?

The best sort of diet we should have is not so much about making sure you eat an apple a day, and never touch another chocolate bar again. It’s about basing your diet around three things: balance, quality, and output.

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The Perfect Diet

So to create a diet that works for your body and more importantly for your brain, you need to look at three areas. Balance, Quality and Output.

Balance This is one of the trickier parts of the equation because everyone has a slightly different way to keep the balance. You need to have the right types of food at the right time of day. For the vast majority, that means we need to turn our eating plans upside down.

Our biggest meal of the day needs to become breakfast, with our smallest meal becoming dinner. Many of us are consuming too much sugar, salt and alcohol (let’s not mention caffeine just yet). We often don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables for our daily fibre intake and don’t get enough high quality protein.

We need to find the right balance for our own bodies. In one household there may be one person who needs a high protein diet, another who needs a high (good) carb diet and another who needs a true mix. We all have different needs.

While we all need to reduce the junk aspect, we need to find our own tweaks to a general diet to find the one that fits best for us. Supplements in today’s diet can really help. A good multivitamin, particularly if you are in a stressful period of your life, can really help with any part of your diet you may be missing. How do you know if you are eating the right diet? You have plenty of energy and vitality. If that doesn’t describe you, your intake is probably out of balance.

Quality primarily provides pectin, which contributes to healthy digestion, helps break down toxins, lowers cholesterol, and enhances bowel function. Apple also offers some sweetness in the juice. Granny Smith green apples have the lowest sugar content. Also offers many phytochemicals and enzymes, quercetin, Vitamin A (in the peel), Vitamin C, significant potassium, top source of soft fibre, making it one of the best natural intestinal cleansers. In one study, people who consumed an apple-rich diet had a 46% reduction in their risk of lung cancer. Colon cancer reduction risk has also been demonstrated.

“We need protein to feed our muscle, to repair cells and organs and to form antibodies that fight off ill health”

Apple It used to be that much of our food was picked directly off trees, came straight from the veg garden or direct from the farm to our door. Of course for some of us that was several generations ago, depending on age and where we grew up, but that is the sort of food our bodies are still used to eating. Now of course the easiest foods to find are processed foods, that often have a lot of taste for our tongues, making us want to eat more, but are low on important nutrients and minerals.

There are many nutrients we need that are not present in our diets. Missing out on these can prevent our bodies from working to their optimum rate and cause our brains to slow or feel muddled.

We need protein to feed our muscle, to repair cells and organs and to form antibodies that fight off ill health. Even though they have received a bad rap, carbohydrates are also important, giving us energy and fibre to aid digestion. If we choose good carbohydrates, they’ll be low in sugar and in fat, and have a lot of important nutrients.

Many people, particularly women are so worried about fat in their diet that they try and cut it out completely. In fact we need good fat to keep our body working. Essentials fats, particularly those with omega threes and omega sixes, have been proven to help with thought processes and sharpness of thought. Good fats also help us absorb some vitamins we need such as A, D, K and E. If we were to sit and work out the most important nutrient our body needs, it would have to be water. Water helps us to not feel so hungry. It helps us digest the food we do eat, and gives us great skin.

Energy The best way to know whether you have got your energy input right is to look at your weight. If it falls into a healthy weight range, you are probably eating the right amount of food to maintain your correct energy levels. If you are overweight or have too much body fat, you can increase your energy and make your body work better by losing the excess fat.

Our bodies store fat as an efficient storage tank that is there for lean times. Often our bodies don’t really want to give up the fat stores as our bodies think it needs them once they have got them. To get rid of if it we need to eat less calories (or kilojoules, depending on your preferred method of counting). A calorie is around four kilojoules. If you have ten excess kilograms of fat, you will need to dispose of 80,000 calories or 320 000 kilojoules to drop it off. Most people need between two to two-and-a-half thousand calories a day, so as you can see, it takes a fair amount of both time and effort to drop our intake enough to lose that eighty thousand.

The best way to get your body to get rid of its extra fat stores is to look at portion sizes, the type of food you are eating and track how many calories are popping into your mouth. While exercise is important, people often overestimate how much they are actually burning off, and will overeat to compensate.

Daniel Petre