What if I told you that there’s a difference between eating “healthy” and eating to be fit?
(gasp) Shocker, eh?
We have all heard some of the following phrases over and over again:
“Fuel your body”
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away”
“(XYZ product) is part of a nutritious breakfast”
But how do we make it work for us?
I looked up the meaning of health on dictionary.com and it read:
“the general condition of the body or mind with reference to soundness and vigor”
Good health would mean a positive working state of the body, which would include proper function of the various parts and an abundance of energy; as bad health would mean the opposite.
So healthy food by deduction would mean that it is meant to keep you alive, assist in your soundness and vigor, and not be detrimental to good health. So in short, healthy food is fuel that keeps you in working order and won’t kill you.
But just because it’s healthy and won’t kill you (and I know there can be multiple rants about organic, processed, hidden ingredients, etc……just work with me here!) doesn’t mean that you will be slim, lean, skinny, ripped, or toned just because you consistently eat it. Many people make the mistake of eating too much of certain healthy foods. Several of those foods may have a higher percentage of good fats and quality carbs – which are not a bad thing, but even still it may be too many fats and carbs than necessary for their daily needs. In addition to that, if they aren’t eating enough quality proteins then they wind up storing more calories than they need in proportion to their weight and activity. We all should be consuming lean proteins like chicken breast, fish and turkey, as well as veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and dairy. But, consuming the appropriate levels.
Let’s take it back to the simplest level. All servings of foods contain an amount of calories. Calories represent the energy level in your food. When you consume calories, you take in the energy your body needs to operate. But it doesn’t stop there. Calories are found in three of the main nutrients known as macronutrients, or “macros” for short. Those macros are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Depending on what our daily activity levels and fitness goals are we all need particular macro percentages to maintain our weight and musculature.
Think of it as me giving you one dollar. One dollar is a specific value. Like calories, the dollar represents the total amount of units you are getting. But I might give you the dollar in different denominations:
-9 dimes and 10 pennies
-2 quarters-3 dimes-2 nickels-10 pennies,
Your macros are like those denominations. There are different kinds but they all have their own value that add up to the $1. So however you receive the dollar, I bet you would like to get as little change as possible for the most value…….more bang for your buck! Yes, pun intended.
That’s what eating to be fit is all about – choosing a balanced ratio of macros that supplies the body with a sufficient amount for a faster metabolism, repair and recovery. Depending on your fitness goals there are different percentages of calories and macros to consume for either losing weight, maintaining your weight, or gaining weight, but that will come later……..first we need to understand the basics.
Every macro has an amount of calories per gram:
Carbs – 4 calories per 1 gram
Protein- 4 calories per 1 gram
Fats – 9 calories per 1 gram (it actually ranges from 8.5 to 9.5 calories per, but it’s averaged out to 9 for most food labeling).
Each macro has a specific function for the body. Carbs provide the major source of energy to fuel our daily activities. Once digested, they are converted into a basic sugar known as glycogen to provide that energy to your working parts. Proteins, broken down into amino acids act as ‘building blocks’ in the production of ‘new’ proteins needed for growth and repair of tissues, making essential hormones and enzymes and supporting immune function. Fats are needed to supply fatty acids that the body needs but cannot make (such as omega-3), assist with absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and carotenoids, and are essential for hormone production.
So a basic 100 calories may seem low at first sight, but is it a quality 100 calories? Let’s remember – more bang for your buck. That 100 cals might just very well be 11.1 grams of fat, 25 grams of carbs, 25 grams of protein, or a mixture of each of the macros. For instance, lets look at this nutritional label for a bag of tortilla chips I ate, assuming that I did eat the recommended serving size:
The math adds up as follows for one serving size, which is 1 ounce/28 grams, or the equivalent of 9 even shaped whole chips (so if you’re eating more than that, you must add/multiply accordingly).
6 grams of fat x 9 calories= 54 calories of fat (while the packaging states “50 grams of fat” right next to total calories)
19 grams of carbs x 4 calories= 76 calories of carbs
2 grams of protein x 4 calories = 8 calories of protein
54 + 76 + 8= 138 total calories, and it’s rounded off to 140.
It’s not a bad snack if you take into consideration the total amount of calories you eat in a whole day, and if you are maintaining your current weight or trying to add weight. But if you are attempting to lose body fat, it might not be the best choice for you. Now, lets look at the label for another snack that might be perceived to be a “healthy” alternative to tortilla chips:
For one serving size which is a packet of 2 bars (because who ever just eats one, right?), 42g, or one-and a half ounces:
6 grams of fat x 9 calories = 54 calories of fat (packaging states “60”)
29 grams of carbs x 4 calories = 116 calories of carbs
4 grams of protein x 4 calories = 16 calories of protein
54 + 116 + 16 = 186 calories, and the packaging reads a total of “190.”
You can see that it’s a difference of 48 calories, with the “less nutritious” snack being the lesser in calories of the two. Yes, you do get a bit more protein with the NV bars, but you also get 8 more total grams of carbs. Furthermore, if you read underneath the carbohydrate info for the NV bars, you see it reads “Sugars – 12g,” while the chips read “0” for sugars. This is not to say that no one should eat one or the other, or neither, but rather to show how to decide to get the bang for buck if you are being mindful of both the quantity and quality of your calories. These examples were just simple tools to get you accustomed to reading food labels and to use them to your advantage.
Hopefully this first installment clears up a few preliminary things about nutrition for you. In the next part of this series, we will look at whole or natural foods that are considered “healthy” and how the calories and macros add up for them.
Press on, and eat well!