Many of us have learned of or followed a dietary recommendation which promoted either the consumption or the restriction of a certain food group (i.e. only proteins or no carbs, or a certain color, etc.). Of course, with guaranteed weight loss in a short period of time, and (of course) without mentioning what it will happen on the long run.
But let’s not analyze here the long-term sustainability of a restriction type regime. Perhaps a very strong will or a very strong body will be needed (or both).
When it comes to food composition, there are three large groups of macronutrients which our body needs from food to produce energy (catabolism) and run its internal processes (anabolism):
- Proteins: needed as “building blocks” in the body for various purposes, like the cells growth and (re)construction, enzymes and antibodies production, as chemical messenger, as nutrients transporter, and many more.
- Fats: needed for long term energy storage, for insulation and protection of organs, as chemical messenger, for storage and transportation of many vitamins, and more.
- Carbohydrates: needed to produce at hand energy for the organism, they are the preferred source of energy by our bodies. Another role is digestion related when we are referring to dietary fibers. It is true that energy can be obtained also from fat reserves, however this takes longer and even in this case the brain proper functioning would still require a percentage of the energy as glucose which is obtained from carbohydrates or by consumption of muscles mass.
So, if there is to read again the roles of each of the three macronutrients, it becomes more obvious that our food should contain all of them. We need proteins to be sure our body is at full capacity, ready to fight pathogens, it can grow, and it can be repaired overnight. We need fats to survive in case food is not available for a certain period, to ensure our organs are insulated and protected and that our metabolic processes are run smoothly, also to insure transportation and storage of many vitamins. And we need carbs for a healthy digestive system, for a proper muscle mass, for proper brain function and for our daily energy.
Now, let’s see also how food sources diversification contribute as well. And by this, I mean also food types/sources and type of preparation, not only the supply of all macronutrients, as explained above.
Diversification of food types and sources has a significant impact on the health and development of our gut microbiota (the totality of microbes living in our digestive system). This aspect is let aside by most dietary recommendations and it should not be, as the microbes community in our gut are strongly influencing our capacity to process food, our immune system strength and our mood and choices ( if you have interest in this area I have a dedicated article here). Each type of microbes is specialized in a certain role, so we need as many types as possible to improve the above-mentioned aspects. And this can be ensured by food diversification, by eating unprocessed food, mostly plant based.
Then how the food looks, what color it should have? This aspect is also treated in several dietary indications which are advising us to eat only food with certain color per day. To make things easier: usually each color is signaling the existence of certain vitamins, certain antioxidants (of course there is also some overlapping sometimes). Thus, to get all the good stuff, eat a very colorful diet each day, instead of concentrating on one/few colors only, which will only guarantee that you will miss for sure some useful elements.
Green is the new black?
No, Rainbow should
Finally, food preparation. While I mentioned above that eating as much as unprocessed food possibly helps our microbiota, this does not mean we should not cook it. Raw food is good for our microbes as we can naturally multiply them by ingestion; cooking food helps to digest easier some nutrients, including by microbes, as some molecules chain are broken or simplified. Also, some nutrients cannot be extracted by raw consumption as they are sticked together with some phytonutrients which block their absorption in the organism or even the breaking of the molecule chains by our enzymes or gastric juices. Through cooking these chains are broken and thus we can enjoy more nutrients (for instance the iron for the spinach needs cooking for assimilation, nuts are easier to digest when pre hydrated).
As a conclusion:
Eat as diverse as you can, with lot of plants based dishes, as unprocessed as possible – this will improve your gut microbiota composition and will increase your chances to build a stronger immune system, have a better metabolism and a healthier digestive system, capable to process more food types with less unwanted effects.
Eat as colored as possible, thus relieving the need to identify good nutrients and food components in your dishes. The more colored the better.
Cook the food but also keep a large part of it raw (especially fruits and veggies).
Do not exclude proteins, nor fats nor carbs from your diet, each of them has a very precise role in the good functioning of our bodies. Also do not exacerbate consumption of one of them (any nutrient consumed in excess is transformed in fat by our body and stored in the event of bad times).