Optimize your daily fuel
Looking to enhance your overall wellbeing? Start with what you do every day, throughout the day, every day of your life: Eat.
The food choices you make have a big impact on your energy, your focus and your overall ability to perform. A healthy diet can prevent – and in many cases reverse – diseases and dysfunction in any part of your body. Eating healthier simply offers a major opportunity to live a better life.
Eating for Energy
The relationship between food, and your health and wellbeing is extremely complex and continuously under debate. There is however a growing consensus about how eating specific nutrients improves your metabolic health, the generation of new cells in your brain, the activity of important bacteria in your gut and the regulation of anti-inflammatory genes.
For example, carbohydrates break down into glucose, fats into fatty acids and protein into amino acids. Because of this, your cells can grow, duplicate, repair themselves and create the energy source which drives all these processes, making it possible for you to breathe, move, think and feel.
There is also a growing consensus about how eating specific nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and avoiding others (refined sugars and trans fats) can improve your metabolic health, the generation of new cells in your brain, the activity of important bacteria in your gut, and the regulation of anti-inflammatory genes. All in all, science keeps creating valuable insights, which show how eating specific nutrients and foods can improve energy and performance, and thus enhance your wellbeing.
Find Out what is Good for You
If you feel pretty skeptical about just any advice you get on nutrition, you’re not alone. The information can be quite confusing. Just one night of binge-watching food documentaries will offer you at least ten different views on what is good for you and what is not. Each of them backed up by nutritional experts from around the globe. For every expert online and/or in books who tells you a certain food or nutrient is good, you’ll find at least ten others stating the complete opposite.
However, when you start looking for commonalities between the different approaches, you’ll find that there are a number of things that most of them agree on. There is actually a growing consensus in the scientific community about what is best for most people in regard to their energy, health and wellbeing.
Your Personal Needs
The reason why I underline ‘best for most people’ is that, depending on a whole list of variables, people can react differently to the nutrients they eat. A well-known example is lactose, found in dairy products.
While roughly two-thirds of the world’s population is sensitive to lactose, and malabsorption rates are close to 100% in some countries, there are also countries where the prevalence of malabsorption is below 4%. For example, the vast majority of people living in South Korea have difficulties dealing with lactose, which in practice means that drinking more than two glasses of milk per day will harm their health. At the same time, most people in Ireland can consume larger quantities of dairy products without any complaints.
Most people are, to some extent, aware of the fact that depending on their background, they may react differently to certain foods, and they are also practically guaranteed to know someone who is allergic or hypersensitive to a particular substance. Less known is that within seemingly homogenous groups of people, those with the same backgrounds and without known allergies or medical conditions, the response to specific foods or combinations of foods can also vary significantly. To make things even more complicated, people can react differently to the same foods, at different times in their life. They react differently because their system will develop different needs and will be better or worse at dealing with specific foods and nutrients.
Your Individual Response to Food
The reason why your body might react differently to the exact same food is that its response is influenced by a long list of factors, many of which change during your life. Your age, sex, DNA, metabolic health, gut microbiome, lifestyle, and even your mindset can all directly influence how your body reacts to what you eat. For example, while people generally react in the same way after eating white bread – in the sense that their blood sugar levels increase significantly after consumption – this is not the case for everybody. For some reason, people respond differently to the starch in white bread, which has a high glycemic index (GI). This means that it will generally lead to a rapid surge in blood glucose levels after consuming it, especially when eating large quantities, but not for everyone.
Recent findings emphasize the differences in how people respond to the food they eat and are beginning to explain why some people never gain weight or develop diabetes, even when they consume large amounts of simple carbohydrates, whereas others feel that they gain weight by simply ‘looking at food’ that is high in sugars or refined carbs in general, or experience sugar highs and lows for the rest of the day after having a high carb breakfast.
In the future, when today’s children will have become adults, it will be possible, and practical, to closely monitor your body’s response to foods. With the help of new sensor technologies and automated intelligence, you will be able to obtain nutritional advice tailored to your personal needs, around the clock.
While many top athletes are already benefitting from the new possibilities that personalized nutrition has to offer, it’s good to realize that the data analysis tools that support personalized nutrition are effectively still in their adolescence. In practice, this means that it’s possible to obtain valuable insights from extensive lab tests, to check the nutrient values in your blood at fixed times, or to check them before and after consuming standardized meals, as well as by testing your DNA for genetic variations related to absorption of specific nutrients. However, it generally costs a lot of time and money, and translating the results into practical advice still demands a lot of expertise and has many limitations.
For now, until personalized nutrition has developed into maturity, and is available to the general public, it’s comforting to know that there are many foods and nutrients to which the vast majority of people react pretty much the same. Educating yourself about them, to better understand how they (the foods and the nutrients inside them) are likely to impact your body, is a good place to start. Find out which foods and nutrients are best for you.
How to Upgrade Your Daily Fuel
Eating a healthy diet can seem extremely challenging at times. Finding out what the perfect diet consists of is not easy and in my opinion, perfection is not something you should generally aim for. In practice you can always improve your energy, health and wellbeing by eating more ‘real food’, in particular vegetables, optimizing your energy intake (eating less and more balanced mix of macronutrients), drinking more water and eating more mindfully.
1. Eat More Real Food
Eating more real food can make a huge difference to the way you think, look and feel! Eating real food is about eating food that’s closer to nature and thus less processed; these foods offer you better sources of nutrients and prevent you from consuming all the junk that comes with highly processed foods.
Natural, wholesome, unprocessed foods prevent disease, support health (of both your body and brain), enhance energy, improve digestion and skin condition, help you to sleep better, maintain a healthy weight, reduces carcinogens and anti-nutrients in the diet. It’s the kind of food our body recognizes as an easily convertible source of energy.
The main reason why real food offers the highest nutritional value is simply because it has not been processed or refined, and thus not stripped away from its most valuable content.
How to Eat More Real Food
Eating more real food is about eating the foods closest to nature. When you prepare your meal, start with as many real ingredients as possible. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish, eggs, poultry, or beef – they all add to the nutritional value of your meal, as long as you choose them in their natural form. In practice, it’s not that complicated to eat more real food, all you have to do is follow a few of the practical tips.
2. Eat more Veggies
Eating more vegetables means you automatically upgrade your daily fuel. It improves your energy level and ability to perform throughout the day. It helps maintain a healthy body composition and improves your overall health and wellbeing. Eat enough vegetables throughout your life and you will be around longer to enjoy all these benefits. All this makes veggies king, when it comes to nutrition.
While nearly everybody knows that eating vegetables is healthy, not everybody knows how vegetables work their wonders. The micronutrients in vegetables are essential for generating energy and play a major role in keeping all your systems running in optimal form, not in the least your immune and nervous systems, including your brain. The fibers in vegetables feed the microbes in your gut and help regulate your energy intake. They make you feel full, get your digestive track going, and slow down the uptake of carbohydrates, which helps manage glucose in your blood stream. The fluids help you stay hydrated, and the fact that vegetables are low in calories makes them the ultimate ‘light food’. Last but not least, they provide a variety of color, scent and flavor to your diet, because they contain a large number of phytochemicals.
You Are Bound to Benefit
Vegetables are beneficial in almost all forms – fresh, cooked, frozen and juiced – so really, it shouldn’t be that hard to get in most of them. However, the vast majority of people eat too little of them. Less than 15% of the people in Europe, North America and Asia (outside of China) eat enough vegetables to comply with the general standard of eating at least 250 grams per day. Statistically, chances are high that you can also use some extra vegetables. Even when you eat enough of them according to the dietary guidelines, you are bound to benefit from eating more vegetables. For most people this is the most important piece of advice and the easiest way to eat healthier.
How to Eat more Veggies?
To eat more veggies, all you need to do is follow a few of the practical tips. Most of them seem all too obvious, but nevertheless, there might be something new in it for you.
3. Drink more Water
Consuming enough water – either through fluids or foods – is essential to your health, performance and wellbeing; It keeps you focused, helps to lose weight, helps you to exercise, may relieve headaches when you are dehydrated, decreases the risk of kidney stone formation, helps prevent and relieves constipation and prevents or reduces hangovers.
While water itself does not provide any nutrients, it is necessary for the absorption of nutrients, and often includes essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and salt. Inside your body, water is needed for literally every metabolic process, whether it’s the absorption of a nutrient, a muscle contraction, or the firing of a neuron in your brain, your body needs water to do it.
Keeping you sharp
Nearly 80% of your brain consists of water and the working of your brain is strongly influenced by its level of hydration. Water and the electrolytes that come with it (minerals, salt and sodium) are involved in every chemical reaction in your brain. When you don’t drink enough fluids to stay hydrated you can experience headaches, dizziness, loss of alertness, reduced focus and loss of concentration. Sometimes you don’t experience anything at all, but still your brain slows down. According to a wide range of studies, even mild dehydration (1-3% of body weight) can impair memory and mood, and can increase feelings of anxiety and fatigue.
N.B. While drinking based on thirst might keep you alive and healthy, it will not guarantee optimal processing speed. To optimize your brainpower, drink throughout your day, and when you get thirsty, do not postpone drinking any longer, as your brain has most probably already slowed down.
How to Drink More Water
While drinking based on thirst might keep you alive and healthy, it will not guarantee optimal processing speed. To optimize your brainpower, drink throughout your day, and when you get thirsty, do not postpone drinking any longer, as your brain has most probably already slowed down. Here are five simple ways to help you succeed.
4. Balance Your Macronutrient Mix
By taking into account how your body responds to the food you eat in terms of energy (surge vs. long-term stable energy), you will be able to better manage your energy supply.
Carbohydrates, with the exception of dietary fiber, are absorbed quickest. The simpler the carbohydrates, the faster they will be digested. Proteins generally take longer to be digested and absorption goes on much longer. Fats take the longest to fully digest and absorb. This also explains how they can deliver the most long-term energy.
Most meals and snacks consist of a number of ingredients and even more nutrients, which makes it difficult to estimate digestion rates and times. In order to ensure a steady supply of energy, you don’t need to know the exact numbers; the basic trick is to ensure that there are always some fats and proteins in your meals and not too much carbs (especially not the simple ones, or the ones without any fibers).
How to Balance Your Macronutrient Mix
For optimal energy and performance, manage your energy intake: eat light and often. Even the most energy-rich foods won’t fuel high performance for longer than four hours. If there is more time between your meals, have a snack! A healthy snack will keep you energized until your next meal. It’s these strategies that can help you maintain a high – and stable – level of energy, that drives your metabolism and that fuels your brain to think and do all of its other jobs.
5. Eat Mindfully
When people think about eating healthy, they tend to focus on what they are eating. This makes sense, but there is something else that counts, and that is your ‘eating experience’.
When eating is purely functional, it loses its charm. Just imagine what a Michelin star-meal would taste like, if you would eat it alone in your basement. So, whenever you can, choose a worthwhile eating experience over mere functional eating.
Appreciate the taste of your food, the company of the people that you are with, or – when you are eating alone – the atmosphere of a restaurant or the park bench, rather than aiming to simply consume calories. And, when at home, eat your meals at the dining table, rather than in front of the TV. Take some time to just eat, and stop doing other tasks. When you are more aware of the food you eat and how it tastes, you will enjoy your food much more!