When it comes to health, nutrition comes second to exercise. You get your biggest bang from moving more, but you should really pay attention to what you eat as well.
That’s why there obviously is a component of nutrition in No-brainer Fitness. This page is called “Diet” but don’t be mistaken: what I am talking about is not a “fad diet” to get you to lose weight or perform at a higher level in your chosen discipline. I use the word diet in the proper sense of the term, to indicate what one eats on a daily basis.
As such, it would be more appropriate to call this page of nutrition recommendations a “biogenic way of eating”; a way of eating that promotes biological function. Or at least does not impede biological function.
But few would understand this terminology, so diet it is.
While there is no silver bullet, no single food that will make you super-healthy, the elements of a biogenic diet are fairly simple:
- Seek good quality meats and fish (lots of protein).
- Double-up on vegetables and fruit (even more veggies and fruit), and a good diversity at that.
- No processed foods whatsoever (this is already pretty hard to do).
- Very little grains and carbohydrate-dense food, and definitely no refined sugars added to anything. We get plenty of carbs from fruit and vegetables anyway…
- Exception to the preceding rule when training really hard, or racing long durations (distances).
- Dairy products if they agree with you, but in moderation.
- Get rid of all the NOT FOOD stuff in your diet.
- Through it all, remain mindful of why you eat, and what eating does to you…
Where this comes from
As you may be able to guess, the biogenic diet is inspired somewhat by the Paleo Diet. In the practical aspects of it, not the philosophical basis. Why not use a pure Paleo Diet? It sure seems to be very popular these days… Because I think that some things are terribly wrong with the Paleo Diet. But some things about it are also bang on.
It is true that our bodies have evolved to eat natural foods, whole foods. Not processed stuff, whether or not it is “NOT FOOD.” Basically, we evolved to eat what we could hunt and gather. And we probably never had the luxury of eating a mix of meat and veggies and fruit at each sitting. We ate what we could; we are, after all, omnivores. We simply made do, and our bodies were able to handle the ups and downs, and frequent shortages of essential nutrients.
We don’t have to live like that anymore, thankfully. We even have the luxury of vegetarian, vegan, and raw (to name just those) lifestyles that have very good (and some not so good) philosophical bases. But it seems, for the vast majority of the population, that the pendulum has swung way too far towards ensuring we have plenty. And we actually have too much of some things.
Processed foods, especially those built from basic nutrients that are harvested separately and then combined in factories, are to be avoided. They simply do not have the nutritional value of whole, natural foods. Along the way, as we industrialized our food supply, we accelerated the loss of important nutritional value from our food.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying modern, mostly industrial foods are devoid of nutrients. They do possess a lot, but only of SOME nutrients. And we’ve created a lot of NOT FOOD as well in the process, for crass commercial purposes. Therein lies the problem.
The modern problem
In general, our modern diet is too carbs-dense, and not full enough of a wide range of micro-nutrients that we absolutely need. And often also too salty (sodium-rich) and too fatty “of the wrong kind” (hint: the kind that can easily be processed). The combination tastes great because we’ve evolved to seek such rare nutrition, archeologically speaking, and it is somewhat addictive. This makes us want to eat them in large quantities, and combined with the fact that they are often less expensive, you have a perfect nutritional storm.
Hence processing, and carbs-dense food in general, are to be avoided at all costs. Except when training really hard, and during tough endurance events. But that will be the subject of some blog posts.
Evolution in action
While it is true that our ancestors were used to a kind of diet that could be hunted and gathered, it is NOT true that we have stopped evolving since then. One major counter-example is dairy; many, especially in Nordic countries (Northern Europe, now also North-America because of migration patterns) are able to digest lactose into adulthood.
So besides the philosophical point about drinking another animal’s milk, the pragmatic part of the No-brainer Fitness Diet suggests that, if you can extract significant good nutrition from a food source, you should. But it is not mandatory to do so.
A final note: Because of tens of thousands of years of development of our food sources, the foods available to us nowadays bear very little resemblance with what our ancestors of the paleolithic ate. Farming, with its systematic selection of plant species and animal husbandry is of course the most obvious area where this took place. But all sorts of selections have been made over the centuries, so that food now is not the same as food then.
It is silly to think the Paleo Diet is reproducing nutrition from those days. But it has the big advantage of eliminating processed foods, and focusing on more whole and diversified nutrition instead of over-consuming carbs from grains…
So the approach I take to nutrition is derived to some extent from the Paleo Diet, except that I make allowances for some additional carbs when training or racing hard. And the pragmatic position: sometimes, you just gotta eat.
Another way to think about it, one that meets the biogenic principle from the other end, is to consider the following: We should only eat foods that come directly from plants, or that have been transformed mechanically and/or chemically by other living creatures, not machines. It is living food, to promote the functioning of our living bodies.
Eliminate NOT FOOD items, remove processed foods, reduce a great deal the carbs, eat a decent amount of good-quality meat and as much vegetables and fruit and nuts as you pretty much feel like (while remaining mindful of how satiated you feel), and you’ve got it.
Photo credits: Pixabay, and The Tremblay-Paquet-Veillette fridge on a grocery shopping day, by Sophie Tremblay-Paquet.