What does food even do for you?

Before we get too far into this appeal for nutrition, we ought to mention why writing about nutrition is beneficial. Sadly, we have a large amount of nutritional information blasted in our faces, yet most of it superfluous. The surface content is flashy and convincing, but the overall content is shallow.

Food is often likened to fuel for the body, and it is that. Calories are gasoline to the body. Calories are converted into energy. This energy keeps our bodies moving and able to take on whatever tasks we do. The body must have calories to maintain its current state.

Each person’s body needs a certain number of calories to maintain the current lifestyle of choice. Known as the Basal Metabolic Rate, these necessary daily calories are utilized for a few things. To illustrate, we will use a percentage breakdown of 70%, 20%, and 10%.  70% of these needed calories maintain muscle, soft tissue, and organs. That’s right, our bodies need calories just to maintain what we currently have. 20% of these needed calories fuel physical activity. 10% fuel internal processes such as blood circulation, respiration, digestion, and filtration. 

This breakdown may sound strange. I found it very interesting when I learned how many of my calories consumed just maintain the tissues of my body. I was surprised to find only 20% of the calories we burn are from physical activity, as the first approach to weight loss or physique change is exercise. 

This is how to understand calories as fuel. Food, however, has far greater implications.
Food produces hormonal responses in the body. Insulin, the most talked about hormone in our age, regulates blood glucose levels. Insulin also regulates how the body uses and stores glucose and fat. When we eat carbohydrates or sugars, insulin is released into the bloodstream as the carbohydrates and sugars are digested. Cells need insulin to use glucose, so having an insulin response is a good thing. The issue with insulin occurs when the body has too many carbohydrates or sugars. The insulin response becomes greater, and the insulin levels in the bloodstream become elevated for long periods of time. Hyperinsulemia, or high insulin levels, leads to Type II diabetes and other health issues.

Beyond hyperinsulemia, heightened insulin levels change the way the body uses glucose and fat. Increased insulin levels predispose the body to store body fat because it believes it has enough energy from the large levels of glucose it is responding to. So heightened insulin levels thwart efforts we make to lose stored body fat. Therefore, at times, lowering the general amount of carbohydrate intake can reduce stored body fat. By lowering the amount of carbohydrates, we can lower the amount of insulin signaling the body to store body fat in lieu of excess glucose levels. Once this balance begins to reinstate, the body then uses the stored body fat for energy.

Insulin is only one hormone food affects. Micronutrients affect hormones like testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, adrenaline, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. I imagine you have heard of one of these. Understand these are good in men and women. Issues occur when imbalances exist. The body likes balance, known as homeostasis. The body uses antagonistic hormones so we can respond appropriately to what we encounter in life. If a tiger walks in the room, our adrenaline will pump so we know to run without consciously processing the danger of the tiger in our proximity. Once we escape, the body can trigger dopamine so the body relaxes into a more resting state.

Food affects these hormonal responses, and this barely scratches the surface. In the past fifty years, nutritional therapies have been developed to treat hormonal imbalances. In times past, chemical treatments come first. Chemicals, namely pharmaceutical drugs, can trigger or block hormonal responses to restore balance. Over recent history, nutritional research has shown food's significant hormonal effects. The American diet biases high glycemic carbohydrates which up-regulate insulin, creating hyperinsulemia and the health issues that come with it. Other studies concerning other hormones show other imbalances created my macronutrient imbalance and micronutrient deficiencies.

You may see the conclusion already. We are what we eat, and more so than we believe. Stored body fat, lack of muscular definition, and lack of performance follow poor nutrition. Low testosterone, diabetes, poor sleep, depression, and other conditions because of hormonal imbalance via poor food intake do, too. These are called “chronic conditions.” Let us distinguish between chronic and acute. Some imbalances are acute and the result of an individual’s physiology. Imbalances dictated by repetitive decisions are chronic. This article discusses chronic, not acute, and I, in no way, dismiss acute imbalances and the conditions they create. I am advocating how food choice can create chronic states of hormonal imbalance, thus putting us in less than desirable hormonal states.

In conclusion, nutrition is important, but not just for our physical desires. Nutrition genuinely improves quality of life. Creating better hormonal balance will directly affect how we feel and interact with the world. And yes, the physical benefits will come, too. We just need to know nutrition is deeper than that.

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