Health and weight (and how to manage them) are topics that seem to both fascinate and frustrate us in equal measure. The answer lies in understanding your personal fuelling requirements. Your body’s biochemical make-up is as unique as your fingerprints; we’re all very different in the way our bodies process foods and utilise nutrients. It’s not possible to expect one diet regime to work for everyone and supports the concept of ‘typing’ yourself, according to certain aspects of your metabolism. In a nutshell, it’s about understanding exactly what your ideal daily ratios of fats, proteins and carbohydrates should be. These ideal ratios keep you in great health and at a good body weight.
Throughout man’s evolutionary history, people all over the world were forced to adapt to widely varying environmental circumstances, like climates and food supplies. For example, traditional Eskimos thrive on very large quantities of meat and fat. However, people born in the tropics stay healthy eating fruits and grains and lighter protein foods. For decades, scientists have observed that people who eat according to their genetically-based dietary needs have virtually no incidence of cancer, heart disease, or any other degenerative ailments.
A mainstream diet paradigm
Historically, the food pyramid has tended to be used the world over, to give guidance to the general population around ‘healthy’ ratios of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins). In fact, this pyramid is by no means a healthy dietary plan for all to follow. This is because it is disproportionately high in carbohydrates. This traditional notion advises a daily intake of 60% carbs, 25% protein and 15% fat. The problem with this advice is three-fold:
- It doesn’t differentiate between the qualities of the carbs mentioned
- Eating this many carbs plays havoc with blood sugar, causing weight gain and the potential for development of lifestyle diseases
- The food pyramid (and any other formula diet) does not take into account individual fuel needs
When people consume carbs, most tend not to be too concerned about the quality of this macronutrient. In fact, grains like pastas and commercial breads are staples in most daily diets. Processed carbohydrates require huge amounts of energy to digest in the body because they are, by nature, devoid of good quality nutrients and enzymes. This results in a depletion of your own important reserves of both. On the other hand vegetables are a far healthier, nutrient-rich choice. Whole-grains and high quantities of fruit, although a better choice than processed grains, can still cause health problems.
Health and carbohydrates
Carbohydrate is the only macronutrient that alters blood sugar. This is because the starches break down relatively quickly into sugars in the body. When high-glycaemic (high sugar-release) carbs are eaten regularly, they break down extremely rapidly into sugar. This has a devastating effect on blood sugar levels. High glycaemic carbs include grains, certain fruits, sweetened juices and simple sugars (found in sweets, chocolates, table sugar and even artificial sweeteners). In addition, because people are made to fear fats and certain proteins (like animal fleshes), they tend to be overlooked when the choice is made for a ‘healthy’ meal/snack. Proteins and fats actually control blood sugar levels very effectively by ‘dampening’ the rising blood sugar.
Simplistically, when blood sugar becomes high, the pancreas produces insulin. This results in a signal sent to various cells to ‘open’ to receive the excess glucose. If you do physical labour throughout your day, you might be better able to handle this excess glucose as your muscle fuel would need to be replaced fairly frequently. However, most of us are not particularly physically active during any given day and so the excess glucose tends to be stored as fat. If this insulin production and resulting signal happens frequently enough, the cells that receive the insulin signal can become ‘deaf’. They therefore require more and more insulin in order to perceive the signal to open and allow the glucose in.
This can lead to a condition called ‘insulin-resistance’, the precursor to diabetes. Once the cells have absorbed the excess glucose, blood sugar will start to drop, leading to stimulation of the adrenals. They output adrenalin, which results in a picking up and stabilising of the blood sugar to more normal levels. The problem with this pattern is that it’s very stressful for both the pancreas and adrenals and can lead to potential health issues (or even lifestyle diseases).
Your specific fuel needs
If you burn (oxidise) your carbs quickly, you’re said to be a fast oxidiser. If you burn them slowly, you’re a slow oxidiser. Fast oxidisers require far more proteins and fats in their diet than slow oxidisers. In addition, the autonomic nervous system plays a crucial role in fuel needs, as it is the master regulator of metabolism. It consists of two branches – the sympathetic (sym) and the parasympathetic (para). These relate to how efficiently your body uses its fuel and you may be more dominant in one or the other. People more dominant in the sym system tend to do better on a diet higher in carbs. They are usually tall and slim, have good muscle definition, a short temper, good concentration, crave sweets and tend towards heartburn. Those who are para dominant tend to do better on a higher protein and fat diet. They usually have broad shoulders, are strong and powerful, cautious, creative, crave meat and salt and tend towards low blood sugar.
You can see how important it is to know what your specific fuel needs are. Having this understanding will provide you with an easy and extremely powerful way to stay in both great health and great shape. Simply cutting down on your intake of carbohydrates (all but vegetables) will already see you improving blood sugar management. Adding good quality fats (like butter, coconut fat and cold-pressed plant oils) and proteins (grass-fed, free-range or organic beef and lamb, naturally-raised chickens and wild fish, raw nuts and seeds) will lead to improved emotional stability, increased energy and a reduction in both sweet cravings and body fat.