Nutrition – Why Should I Care?

why should I care about nutrition

A Personal Food Philosophy

1/ We’re all different

I remember when I was studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2008/9 – early on we had a day with 2 guest lecturers.

In the morning was a medical Doctor who told us that humans should never ever eat animal products, and he had all sorts of compelling reasons and supporting data and studies and ‘proof’ as to why not.

And in the afternoon a woman with equal amounts of just as compelling data, studies and proof on why animal products, and dairy in particular, are just fine, and in fact, when fermented and/or organic, really good for us.

We were all a little stunned – what are we supposed to do with THAT! Aren’t you supposed to tell us what’s right and wrong?

It was a really great eye opener that has informed my understanding of nutrition very deeply. We’re all different. What works for one, may not work for another.

The more I have learned about nutrition, the more I realize you can’t know everything about nutrition. What we know is constantly shifting and changing, but really if you peel away the hype and trends it all boils down to some fundamental basic truths – eat mostly whole food that comes from or out of good, clean, healthy earth. (scroll to the bottom to see some basic fundamentals)

Each of us has to take time to listen and learn from our own bodies and work out what works for us.

2/ How are we supposed to know what’s good for us?

The trouble is, that’s not an easy thing to do in a world where there is so much conflicting information constantly bombarding us. How are we supposed to know what’s ‘good’? It keeps changing all the time! It seems you need to be an expert just to read a label, and why the heck should I have to do that in the first place?

I kind of feel like all the experts and the media with its constant advertising have taken the power out of our hands. We now believe we need someone else to tell us what we’re supposed to eat. Eating is one of the most basic survival instincts, and we don’t know how to do it properly anymore!

We live in a time where we are removed from our food supply and the deep connection to our food that would allow our instincts to work for us. We’re busy and tired, stressed and overwhelmed. We want to make ‘good’ choices but mostly, we just need to eat… fast!

3/ How did we get here?

Before we can understand what we should be doing, I think it’s valuable to look back and understand how we got here. Because we’re not bad people with no willpower, and food is not out to get us. Our world changed really fast, and our DNA and genetics are primed for a world that no longer exists.

We come from hunter-gatherer people right? According to Wikipedia (since that’s a thing)

“Hunting and gathering was presumably the subsistence strategy employed by human societies beginning some 1.8 million years ago, by Homo Erectus, and from its appearance some 0.2 million years ago by Homo Sapiens.”

So, for a really long time we roamed the plains hunting wild game, picking and foraging for wild plants, nuts, seeds, roots and fruits. There was no industry polluting the air or water, the earth was as Mother Nature intended. Food was hard to find, hard to kill and we got a lot of exercise.

Then some of us stopped roaming and decided to stay put for a while. We learned how to raise animals and grow crops for food, year round. The air was still clean, farming was organic, we were part of an ecosystem and we recognised ourselves as part of that system.

Everything in the ecosystem had a place, and a job to do. Everything was fed by something or other and was food for something else, and everything returned to the earth at death, to begin the cycle again. And it stayed like that for about 10,000 years.

Slowly more of us moved into towns and cities, the Industrial Revolution revved things up and life got quicker and dirtier.

4/ The last 100 years

Then, just in the last 100 years or so our whole world has changed incredibly quickly. Way too quickly for evolution to keep up, or us for that matter!

  • Industry has exploded and so has the pollution that comes with it – fouling our air and our waterways, as well as our food and skincare. Technology went crazy wonderful and has completely rewritten the way we live. Our population has exploded and so have our cities – concrete jungles that disconnect us from nature and oftentimes each other, ironically.
  • We rarely hunt or forage for wild foods today, in fact wild foods have become scarce and we think of many of them as weeds or vermin, or dangerous. We have been disconnected from the sacredness of a living thing (be it animal or vegetable) giving its’ life as food so that another might be nourished.
  • The range of foods we eat has become much smaller, as farmers select the strongest, biggest yielding variety of crop and disregard the rest – the need for a big yield, has overcome the need for quality nutrition. (Did you know there are around 7500 types of apple that can grow in the US? How many different apples did you last see in your grocery store?)
  • The way we grow our foods, both animal and vegetable has changed HUGELY. We no longer grow healthy soil in which to grow healthy plants, we don’t listen to the laws of nature, we don’t create ecosystems where everything has its’ place, a job, feeds and is fed. Instead we create mono-crops – vast oceans of one thing, one thing, one thing, out of balance, overwhelming the system.

And the result is soil stripped of certain nutrients that the one thing uses heavily. Pests that are fed by the one thing but who have no predator because there is no home here in this system-less ocean for the predator. So the pests thrive.

As the soil becomes malnourished we need fertilizers to feed it.

As the pests became an intolerable factor contributing to losses in yield we need pesticides, vermicides, fungicides, herbicides in ever increasing amounts to combat the issue. Chemical warfare has contributed many ‘treasures’ to the way we farm.

And as Mother Nature tries to right herself, we throw more chemicals at the problem, ultimately turning to genetic modification to right the situation that we caused in the first place.

If only we could use our great intelligence and science to learn how to USE the laws of nature, the grand and wonderful web of life, for our purpose, to follow those laws but design a system that serves us – check out Permaculture sometime 

  • In the last 100 years, we have flown to the moon, invented computers, laptops, cell phones, i-pads, i-everything, Myspace, Facebook, the twitter-verse. We don’t need to hunt for food, most of us sit at desks for a living. We go to gyms for exercise.
  • Food has become more and more refined and processed, which denatures the nutrition content. We ship our food long distances (tough on the environment as well as the food), we harvest food under-ripe, before it has had time to fully mature and take on all the nutrients it’s supposed to have.
  • Refrigeration has replaced preserving and fermenting which can provide health-giving enzymes and probiotics. Instead, additives, chemicals, preservatives, genetic modification, irradiation are just a fact of life. One we accept too easily.

5/ Our modern relationship with food

Few of us sit down to a meal with family any more, to take our time and enjoy the rewards of connection and conversation as we eat. We are so disconnected from our food source we can no longer acknowledge the life force we are receiving and many children can’t even name a fruit or vegetable if you show it to them. It’s not part of our culture any more.

Instead of giving honor and gratitude for this nourishment, we’re more likely beating ourselves up and feeling guilty or bad about eating something we ‘shouldn’t’.

Our relationship with food has gone completely askew. Ditto with our bodies and our health.

6/ We’re not getting enough nutrition from our food any more

Most of our food is lacking in nutrients because of poor soil health, processing, travel and storage, early harvesting and cooking. Add to that the chemicals and additives and the rush in which we eat – we are just not getting enough nutrition from our food any more and we simply need to eat more to get enough nutrients, but sadly most of our refined food is very high in calories and very low in nutrients. So we end up overweight and malnourished.

Dr Mark Hyman has said “Food is not just calories, it is information. It talks to your DNA and tells it what to do. The most powerful tool to change your health, environment and entire world, is your fork”

I love that quote. The thing is once upon a time we had to know which plants were poisonous so we didn’t end up putting arsenic in our salad. Today we’re not picking the wild foods, we feel like we can trust that what’s in the supermarket is safe. But is it? I believe you still need to know what’s going in your salad and it’s not in the economic interest of many of our food ‘providers’ for us to have that information.

7/ You need to have some basic understanding of what’s in your food.

If you want to be truly healthy, I’m sorry to tell you but I honestly think you do need to have some basic understanding of what’s in your food.

You need to work out if you’re ok with GMO or not, you need to know if you should be dairy free or gluten free – we’re not the same, what makes you shine? You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to take an interest.

What matters to me the most is that people are informed. I don’t mind so much if you’re pro GMO or against it, believe in global warming or don’t, care about label reading or don’t care, (I mean I do mind because duh, but it’s not my place to tell you what to think) but I do think it’s really important that you’ve looked at both sides of the argument and come to an informed choice.

Our world got complicated, we have become very disconnected from our food, from each other, from the earth on which we are simply just another species but which provides everything we need. And which always will, if we would only stop trying to dominate and ‘fix’ the problems we created in the first place, and just step into the cycle and become part of the way things work.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We will find solutions to the question of feeding our massive numbers, and healing the damage  we’re a pretty smart bunch.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you have to become an expert in all things nutrition, but just as once you needed to know which berries were safe and which were poisonous, and which foods needed to be buried for 3 weeks and then cooked before they were safe, it’s the same today – you need to know what’s in your food, you need to know what works for you.

And then you make your own choices. After all, it’s your body.

Back to basics – the fundamentals of eating better

So, how do we weed through all the conflicting information about health and diet? In terms of your nutrition – come back to the basics.

  • You do not need to be perfect. You do not need to be an expert. You DO need to care about nutrition and inform yourself the best you can.
  • Then simply make better choices more often.
  • Learn to cook. When you cook yourself, from scratch, you know exactly what’s in your food and you know it was made with love. Cooking or preparing raw food with organic ingredients is one of the easiest ways to know you are getting the best quality.
  • Love your self, and think of ‘nourishing your body and soul’ rather than nutrition.
  • Reconnect to your food, take your time. Never rush a meal. Sit down to eat wherever possible
  • Eat proper meals – based on vegetables, and add protein and fats. Think 3 square meals and less snacking, give your digestive system a rest.
  • Eat less sugar, especially white sugar, fructose, high fructose corn syrup but don’t be hoodwinked by the healthy sugars – honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave – they’re still sugar. You can handle a little but not all the time and in everything, so consume less.
  • Eat whole foods (an egg is a whole food, perfectly formed with various nutrients that support each other. Egg white is not a whole food and egg white that comes in a box and doesn’t go off for weeks is not even food, in my opinion)
  • Avoid numbers, additives, preservatives, chemicals and GMO (yep, sorry, you do have to read labels these days. It’s bonkers I know, but in today’s world you need to know what’s in this, you can’t just take it for granted)
  • Eat less refined and processed foods (brown rice is a phenomenally nutritious food, white rice is pretty much one step up from starch. Refined foods are high in calories and low in nutrients)
  • Eat a wide variety of different things (they all have different nutrients so you are making sure you get enough of everything, but not too much of anything)
  • Eat lots of different colors – yellow, red, purple GREEN, white (I’m thinking cauliflower and turnip for example, not rice and bread), blue and more GREEN (if you don’t like green things you have to find a way of getting them in – try a green drink, or a cocoa-mint-banana-chip-pretend-I’m-not-green green drink!)
  • Go organic wherever possible, I’d love to say “don’t break the bank but where you can make the choice” but honestly if you’re interested in your health then buy organic and non GMO. Organic will be free from the chemicals and the additives and preservatives will at least be natural and organic. Look for USDA Organic labels. Vote with your dollar, let’s make organic cheaper and more widespread.
  • Buy local and seasonal. 
  • Get some movement in your daily life (I prefer to think of movement rather than exercise. Exercise sounds hard and I tend to rebel)
  • Find a clean source of water and drink more of it
  • Don’t forget about fiber and healthy fats.

Stay tuned to our articles and our Facebook community. Check out recipes and ideas, tips and resources – we all have ideas to share with each other, we can all learn from each other. There are tools out there to make life healthier AND easier in today’s world and we at YHH want to connect you to them.

About the author

Susan Vallelunga

Susan graduated as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in 2009. She has coached in a gym setting and private health clients. She has also coached students of Integrative Nutrition and continues to coach both private clients and health coaches. She is an avid learner of permaculture and self-reliance, getting back to basics and all the juicy things life has to offer.

4 comments

Leave a comment: