Saturday, February 2, 2013

Take a Big Mac and Call Me In the Morning

I want to introduce this blog as a dump. My life has become surreal mixture of grad school, research, fitness, modeling, and generally just trying to understand how the world works. I figure this strange combination of situations would make for an interesting blend of blog topics, so here we are.

That being said, I want to jump right into something that is relevant to everyone. Food. I'm not a professional nutritionist so take everything here with a grain of salt. There are many different opinions about nutrition in society today, but there seems to be an increasing trend that people think there are "good" foods and there are "bad" foods. My interest in nutrition is split between my part time modeling gig and my full time scientist career.  My modeling side wants to eat nothing but salads and chicken all day, but the scientist in me needs to know more. What is food? What kind of diet is essential for life? What kind of diet is essential for a healthy life? Let's start with the concept of what food is.

I personally think about food the same way I think about drugs (my grad study is in pharmacology and toxicology). You are consuming a foreign substance that is processed by your body to interact with a specific target. That apple you ate is just like that Tylenol you took for your headache. Both enter your body through your mouth, both are broken down into chemicals and then absorbed into your blood, and both interact with specific cells throughout your entire body. So, if you think about food in a pharmaceutical perspective you can start to understand about what a healthy diet is. In pharmacology they have a saying, "The dose makes the poison." It means anything can be toxic, it just depends on how much of that substance you intake. The lethal dose for water in rats is about 90 mL per kg of body. If the average person is 75 kg then they could consume about 6.75 liters of water before seeing toxic side effects, aka. dying (yes dying is a side effect). But, if you don't consume enough water you will die as well. There is a sweet spot for how much water you can intake to avoid any toxic effects. But, what does that mean about food?

If we think about food like a drug then we can say there is a a sweet spot of how much we need to intake. Too bad it isn't that simple. There are many different chemicals in foods and we need to find that sweet spot for each chemical. That means we need to eat a variety of different foods in order to maintain a healthy amount of those vital chemicals.

I want to talk about a component of food that really has a bad reputation, fat. Now, we all hear about the major problems of consuming too much fat. You gain weight, increase your risk of heart problems, and enhance your chance of diabetes. But, did you know that high fat diets can cause changes in your brain too? Your brain enjoys the tastes of foods that are high in fat because they are high in energy. In response to consuming high energy foods our brains release chemical signals that make us feel good. Overtime, if you over consume these foods, your brain will release less of these chemicals without the stimulus of food. This leads to depression and an addiction to fatty foods because those foods are one of the only things that make people feel good. There are many other interesting developmental and neurological consequences of high fat diets and I recommended googling that shit. 

So, eating that Big Mac must be bad, right? Like I said before, there is a sweet spot. Our body needs fats to function. That is a core concept that many people do not seem to understand today. We NEED fats. Biologically our cells are surrounded by lipids (fats). These lipids are crucial for maintaining cell structure and function.

 Ok, great. So, we need fat. But how much? The USDA recommends that healthy adults over the age of 19 consume between 20 and 35 percent of their daily calories from fat. Young children (ages 1 to 3 years) need as much as 40 percent of their daily calories to come from fat. If you eat a diet of 2,000 calories per day, ingest between 44 g and 77 g of total fat daily. That Big Mac your craving has 34 grams of fat. That is about 75% of your daily fat right there. People also don't realize that fat is in almost all of their food. It's in the cheese you added to your salad, in the nuts you are snacking on before dinner, and even in the oatmeal you had for breakfast. Even if you don't eat fat your body can make it. When you consume too much sugar your body wants to preserve that energy, so it turns that sugar into fat. There really is no way to avoid it, fat is everywhere. This means we have to be careful about the accumulation of fat we consume, since it is in nearly all our foods.

Fat is just one component of food that has to be balanced and regulated. There are also carbohydrates, proteins, and specific essential microcircuits (things you need in smaller amounts). A healthy diet is a balance of all these things. But that still doesn't answer the core question, "what should I eat?" The best answer I can come up with is everything. You should eat everything, just in moderation. Eat the proper amount of vegetables, fruits, carbohydrates, and even fats. Some foods you should definitely eat more than others, but I don't think you should  deny yourself a particular food group because you believe it to be inherently "bad" for you. To determine the right amount of each nutrient for you  I recommend you seek out a professional nutritionist and doing a bit of research of your own.


Hanno Pijl, Reduced dopaminergic tone in hypothalamic neural circuits: expression of a “thrifty” genotype underlying the metabolic syndrome?, European Journal of Pharmacology, Volume 480, Issues 1–3, 7 November 2003, Pages 125-131, ISSN 0014-2999, 10.1016/j.ejphar.2003.08.100.
Keywords: Dopamine; Dopamine D2 receptor; Metabolic syndrome X; Insulin resistance; Obesity

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