When we put food in our mouths, most of us – if we worry about anything – worry about the calories in that food. Eating food is necessary to give us energy, and without it we’ll starve. It tastes nice, too, so it’s not a chore. We know that we’ll get enough protein as long as we eat meat and enough calcium as long as we consume dairy. Not much can go wrong after that, right? The tomato sauce on pizza or the lettuce on a burger, baked beans in the morning and a glass of orange juice … that’s three already of our five-a-day. Surely that’ll do?
Why would it be necessary to learn about nutrition? Grandma never knew and she managed just fine by … simply eating food. But that’s just it: Grandma just ate food, because that was all there was. She couldn’t have gone far wrong. Today, however, we are surrounded by “Frankenfoods” – products that are manufactured to look and feel like food, even taste good, but are entirely artificial and provide very few, if any, of the chemicals we need to thrive, but plenty of chemicals that are unwelcome, even toxic, and that our body then has to dispose of.
Nothing in your body works without chemicals: You cannot move a muscle, you cannot think a thought without chemicals. Your heart wouldn’t beat, your liver not detox, your stomach not digest without chemicals. You cannot experience love, fear, or joy without chemicals. You cannot make babies without chemicals. The chemicals, which do all that, have got to come from somewhere, and whilst the skin and the lungs are a way in, too, most of said chemicals – or nutrients – come from your food.
Protein – a substance not just found in meat, by the way, but also in dairy, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds (and in smaller amounts in fruit and veg as well) – builds muscles, tendons, bones and connective tissue. Fat is a crucial part of every single cell wall. Every. Single. Cell. Wall. Without fat, your skin goes dry and your joints go creaky. You’d struggle to concentrate and be brilliant and be happy, because the cells of the brain require even more fat than all the others and it needs lots of a particular kind: omega-3. And cholesterol. Omega-3 fats come (mainly) from fatty fish and nuts and seeds.
For our body to work we need hormones (made from fat) and enzymes (made from protein). Apart from fat and protein, we need thousands of different nutrients to make tissue and hormones and enzymes and to make things happen: minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients (plant nutrients). Calcium, by the way, is a mineral that doesn’t just come from dairy (there’s much more in sesame) and it’s not the only mineral either. Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be toxic, sometimes too much of one thing pushes another out of the way. Balance is what we’re looking for.
We need fibre, both of the soluble and the unsoluble kind. Fibre feeds ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, mops up toxins, surplus cholesterol and old hormones, bulks up the stool and helps it move along. Without fibre you may end up constipated, miserable and unhealthy. Where do you get fibre from? Wholegrains – that’s brown bread, brown pasta, brown rice and the like – and lots and lots and lots of vegetables.
So, this is the stuff we need. But do we supply it? We would not expect a petrol car to run on diesel. Why should your body run on junk? You don’t need a degree in nutritional science. You just need to eat food, the way Grandma did.