Nutrition is one of the most important foundation stones of healthy living. Without the necessary building blocks and fuel, the body simply can’t function well. But we often don’t treat it as the top priority.
We need a good balance of the “macronutrients”: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. (Yes, we need fat!)
Carbohydrates are primarily used as fuel. Simple sugars are best limited, because they create a spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a sudden drop. Such extreme changes aren’t very healthful. Complex carbohydrates are better — especially when paired with fat and/or protein — because they break down more slowly, providing a steady supply of energy.
Protein is used as the body’s primary building blocks. Too little protein and you can’t build new cells, enzymes, etc.
Fat serves a number of purposes, including the transport of fat-soluble vitamins. Despite what most of us have heard, naturally-saturated fat is plenty healthy. It’s only artificially-saturated fat — better known as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil that is detrimental to health. (Real butter is much better for us than margarine!) 1
In addition to these macronutrients, we also need plenty of vitamins and minerals (“micronutrients”). The recommended daily allowances (RDA) are an estimated baseline. If we don’t meet that minimum, we’re likely to display traditional “deficiency” symptoms, but this is way beyond the point at which health starts to degrade. The RDA’s aren’t necessarily adequate for optimal health.
Conventional modern farming depletes the soil, so our produce has fewer minerals than it did in the past (although the USDA numbers haven’t been updated with new data in a while). Meanwhile (believe it or not!) most of us eat a lot less (or at least a lot less actual food) than our non-starving ancestors did, so we don’t consume the same quantity of vitamins and minerals as they did in the course of a comparable day.
Because of all this, it’s important to eat well (at least as a rule), and most of us can benefit from a good multivitamin/multi-mineral supplement, as well.
Water matters, too. The human body is about 60% water, so if we aren’t taking in enough water, that’s obviously going to lead to trouble! Organs need it. Individual cells need it. Effective detoxification requires it.
Most of us probably aren’t likely to thirst to death. We recognize our thirst before we’re in that kind of trouble! However, we often confuse some of our bodies’ thirst signals for other things, and many people experience chronic mild dehydration.
We get some of the fluid we need from other sources — like fruits and vegetables — but some plain, pure water is necessary! If you drink way too much water it can disrupt your electrolyte balance, so don’t overdo it. But do be sure you’re drinking water regularly. A good guideline is half as many ounces a day as your body weight in pounds. (So if you weigh 160 pounds, you’d want about 80 ounces of water a day.)
The quality of the water we drink is important, too. City water may contain undesirable substances such as the residue from other people’s drugs (either eliminated…um, “naturally”…or flushed down the toilet when they were disposing of excess), chlorine (which is, of course, important for the purification process, but not so good for bodies), and fluoride (which is of debatable benefit and uncontrollable for dosage in the water supply). If you have a city water supply, I highly recommend using a good filter for water you’re going to drink. (The quality of well water is highly variable, but you might want a filter for that, too.)
Fiber comes in two general varieties: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber acts like a sponge, absorbing fluid to create bulk and soften the stool. Insoluble fiber acts like a broom, sweeping through the colon. Both are essential to creating a well-formed stool that can pass readily and comfortably, allowing wastes to be eliminated in a timely manner so nasties are not reabsorbed through the intestinal walls. Soluble fiber also acts as food for the good bacteria in your gut, helping them to flourish. (This bacteria-feeding fiber is often referred to as “prebiotic.”)
Fiber is found in complex carbohydrates, such as grains, fruits, and vegetables. Adequate fiber works hand-in-hand with adequate water. (Don’t suddenly increase your fiber intake while drinking too little water, or you’ll be sorry!)