Food is Fuel: Choose Wisely for Optimal Health

poster with the words "fuel for the body" and a catoonish gas pump with vegetables being forced into the gasline.

by Karl Lenser
Just as your automobile depends on the proper fuel to maximize performance, your personal health also depends on what you put into your system.

The ideal intake should come from a variety of sources that are heavily concentrated in complex carbohydrates and filled in with protein and fat. For general health improvement and adequate energy, most nutrition experts favor an athletic diet that is around 60 percent complex carbs, 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat (ideally most of this from healthier fats).

As much as carbohydrates get beaten up and trampled on, the truth is that your body thrives on good carbohydrates as the muscle cells need these for proper functioning and overall cell health. Carbs are NOT the enemy when it comes to weight loss or overall health. Weight gain comes from eating too many calories and not exercising.

For example, if you are low in carbohydrates (blood sugar is low) and you attempt to go to your fitness center for a good workout, you may feel lethargic and weak with little energy. This is because your muscles require carbohydrates for energy and your energy levels dwindle when your fuel tank is low.

Fuel up with healthy carbohydrates such as whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat spaghetti, fruits and vegetables. Cereal is an inexpensive food that can be very healthy or not-so-healthy (Grape Nuts/Shredded Wheat/Cheerios as opposed to Count Chocula, Trix, Captain Crunch or Cocoa Puffs).

Protein is another food that somehow (false marketing) has been promoted as some sort of muscle building agent. Protein’s main function is to repair muscle tissue that has been damaged or strained as a result of an intense workout. Most folks get enough protein in a typical day if their diet is based on a variety of foods such as dairy, legumes/beans in addition to fish, chicken, beef and turkey.

The last component of food-based caloric sources is fat. Fat contains more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein (9 per gram compared to 4 per gram in carbs and protein). This translates to a lot of calories per serving. However, not all fat is bad as certain types are healthy such as monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and peanut butter.

Nuts and seeds are high in fat, but the fat is mostly unsaturated. Saturated fats, such as those found in whole milk and cheese, increase the buildup of cholesterol — an artery clogging product.

The key to a healthy diet is making good choices and watching your portions. Variety is the spice of life and diets. Healthy grain-based products coupled with lots of fruits and veggies and some meat and dairy will provide your body with a good source of energy and nutrients that can help you gain energy and reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and some cancers.

Combine this with consistent exercise and you will reap the rewards of a healthy lifestyle.