Looking Past the Numbers: A Different Way to Evaluate the Health of Any Given Food
So in keeping with our discussion about how there are many different approaches to health, with the distinct possibility that there is more than one that is viable, I thought I would share a small overview about my approach. Again, if this is something new and different that you would like to share with others- please pass this along!
For at least 9 years, I have stopped counting calories, as well as grams of fat, carbs and protein. I know this goes against the prevailing mainstream- and I’m not saying that you can’t lose weight counting! Sure you can, but I want you to know that there are other approaches.
And since you’ve heard about the counting approach pretty much everywhere- from health and beauty magazines, on TV, through doctors and other allopathic health professionals, numerous diet books, etc…. I thought I would tell you about my approach.
But, by the way, there are many doctors and many other people that follow this approach- you just might not have heard about it as much.
Again, it doesn’t mean one way is right or wrong- but it does mean that there is definitely more than one way! And we must not use the evaluative systems of one method and apply it to another. It’s kind of like asking a shaman of the Hunza tribe, one of the oldest living communities of people, to apply the Scientific Method to evaluate why he eats Goji berries.
I invite you, as always, to use your own investigative and discriminative powers, and discern the approach to health that benefits you individually the most.
MY APPROACH: I always like to take a step back and get a wider view, and see where current popular health ideas fit into context. Let us consider that 100 years ago, none of our ancestors counted calories or grams of carbs. The same is true for pretty much every country. So we have to recognize that the practice of counting is actually quite new. Even back in the 50’s and 60’s, when America as a whole was a much slimmer version of today, people did not count calories. They looked at portion size, and they did not eat anywhere near the amount of processed foods today.
Previously. I used the counting practice for years. I would count the number of calories and fat grams going into my body, and then calculate how many calories I would burn when I went to the gym. It was pretty crazy- I would write it all down in a little notebook. When I was “bad” and ate something that had a lot of calories at lunch, I would be hungry at dinner but would not allow myself to eat too much, because I would mess up the calorie equation and surely gain weight!!
Needless to say, it was miserable and wasted a lot of my mental and physical energy. To think how many other things I could have been focusing my mind on! About 9 years ago I stopped counting. I started doing something else (which I will discuss in a minute) and my life totally changed. I slimmed down to my perfect, homeostatic weight for my frame, and have been able to stay there (within about 3 pounds) fairly effortlessly for years. I don’t count calories burned at the gym. In fact I haven’t worked out in a gym in about that long, though I do practice yoga. My energy has gone through the roof, I don’t consume any caffeine at all (except 1-3 times a week or so, raw cacao!), my hair has gotten really thick and my skin cleared up. I feel much calmer, happier and more peaceful.
So instead of counting what do I do? In one simplistic thought, I determine how close to its natural state a food is, what its natural health-giving properties are (including minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc.), and I evaluate how easily (or not) it breaks down in the body, which by the way is affected by when you eat that food and by other foods you eat it with.
So I ask questions like, Is that food raw? In which case it would have all its own digestive enzymes, and would in turn build up the life force of my body. If not, then it is has been processed in some way away from its original form. Has it been steamed? Grilled? Microwaved? Fried? Treated with preservatives and canned? Pasteurized or treated with pesticides? Some forms of processing are far more harmful than others!
There are a couple of reasons that I don’t personally count numbers. First off, what if you asked me how many miles I walked in a given day? That is all you cared about- the actual number. What if on two separate days the answer was TWO. However, one of those days was this past Sunday, when I walked up to the farmer’s market in Union Square, then meandered down 5th Avenue, stopped in a couple of places, and at one point plopped down one a bench and ate a whole container of cherries. 🙂 Two miles. The other day was when I hiked two miles through the night of my summit push to get to Uhuru Peak, the top of Mount Kilimanjaro via a difficult route. We started climbing before midnight, and through little oxygen, some ice and snow, and well…a mountain (!) got to the peak by 9 am the next day. 9 hours of strenuous climbing (and pain!), but still two miles. But are the two miles really the same???
So it is with my evaluation of food. Is the same 500 calories from cherries, tomatoes and pineapple the same as the 500 calories you splurged on by eating a bag of Pringles? Is 10 grams of protein from raw nuts treated the same in the body as 10 grams of protein from grilled red meat, which is heated to such high temperatures that it requires copious amounts of energy to break it down and re-assimilate it into our bodies? Is the fat from an avocado the same as eating some French fries- even when you consume the same amount of actual fat grams?
In my personal experience, I have found that the people that count the most are often the people that have the hardest time losing and maintaining their weight. Counting calories is a way some people use to ignore the quality of their food. For instance, some people want to use their 120 calories going out for Tasti D’Lite frozen yogurt, instead of eating a bag of almonds, which has more fat. Have you ever looked at the ingredient list of some of those frozen yogurt places? They are often made with chemicals, preservatives, and definitely pasteurized dairy products. What about carb-free crackers?? Chances are if something came out of a box and has “fortified” or “enriched” with XYZ on the label, it was stripped down and processed a LOT.
When you eat foods as close to their natural state as possible, your body can break it down and pass the waste out much easier. To compromise easy digestion is the beginning of a long battle with weight gain. And cravings. That is one of the problems with low-fat dairy for instance. Though it may not have many grams of fat or calories, it is mucus-forming, and very difficult to digest, and can eventually lead to toxicity in the body (as it does not digest cleanly), which can lead to weight gain. A food sitting on our kitchen counter becomes a totally different entity when we put it in our bodies, which is 98 degrees, with dozens of simultaneous and varied processes going on.
There is so much more to say about this topic- that I need a whole book! 🙂 I’ll stop here, as I hope you have gotten a little “food” for thought. Many other topics to discuss. For instance: The topic of portion size. Quickly, when you are eating water-containing foods with their natural fiber (salads, Green Smoothies, etc.) you don’t have to worry about portion size anywhere near the way you do when you are eating dense foods that are processed and/or don’t contain any water (cheese, hamburger meat, roasted nuts, etc.).
Someone wrote me this question, and I thought it was too spectacular to highlight differing nutritional approaches that I wanted to share it with everyone (thank you to the person leaving it)! And of course this is an individual and does not mean that all RDs in general or any other group of people share this same viewpoint. In fact, I have had the most open-minded and progressive RDs writing me of late! (which is nice!). Anyways… the response I left is below:
QUESTION: Here’s a fact: 1 medium avocado has ~306 calories, 4.5 grams saturated fat, 14-30 grams total fat (270 of those 306 calories), and only 3.6 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrate. Are you sure that this is a great grab and go food in the mornings over the choice of a typical energy bar? Sounds gross to me….but that’s speaking from an “RD”…..
ME: That is a great question to ask that highlights the distinct difference in my nutritional theories from the more popular approaches.I do not evaluate the health of a food based solely on how many calories or grams of carbs it has. I look to the ease of which a food breaks down and digests in a body.
A typical protein bar is loaded with soy protein isolates and at least 10 ingredients which are difficult to pronounce – i.e. chemicals (I am not talking about raw food bars like Lara bars, I am talking about popular protein bars). The avocado on the other hand, while having more calories and fat, is in its natural, raw state. Exactly the way nature grew it and designed it. The body can much more easily break down and digest natural foods in a clean way. On the other hand, soy protein isolates have been linked to depressing thyroid function and being a trypsinogen-blocker. If you want to read some research on that Dr. Mercola has some good online research you can check out. Soy protein isolates are extremely processed and mostly genetically modified, and soy is one of the most highly pesticide-sprayed crops. All the health concerns of putting GMO foods and pesticides in the body are a whole other conversation altogether. I am a huge advocate of eating UNprocessed foods.
I believe it is extremely limited to only look on a nutritional label and look at 1) calories 2) fat grams 3) carb grams 4) protein grams. Raw avocado fat is different than fried animal fat. Protein from raw hemp seeds is different than corrupted, heated animal protein than requires copious amounts of energy in the body to break down its complex amino acid chains and rebuild in the human body in an assimilable form. If we only look at numbers- we fall into what I call “Weight Watcher’s Head.” Where 5 points is 5 points, whether it is an avocado (again raw fruit!) or a small bag of Doritos (chemical cracker nightmare with food colorings and preservatives). These numbers in no way reflect how the body can digest, assimilate and use these foods- and on what impact they have on our organs and overall health.
In the GMA segment the premise was “lunch on the go.” So for a quick lunch, I absolutely believe a natural avocado is far healthier than a chemical-filled protein bar. I am not telling people to have 12 of them a day! Plus having the avocado, with all its great fat, beauty-building minerals, and fiber, will keep someone satiated with long-burning fuel throughout their afternoon, and help keep them from reaching for unhealthy other snacks, and running out of fuel- so much so that they reach for more caffeine sources like coffee. It will digest out of the body cleanly without leaving toxic residue in the body and without disrupting the organs’ functions. Not so sure about the soy protein isolate-filled, highly processed protein bars.
I would rather eat something that grows from a tree rather than something that went through many different steps of processing before my body is asked to break it down, any day of the week.
Again, this is my approach, and it is not everyone’s approach! So respect for all. And evaluate what works best for you!