Summertime, and the living is easy

Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.

Well, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good lookin’

So hush little baby, don’t you cry.

So is the chorus of ‘Summertime’ in George Gershwin’s famous musical, Porgy and Bess.  There is nothing like the warm days of summertime to make us feel better about the world and ourselves in general.  ‘Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high…’  Healthy options - going for a walk instead of watching another programme, eating salads instead of fries and opting for chilled water instead of alcohol - seem to be natural easy options, but perhaps choices that we struggle with when the days are grey and cold.

As a result of being in the height of summer in the Mediterranean and enjoying a very healthy lifestyle (at the moment), the question has arisen as to what our bodies actually need.  Our bodies are just like a car which requires maintenance and fuel in order to perform well.  So what is it that our bodies need in order for us to get the most out of life and enjoy each day as much as possible?  Although it is easy to develop habits that fit within our modern lifestyles and are understood by all, perhaps these modern habits (such as checking social media right before going to sleep) do not contribute to our overall well being and needs of our individual bodies.  To maintain our bodies in tiptop shape so that we can take advantage of the opportunities in life, fuel, maintenance and habits all need to be considered as contributing to the end result.

First of all, let’s take a look at the fuel going into our bodies or more accurately put, the fuel that should be going into our bodies.  This breaks down into six main groups and contains words that we are all familiar with; protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water.  These are the elements that our bodies need in order to function properly.  However, the majority of us use these words without a second thought, but if asked to break down carbohydrates, cannot respond to what would be a healthy or unhealthy carbohydrate.  And what about those who are vegetarian or vegan?  Is a plant-based diet able to include all of the daily recommended nutrients even in the absence of animal products?  Read on to find out!

The quantity of protein required by each person depends on age and physical activity.    For example, an adult who doesn't get much exercise should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.  The average woman should eat around 46 grams.  The weight of the average person is made up of 16% protein.  Protein is needed for growth, health and maintenance of the body.  Carnivores get their protein options from meat, fish and cheese and although vegetarians can eat eggs and cheese, vegans are limited to getting their protein from beans, soya, nuts and some grains.   

Carbohydrates are needed not only for the functioning of the central nervous system and brain, but also for protection against some diseases.  However, not all carbohydrates are considered healthy and refined grains and products with added sugar should be avoided.  The best carbohydrates come from whole grains, beans and vegetables such as carrots, beets and broccoli and fruits such as raspberries, pears and apples.

Fats play an interesting role in the maintenance of our bodies as they assist with vitamin and mineral absorption, are necessary for blood clotting, building cells and muscle movement.  Omega-3 and Omega-6 are the two healthiest fat options and they can both be found in walnuts, soybeans and tofu.  Omega-3 can also be found in fish such as mackerel, salmon cod liver oil, herrings, oysters, sardines, anchovies, caviar as well as flax seeds and chia seeds.  Omega-6 can be found in safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower seed, hemp seeds, peanut butter, avocado oil, eggs, almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds.   A healthy diet will mean that healthy fats will make up 30% of the daily diet.  Fats which should be avoided come from saturated animal fats such as butter, cheese, red meat and ice cream.

Vitamins are the largest group of elements required by our bodies and are vital for warding off disease and staying healthy.  They are essential for ensuring healthy vision, skin and bones.  There are thirteen essential vitamins that the body needs; A, C, D, E, K, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6),Biotin (B7), Folate (B9) and Cobalamin (B12).  The details of this list are extensive and will be better treated in another post.  However, a diet full of fruit, vegetables, seafood, some meat, dairy products, nuts and soya products will pretty much tick every box in the vitamin category.  

Minerals are important for building strong bones and teeth, regulating the metabolism and staying properly hydrated.  They also help with nerve signal transmission, maintaining healthy blood pressure, muscle contraction and relaxation.  Some of the most common minerals are calcium, iron and zinc.  Iron supports the red blood cells and hormone creation and zinc boosts the immune system and aids in wound healing.  Minerals can be found in meat, cereals, fish, milk and dairy foods, fruit and vegetables and nuts.

With our bodies needing such a variety of vitamins and minerals, it can sometimes be complicated trying to work out a balanced meal that gives us precisely what our bodies require.  However, there is a group of superfoods that help us with this dilemma.  These foods are predominantly plant-based and so tick the boxes for both vegans and meat-eaters alike.  Here are some of the foods considered to be ‘superfoods’; blueberries, salmon and eggs (the two non-vegan options in this group), kale, acai, spinach, broccoli, almonds, avocados and bananas.  

The last of these six elements that our bodies need is water.  Our body weight is 62% water.  It improves brain function and mood as well as acting as a shock absorber and lubricant in the body.  It flushes out toxins, carries nutrients to cells, hydrates the body and prevents constipation.  So how can we know if we are well hydrated?  Well, urine will be frequent and either pale yellow or almost transparent.  If this is not the case, then more water is needed unless there is some other medical reason for the change in urine colour.

In our modern world, it is so easy to reach for a snack of some favourite processed goodie either when we are tired or have limitations on our time and our supermarkets are filled with many such treats to tempt us.  Nevertheless, when taking a good look at what our bodies need, the list doesn’t extend past natural products such as fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat, dairy products, nuts and legumes.  Therefore, one would think that shopping would be easy, but we all know of the temptation that lurks in the supermarket once we start pushing a trolley around!

So as the concept of our body as a car is contemplated, we know that there is a difference between putting top quality fuel into our engines or a cheaper substitute that will not only just get us to our destination, but perhaps mess up the engine in the process.  Should the shopping trolley and the cupboards be filled with fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat and nuts then healthy snacks and meals will be reached for, without a second thought.  However, if the favourite chocolate chip cookies, sweets and treats remain, they will never cease to grab our attention in moments of tiredness, pressure or when there is a lack of time.  As I consider the ease of eating healthily in the summer, the natural tendency to be more active and reduction of quantities, my fingers are crossed that the good habits that have been started during the warmer months can continue into the winter, but whichever season we find ourselves in, the fuel that our bodies require to function at their best does not change.  So here’s to the challenge of filling the shopping trolley with lots of green vegetables, fruit, a little meat, fish and plenty of nuts.  The challenge is on!

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