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What Does It Mean To “eat nutrient dense” Or “eating to fuel?”

Food and nutrition can feel tough to sort through when we have food ads, influencers, Doctors, and dining out menus, and our own minds telling us what we should have/ deserve to have/ should avoid/ is “fattening”/ high in sugar, etc.!

If you have felt confused by the world of food and how to eat properly, you are certainly not alone!

If we come back to the basics, we can quickly see that basic food nutrition in terms of what foods FUEL the body giving it the energy that it needs, is quite simple. The body needs carbs, protein, and fat in order to perform physically, mentally, and molecularly WHY?

Fats fuel and support your body’s energy levels, organ function, hormone processing, cell growth, it keeps cholesterol and blood pressure under control, and helps your body to absorb vital nutrients and contributes to brain health and function (and much more).

Carbs in basic, provide the body with energy to support bodily functions and physical activity.

Protein helps your body repair cells, make new ones, and builds your body’s tissues. There are many bodily functions that require protein enzymes to function including digestion, energy production, blood clotting, and muscle contraction.

Now obviously there are a lot of variations of carbs, protein, and fat, and buying the right kind of each and managing how much of each is where it can feel like the tricky part. A lot of times this can feel tricky because what we eat relates to how we feel, look, and experience day to day life.

Let’s take a peek at “How Much Do I Need to Eat?” This article does a fantastic job breaking down “Macro tracking,” it’s benefits, and how to calculate about how much you might need of each category to manage weight and muscle mass healthily depending on how active you are and your age. I don’t share this suggesting that everyone should start macro tracking, but I share this because checking in on our current diet/consumption patterns can sometimes be a really great thing to do to make sure we are eating enough or where we might want to adjust how we’re eating in order to achieve certain desired physique results or increased energy levels.

Everyone is different here and the article does a great job touching on how some people might do better with higher carb or fat or protein diets for varying reasons.

I always recommend when clients are wanting to make a diet adjustment, to first spend 3-4 days (or a full week if possible) tracking everything you eat to really get a ballpark of what your day to day consumption looks like, then adjust from there. This calculator can be helpful afterwards to gauge if you’re currently in a good place eating wise, or where you might need to adjust. For example, that might mean needing to consume MORE fat and protein, or consuming less. We cannot effectively build strength, muscle, and maintain energy throughout each day without supporting our bodies with the resources to do so!

Now let’s have a look at “Am I buying the right kinds of things?”

Think about what you buy to consume… how much of it is packaged, and how much of it requires time cooking, chopping or prepping?

Does the bulk of your grocery cart include boxed/ packaged items, or a rainbow of colors from fresh produce, fats and safely sourced meats, fish and seafood?

A helpful identifier when grocery shopping can be looking at food and considering, what items of proteins, fats, and carbs contain the most nutrients?

For proteins, that’s going to be your grass-fed beef, wild caught fatty fish and seafood like salmon/sardines (no, I personally do not eat sardines, but I do aim to eat fish at least 2-3x/week), and your grass-fed eggs/chicken, etc. Why does this matter? Well, what the animal eats contributes to the makeup of what you end up eating and the value (nutrients and vitamins) that it provides to you. Dr. Mark Hyman talks a lot about these topics and I really believe in his approach to balanced eating and properly sourced foods when attainable.

For Carbs, you’re going to want to grab for your SLOW processing carbs (or Low GI Carbs): legumes including lentils/pinto beans/chickpeas, quinoa, long grain basmati rice, veggies, sweet potatoes, squash, fresh fruits like apples/grapefruit/peach/apricot/oranges/plums, etc.

Fast processing carbs like boxed cereals, breads, pastas, quick oats, are types of Fast-release carbs, or high GI foods and they release glucose into the bloodstream rapidly, causing a spike in blood sugar levels and then a crash ** We want to try to avoid these spikes in order to have steady energy sources and blood sugar management!

And lastly for fats, you want to focus on monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats! These fats keep your heart, hormones, brain, and cells happy and healthy. That’s going to be fats coming from things like fatty fish, nuts/nut butters, flax seed/pumpkin seeds/chia seeds/all the seeds, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, pasteurized eggs, grass fed beef, ghee etc.!

It’s important to be aware of eating enough each day! But not in primarily processed food forms, rather in whole, of the earth forms most of the time! Not all processed foods are bad and there are varying levels of food processing, but I’m just saying let’s look at making MORE of our diet from more nutrient dense, whole food sources as listed above.

I am no nutritionist, but I do understand that food is important. And eating to FUEL our bodies and minds is essential to feeling our best. I used to deprive myself of essential nutrients because I was scared to gain weight. Now I eat as much fat, carbs, and protein as I need to in a day to keep me energized and support my body in doing the things it’s made to do.

When engaging in high impact workouts, strenuous activities, and building strength, eating enough in balanced proportions is what’s going to help you to build and maintain muscle, feel more energized throughout each day, and overall feel happier.

As I’ve transitioned to a perspective of eating to fuel and consuming foods that provide fuel and healing to my body, it’s given me more confidence and contentment surrounding my food choices each day. Making choices based on how it serves/fuels/or heals your body, mind and mood can be the most empowering radar to go off of and leave you feeling strong, confident, and content.

That’s not to say choosing to have dessert here and there is bad.. But when you create a steady base of how you fuel your body on a consistent basis, it allows more freedom when choosing to have dessert, alcohol, and less nutritious meals or snacks knowing what you eat MOST of the time in your day to day.

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