This week is National Nutrition Week which aims to encourage healthy food choices. Find out more about the campaign by visiting Nutrition Australia.
Guest blogger, John Baxter, is the President of the National Herbalists Association of Australia and a practising herbalist and naturopath. Here he explains the importance of balancing the right foods and supplements for optimal health.
It almost goes without saying that nutrition is the key to health.
We have all heard many times the saying “you are what you eat” and in one sense this is true.
The food we eat provides the nutrients that we use to build, repair and maintain our bodies. Food provides the chemicals that the sophisticated, biochemical factory we call our body, needs to function.
Whether awake or asleep our bodies are continuously taking chemicals, nutrients and minerals and converting them into energy, building new cells, creating hormones and neurotransmitters which our body utilises to maintain the balance that keeps us functioning.
There are literally thousands of these processes occurring in any given moment to create this balance known as homeostasis. When we get our balance “right” we feel alive, full of energy, ready and willing to face the challenges life offers.
The types of foods we choose has, to a large degree, a direct effect on our biochemical functioning. There is no real single formula or diet for every person; there are however some very good guidelines available to help in the choices we make. A very good starting place is the food pyramid.
The food pyramid is a pictorial representation of the types and amounts of foods required for good health. This picture suggests that cereals & grains, fresh fruits and vegetables form the major food sources in your diet with protein from dairy and meats to support this choice and to use oils and sweets sparingly.
The ‘Human Interference Factor’ must also be considered when selecting foods. As a general rule, the more a foodstuff is processed the less nutritional value it will have. So selecting fresh, nutritious foods is best.
Other considerations that must be taken into account when designing your nutritional requirements include the following:
Gender – Women tend to have different nutritional requirements as their life cycle includes menstrual cycles, pregnancy, breast feeding and eventually menopause. Men’s needs vary as they age, but not so much as women.
Exercise – increased exercise calls for higher levels of calories to support the energy output and different nutrition to repair and restore muscles that are working hard. People in sedentary work need fewer calories to prevent excessive weight gain but they also need to consider engaging in some moderate exercise.
Health – Our state of health may cause us to need extra nutrients to fight off infections, repair tissue, to help regain wellness and to protect against further damage.
Medications – medications can affect our body’s nutritional status as it uses nutrients to metabolise them and the medications may also affect the way nutrients are processed.
Alcohol, smoking and drugs – use of alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs will affect our nutritional status. Our body must use nutrients to detoxify and protect against any damage caused by any of the toxic by-products produced during detoxification.
Stress – living and working in stressful situations will cause our body to use up more nutrients as it strives to maintain its equilibrium in these situations.
Environment – the environment we live in influences how our body responds nutritionally. If we live in an environment where we are continually exposed to pollutants or radiation our nutritional requirements change.
As can be seen, because of the many factors that affect our nutritional requirements, it is possible that sometimes our diet may not supply all the nutrition we need. This is where well-chosen nutritional supplements come into play.
Depending on our circumstances it is likely at some stages during our lives we will need to supplement the food we eat with nutritional supplements. The good news is, in Australia there are high quality products available over the counter in health food shops, pharmacies and even supermarkets.
In health food shops and pharmacies some information and advice on the supplements can be obtained from the assistants on duty. This advice is obviously not available in supermarkets.
For specific advice on our personal health needs it is best to consult with a trained health care provider. Naturopaths and herbalists are specifically trained in nutrition as it affects disease states and can assist with selection of appropriate supplements for particular situations.