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Simon O.

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1. Understand carbs.
There are “good carbs” and “bad carbs”. Good carbs are mainly vegetables and most fruits, which have a low glycemic index. This means that they release their glucose slowly, allowing the body to take them on gradually. Bad carbs include bread and pasta (made of finely ground flour), and rice and potatoes (made of soft starchy material). These have a high glycemic index because they present a high surface area for the digestive juices to work on, and therefore cause a sudden rush of glucose into the bloodstream (hyperglycemia). The body deals with this by storing it as fat (leading to obesity, obstructed blood vessels, etc.) and by releasing large amounts of insulin to counteract the glucose rush (which can cause cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.). Hyperglycemia is the major dietary problem facing the modern world. A food with a high glycemic index may have fewer calories than one with a lower glycemic index, but it releases glucose faster, so forget about those “diet” foods like inflated rice snacks. Get your carbs from vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and pulses. If you must eat bad carbs, try things like wholegrain rice, coarse bread, al dente pasta, and new potatoes, and keep them to a minimum. Your body isn’t prepared to deal with sugar, so try to cut it out as much as possible, and avoid sweets, sweet desserts and cakes.

2. Calculate your proteins.
Proteins are essential for many essential purposes, but too much or too little of them can be detrimental. Processing excess proteins to convert them into glucose creates toxic by-products which put strain on the liver and kidneys. Too few proteins affect growth, repair, strength and many other issues. It is a good idea to calculate your intake according to your lean body weight and activity level. Consider that protein foods (meat, fish, dairy products, etc) are about 25% pure protein, and that an adult male needs a daily total of between 0.6g and 1g of pure protein per kg of lean body weight, depending on his degree of physical activity.
Bear in mind that proteins tend to occur in conjunction with high levels of saturated fats (dairy products, for example, account for a significant part of the animal fat content of the western diet). Get your proteins from lower-fat sources such as fish, poultry, game, lean cuts of pork and certain legumes such as soy beans. Meats like beef, in which the fat occurs throughout the flesh as well as in visible deposits, should be limited to occasional consumption in small quantities, as should whole milk, cheese, yoghurt and other full-fat dairy products.

3. Understand fats.
Fat is an essential part of the human diet, and it is quite acceptable to obtain around 30% of calories from it, providing you are aware of the difference between “good fats” and “bad fats”. Contrary to popular belief, eating fat does not necessarily make you fat, and the potentially harmful effects of a fat-rich diet have less to do with how much fat you eat as with what kind of fat. Strict low fat diets should be avoided except in very specific circumstances, since certain essential substances can only be found in fats.
Saturated fats should be avoided whenever possible. These include animal fats found in meat and dairy products, and some vegetable fats such as coconut oil. When consumed in excess they help to increase “bad” cholesterol and triglycerid levels. These fats are likely to be present to a certain extent in all but strict vegan diets, but consumption of them should be reduced to a reasonable minimum.
Polyunsaturated fats too are extremely unadvisable. Although famous for reducing cholesterol, polyunsaturated vegetable fats like corn, sunflower or sesame oil actually reduce “good cholesterol” levels (cholesterol is necessary for many vital functions) along with the “bad cholesterol”. They also contain high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, which although essential to the body are harmful in large quantities. Furthermore, these oils oxidise easily and tend to contain harmfully transformed compounds and chemicals due to the aggressive processes used in their extraction.
Oils used in cooking and the preparation of certain processed foods can become very harmful if treated incorrectly. Any vegetable oil that is overheated will quickly oxidise and become unstable and toxic. It is important to avoid heating cooking oil until it smokes. Re-using oil to make several batches of fried food is also an unadvisable practice, and deep-fried foods should not be consumed regularly in restaurants for this very reason. Foods like crisps and roasted peanuts are prepared with poor quality oils re-used many times, and consequently cannot be recommended. Vegetable oils that are exposed to air or sunlight for a long time, or which are simply left for weeks in the cupboard, will become rancid by a similar process of oxidisation.
Hydrogenated vegetable oils must also be considered harmful. The hydrogenation process solidifies the oils, allowing them to be used in pleasing new forms such as margarine, long marketed as a perfect healthy alternative to butter. However, margarine and other products which contain similar fats are generally manufactured using poor quality oils which have been made unstable and reactive by hydrogenation.
A healthy diet should contain regular doses of Omega-3 rich foods. Among other functions, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to maintaining the health of the nervous system and are thought to have anticarcinogenic effects. The modern western diet is seriously deficient in Omega-3 acids, which are synthesised by certain plants, and are concentrated in the tissues of some of the animals and fish which eat those plants. However, farm-reared animals (or fish farmed in pens) are mainly fed on meal which lacks the Omega-3 content of their natural diet, and thus cannot offer the beneficial properties of their wild cousins. The deficiency is accentuated by the fact that the western diet is typically rich in Omega-6 which, though necessary in small quantities, reduces the efficiency of Omega-3 when the former occurs in much larger quantities than the latter. An essential step towards a healthier diet is to increase consumption of foods like wild salmon or oily fish such as sardines, free-range eggs, soy and walnuts, all of which contain Omega-3 fatty acids.
Monounsaturated fats should be the main type of fat consumed as part of a healthy diet. These fats, found in olive oil, avocados and certain nuts and seeds, reduce “bad cholesterol” but leave “good cholesterol” intact, resist oxidisation better than other fats and can be used efficiently by the body to produce energy. Substituting extra virgin olive oil for all other vegetable oils – not just for salad dressings; for cooking, too – is very recommendable and allows many harmful fats to be eliminated from the diet.

4. Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.
Perhaps the single most decisive factor in the move towards a healthier diet is the commitment to significantly increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables consumed. These foods once formed the basis of the human diet, and our bodies are better equipped to assimilate them than other foodstuffs, ensuring easier digestion with less expenditure of energy.
Fruit and vegetables bring numerous benefits. They contain vitamins and minerals essential to the proper working of many biological processes, and some also contain phytochemicals. They are a supply of “unconcentrated” carbohydrates and sugars, providing the body with a slow, steady energy supply. They contain large quantities of fibre, which sates hunger and maintains the correct working of the digestive tract. Furthermore, an increase in the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables means a reduction in the quantity of concentrated carbohydrates and proteins consumed, and aids in the digestion of these. An easy rule of thumb is to try to make sure that at any sitting your plate holds one third protein food and two thirds vegetables.

5. Avoid combining concentrated carbohydrates and proteins.
A concept which is largely ignored by the general public is the correct combination of foods. The process of digestion is one of the most energy-consuming tasks which the body must perform. Certain combinations of foods are difficult for the body to digest and cause a tremendous expenditure of resources in order to obtain their nutrients. This adversely affects the correct elimination of toxins and leaves deposits of undigested food in the intestine.
The golden rule for combining foods is to avoid consuming large quantities of concentrated carbohydrates and proteins at the same sitting. Digestion of this combination is particularly troublesome because the former require an alkaline environment while the latter require an acidic one. This means that many of the popular dishes of recent decades – fish and potatoes, pasta with meat sauce, cheese sandwiches, not to mention hamburgers and pizza – are unadvisable from a digestive standpoint.
Other combinations must also be taken into account. Fats do not go well with concentrated carbohydrates, but are more easily digested with proteins. However, consuming a certain amount of fat – olive oil, for example – with a concentrated carbohydrate such as pasta has been found to reduce the rate at which digestion of the latter releases glucose into the blood, attenuating the “sugar rush” phenomenon.
Acidic fruits such as oranges and green kiwi fruits aid the digestion of concentrated proteins, while sweet fruits like cherries and ripe kiwis help to digest concentrated carbohydrates. Most vegetables go well with both carbohydrates and proteins.
Finally, certain foods, particularly legumes like beans and lentils, contain similar amounts of carbohydrates and proteins. This accounts for their sometimes difficult digestion and tendency to produce gases, but should not disallow their occasional consumption due to their other benefits.

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