People often ask nutrition students what they should eat. I usually answer “eat real food” and then follow up that I have changed 3 things about my standard healthy diet since gaining 1 semesters worth of knowledge.
How: While my roommate bet that I wouldn’t drink the first gallon of milk I bought before it went bad, I did. Challenge accepted. I just have a glass of milk with breakfast (or in cereal) and at some point later in the day, ideally after a workout. I prefer the taste and morals, etc, behind organic milk, but prefer the price behind regular milk, so I flip-flop.
Why: Most people have low calcium intake, and we really don’t want to be because after 30 our bone mass will start deteriorating, and if it deteriorates enough, SMASH, osteoporosis at an old age. And if it’s not osteoporosis, I mean. It’s not good–we want our old bones to still be strong bones. With menopause and decreased estrogen production, this is an even greater issue for women (estrogen helps calcium get where it needs to go in the bones). By ensuring adequate calcium intake we’ll have the strongest bones possible, and then it’ll be fine when they start deteriorating.
Calcium is in foods other than milk, but our body can most easily absorb it from dairy products. Yes, I could take a calcium supplement instead, but milk is easy to incorporate into the diet and offers benefits other than calcium, including vitamin D (it’s fortified), another problem nutrient for many people who already eat in a healthy way.
2. Fish Twice a Week
How: It’s expensive and can be tricky to cook sometimes, but fish really is something that we should all be eating a lot more of, if we can. I try to buy Salmon and remember to eat it and not let it rot–I’ve only set off the fire alarm once so far! Gotta cook it low and slow. If I end up at a restaurant (rarely), I’ll make a point to order something fish-like if it’s not super expensive. And I have emergency cans of tuna just in case.
Why: Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, swordfish) is full of those omega 3 fatty acids that we hear so much about. They’re essential fatty acids that our body can’t produce, and are really only found in fatty fish and flax seed oil (and other random plant oils too, but none that we really eat). Omega 3s reduce inflammation, and increased consumption is often tied with decreased incidence of all the diseases that we don’t want to get (cancers, heart disease, etc). Fish contains polyunsaturated fats, which decrease the “bad” cholesterol in our bodies while also increasing the “good” cholesterol, so intake of this kind of fat (also found in olive oil and numerous nuts and seeds) is pretty great. Plus, fatty fish have a whole host of vitamins and minerals that can’t be found in many other sources– basically fish just has a lot of really good stuff in it. Sadly, it’s not available to a lot of people (and if everyone in the world ate fish twice a week, we would run out of fish immediately). But if those of us who can don’t buy the fish in the supermarkets, it’s just gonna rot and no one’s gonna benefit!
3. Vitamin D Supplement
How: Easily. Vitamin D Supplements can be bought at CVS or anywhere. More expensive ones with labels ensuring they’re good are better, but also more expensive. I started taking vitamin D mostly for the bone benefits–I want my foot stress fracture area to feel a lot stronger than it does right now. It’s hard to tell if there are real benefits of taking the supplement, but scientifically it makes sense that I do.
Why: Generally, supplements aren’t #1 –it’s best to get vitamins and minerals from food. Vitamin D is a different case because it’s very difficult to get vitamin D from food, and while our body can make it from sunlight, those who live too far north or south from the equator (which really is most people) simply can’t get enough from the sun all year. The students in my nutrition science class tracked our food intake for 3 days, and only 1 of the 35 of us had adequate vitamin D intake, with the class average intake being only 20% of the recommended daily intake. And these are nutrition students who eat great food.
To get vitamin D from the diet, you have to actively eat numerous vitamin-D fortified foods (yogurt, milk, some cereals) every day, or eat a serving of cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, swordfish) daily. It’s just not easy to get without trying, and since humans just spend much less time outdoors than we used to, it’s an issue.
Ponder this: cold water fish is packed with vitamin D, and is often consumed in places far away from the equator (where vitamin D from sun is just not available). So way back in the day, hunter/gatherer types were a-okay in vitamin D.
Vitamin D is tied with bone health–it brings calcium where it needs to go. Recent research has tied low vitamin D intake with increased incidence of all the diseases we don’t want (cancers, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc), in addition to the classic deficiency of rickets. This research has lead many to believe that the current recommendations, which were recently updated, are still too low. Vitamin D toxicity isn’t a big risk–the limit is quite high.
Generally, these are probably 3 things that would be good for most people to ensure are incorporated into their healthy weekly food pile, and with a little work, they’re not too tricky!