Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
Nutrition 911, Part VII: The Best Food on the Planet
By Steve Edwards
Welcome to Part VII of our oh-so-basic nutrition class designed to give you an overview of basic nutrition and make healthy eating much simpler. In Part I, we addressed the terms organic, grass-fed, free-range, and farm-raised. Part II analyzed the ever-popular "fat-free" and trendy "low-carb" slogans. In Part III, we took the CliffsNotes approach to reading food labels. Part IV tackled dessert and Part V, what to eat. Last time, we tackled soda pop, the worst food on the planet. This time, let's talk about the best.
As a trainer and nutritionist, you might imagine I frequently get asked "What's the best thing I can eat?" or "What's the best food in the world?" It's also the kind of subject that easily makes its way onto the glossy pages of the assorted magazines you peruse whilst standing in line at Piggly Wiggly.
And there's always an answer. "One food that will change you life!" or "Just eat this!" It's so simple, they'd have you believe. "If you'd only been eating this one thing you'd be slim, healthy, and look like that supermodel on the cover," or something like that.
So, class, what is it? What is the best food in the world? Anyone care to answer?
No, Jack, I'm sorry; red meat is not the right answer.
But let's look at red meat anyway. After all, most of us eat a lot of it. Red meat is the best food choice you can make if you were only given one thing to eat. Therefore, Jack, if you were living as an explorer in the 19th century, like Lewis and Clark, it certainly would be a superfood. Red meat has protein, of course, vitamins, and fat. Because you can live on fatty meat for a long time, it was prized in cultures where there wasn't much an option of what to eat. Lean meat, which is better for us in the civilized world, also wouldn't cut it for trappers who would routinely die of "rabbit death" because their diet didn't have enough fat in it.
In the modern world, we tend to get plenty of fat, especially the kind you get from meat. Therefore, diets high in red meat are often linked to heart and other circulatory diseases. Within a modern diet, red meat should only be a small part of it. And you don't need any at all, as most of its nutrients are found in foods that don't have the same downside. So now this ancient superfood should be well down on your personal food chain.
What was that, Moonbeam? I couldn't hear you over that guitar. Oh, spirulina.
Yes, spirulina does have a lot of nutrients and is considered a "superfood" by many, especially those who wear a lot of hemp clothing. It's an alga that is very rich in vitamins, has a lot of protein, and even some good fatty acids. For one food, it's awfully good. Well, at least nutrient-wise. Eating it is another matter. Its taste is, let's just say, challenging for many. But even if you can eat it as joyously as a plecostomus, you're still missing certain vitamins, and amino and fatty acids that you need to find elsewhere. So, while a great food, it's not the answer.
You in the overalls, did you say broccoli?
More than any other, broccoli is referred to as the best food in the world. And it is healthy stuff, for sure. It's loaded with vitamins, fiber, and even protein and is probably the king of the vegetable world. But it still lacks fat, and besides, while you can eat a ton of veggies without gaining an ounce, you can only eat so many before all of their fiber begins to have the opposite effect you desire on your digestive system. Fiber is great, to a point. It soaks up cholesterol and keeps you "regular." Too much and you'll become . . . too regular. A cyclist I know once decided to test just how much fiber he could consume. The results came while out on a ride and I, for one, was glad I wasn't following him.
Yes, Siri, hemp and flaxseed are great. By the way, I'm impressed that you can stand on your head through an entire class like that.
These seeds are loaded with omega-3 and other essential fatty acids. They even have protein and vitamins and have been linked with many assorted health benefits. But, again, they are only a piece of the puzzle. Like any fat source, they are dense, meaning that you can't just munch on 'em all day long without getting too many calories.
And speaking of fatty acids, fish is loaded with two very important ones, DHA and EPA, and even more protein. A superfood to a degree, it has a huge downside. We've polluted our oceans and waterways to the point the many of the things fish eat are toxic. As we rise up the food chain, we get fish that have more protein, more fatty acids, and more and more toxins. Whales and dolphins, two animals that eat fish for nearly 100% of their diets, have such high levels of toxins in their fatty tissues that these living animals exceed superfund clean-up standards. An altogether different problem addresses what we should do about this but sticking to the subject, I recommend that you don't eat too much fish.
Yeah, Bugs, I know you think carrots are the be-all-end-all of nutrition. And they're not bad. Loaded with carbohydrates, vitamins, and fiber, it's easy to see how you could outsmart Elmer Fudd all day, since he looks like he's been feasting on mom's apple pie in lieu of rabbit. But, still, carrots are a great energy snack but lack the protein and fats to live on entirely, unless you live in two dimensions.
No, it's the same for blueberries, Violet. Heaps of antioxidants but they're still just, mainly, a high-glycemic fruit. A good thing to eat, sure, but not in any way a cornerstone of your diet.
You see, class, I hate to burst your bubble but, unfortunately, there is no best food on the planet. Your body is a complex organism. In order to function properly, it needs a variety of ingredients. This is most likely why we like to eat from so many different sources. We eat trees, seeds, leaves, fruits, animals, bugs, weeds, etc, etc. And it's not just for a variety of flavors. Different foods make you feel differently because they do different things to your body when you eat them.
This, of course, doesn't mean that one food is as good as another. There are superfoods out there. But they're all super for one thing. Beachbody's Peak Recovery Formula is a superfood after a hard workout but would be a terrible food if you weren't exercising. Spinach was super for Popeye, and can be for you, but would not be the best choice right before a contest of strength with Bluto. There are different foods that are super for different circumstances.
As a society, we've learned to eat for taste. There was a time, however, when we ate for performance, which is probably how we began learning what we now call the science of nutrition. Added ingredients in junk foods, like flavorings, have messed up this process and now we have a hard time distinguishing a food's performance value by taste. We do things like adding sugar to meat, which creates unnatural cravings. So we now need to again learn to eat for performance. Once you begin doing this, you'll retrain your body to crave the right foods for the right circumstances.
Remember that you should eat in order to fuel your body for what you are going to do. Superfoods are only super if you eat them at the right time to support the right activity. But perhaps just knowing this could be the best nutrition rule on the planet, that there is no best food on the planet.
Check Steve Edwards' Mailbag for his responses to reader comments. If you'd like to ask a question or comment on a newsletter article, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.
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6 Simple Solutions for a Sexier Seat
By Joe Wilkes
Too much junk in your trunk? Need to reduce your caboose? Want a little less donk in your badonkadonk? A better backseat is at the front of most people's fitness goals. But there's no need to use machines or expensive weight sets to get a better pair of buns. Some of the most effective exercises can be done with no equipment or a simple set of dumbbells. (The exercises below are described using dumbbells, but they can be done without dumbbells, as well.) For all of these exercises, start slowly or you may find it difficult to walk, much less exercise. Work up to 25 or 30 reps before adding weight. When you do add resistance, make it enough to induce failure around 12 to 15 reps. Now, read on for some exercises you can do at home or on the road that will help you turn your glutes into beauts.
- Squats. Squats are considered the most effective exercise for targeting the glutes. I first discovered the power of the squat while traveling in Italy. Many of the public restrooms were merely a hole in the ground with a footprint on either side. Suffice it to say, by the end of my stay, my thighs and glutes were in their best shape ever, and I had a new appreciation of why Italy fields such a strong soccer team.
- Simply hold a pair of dumbbells parallel to your shoulders or hanging down at your sides.
- With your feet planted on the floor, flat, and with your weight evenly distributed from your heel to the balls of your feet, slowly lower yourself, keeping your back straight, until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then return to standing position.
- Step-ups. This exercise requires a bench, a stool, or some other flat platform that's about knee high.
- Holding your dumbbells by your side, step up onto the bench with your right leg, and use that leg to pull yourself up, so that you're standing with both feet on the bench.
- Then, dropping your left leg behind you, use your right leg to lower yourself to the ground. Repeat the exercise with your left leg doing the heavy lifting. The farther away you stand from the bench, the better the exercise is for your glutes. The closer you stand, the better for your thighs.
Lunges. Lunges target your quadriceps and hamstrings more than the glutes, but they're all connected, so if you want sexy buns, you're going to have to pay attention to your thighs as well.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
- Step forward with your right leg. Keeping your back straight, lean forward until your left knee is almost touching the ground, then return to starting position. Repeat the exercise, lunging with the opposite leg. You can make this exercise harder by upping the weights, or by performing it on an uphill slope.
- Standing kickbacks. The favorite exercise of Congress! (Just kidding; they don't exercise.)
- Stand a couple feet away from the back of a chair, and lean forward, holding on to the chairback.
- Raise your right leg up and back as far as you can without arching your back, flexing your buttock when your leg is most extended, and hold it. Return to starting position, and repeat with your left leg.
- Gluteal flexing. This is something you can do whenever and wherever you get a chance, although in some places, you may need more strength of character than strength of buttock. Don't do it on a first date (unless it's going bad, and you need an out). Simply squeeze and release your butt muscles repeatedly. Do it in the office. Do it while watching TV. Do it to get your own seat on the bus. All you need is your butt and a lack of shame. It doesn't get any simpler.
- Day-to-day activities. Although most of us simply regard them collectively as nature's seat cushion, the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus make up a huge muscle group. And keeping them in shape doesn't just improve the view of the people behind you; these large muscles help burn more calories everywhere. So be good to your butt and your butt will be good to you. And there are plenty of opportunities each day where you can give your booty a boost without the benefit of a formal workout.
The simplest thing is to take the stairs. Try taking the stairs two at a time, keeping your back straight, and without dragging yourself by the handrail. You may be reported to the Ministry of Silly Walks, but isn't it a small price to pay for a sleeker keester? Also, walk more. Try and accomplish your nearby errands by walking with a brisk, long stride, keeping your knees up. Hiking, bicycling, and rollerblading are also terrific ways to work your butt, without it seeming like work. And sports such as tennis, soccer, and racquetball are great exercise and social outlets . . . especially now that you and your butt are friends again.
You can see and read more about most of these moves and many others in the "Get Moving" section of the Trainers' Corners at the Team Beachbody® Club. Not a member? Click here to start your membership right away!
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