Feeding the Machine – Nutrition and the Human Body

Lately I’ve taken a minor interest in nutrition, paying a bitmore attention to some of the many nutrition/health related storiesfeatured on the meme sites overthe past couple of years.

My primary motivation is my offspring: I have a concern that mychildren, 1 and 3 years old, might miss some nutrient or other,preventing them from reaching their potential. Omega-3s(DHAs, EPAs, and ALA/LNAs), 6s, 9s, minerals, vitamins,macronutrients: something that we’re not providing in their diet –we evolved, presuming you believe in that whole concept, with adiet muchdifferent than we generally eat today — or something in thefoods that they’ve aesthetically chosen to reject (children have anamazing ability to pass judgement on foods before it’s even ontheir plate, spurning it for months on end based upon that initialrejection), that they really need to grow and stay healthy.

Something that won’t be there for the building of their brains,or their circulatory systems, or in the creation of necessaryhormones, and so on.

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I’m also always on the lookout for anything that might harm them– trans-fats,for instance, which has long been banned from our household, aprohibition that’s becoming easier and easier as food products arebeing reformulated toeliminate them (sidenote: McDonalds — hardly a bastion ofhealthy food, but still — has been really dragging its feet onreducing or eliminating trans-fats. They don’t need to rush becauseit doesn’t financially hurt them: So many customers are completelyignorant of, or in denial about, the whole issue that it isreducing the consumption of their foods).

My secondary motivation is, of course, ensuring that my wife andI’s “machine” (living creatures are the most extraordinarilycomplex, and still much unknown, mechanisms) run optimally, andwith the greatest MTBF. I’ve circled the sunsome 33 times now, so there is a growing sense of mortality thatjust isn’t there when you’re younger. Actions and decisions now,and in the decades already past, can make the difference betweenbeing a sedentary, chronic-disease-ridden 50 year old, or ahealthy, active 65 year old.

My interest has me stopping at the “nutrition” section of thelocal grocery stores, and even specialty nutrition stores such asGNC when I pass one at the mall, perusing some of their wares. Idon’t go out of my way as a trip unto itself, but if I’ve gone toWalmart to pick up a sprinker or toy, I might drop into thesupplements section to see what sort of Omega-3 products thatoutlet stocks (mmm, fish oil gelcaps. You aren’t supposed tobite them?).

What I’ve learned is that it’s a massiveindustry, predominately catering to the elderly and sick. There aretens or hundreds of thousands of products, covering virtually everysupplement imaginable — if there was ever a study that found thebenefits of some compound or nutrient, even if the study useddubious methodology and was refuted by dozens of followup studies,there will be a supplement on the shelves containing largequantities of it. The aisles are generally full of fearful ofquickly approaching death seniors looking for something that’llundo a lifetime of damage.

The gamut of available pills, usually monstrous throat cloggingpills, is extraordinary.

What fascinates me, however, is how reactive most people are,rather than being proactive. To give an example, I generally useartificial sweetener (Sucralose aka Splenda) in drinks, and drinkdiet drinks containing the same (the possible carcinogenic factoris a completely different topic). Yet I’m not overweight, or atleast I don’t think I am. I’ve gotten comments, of the sort thatonly a male would get, that this perplexes people because I’m notoverweight.

Exactly.

I drink lots of drinks in a day, so I try to limit the amount ofsugar calories. It doesn’t mean that I’m trying to loseweight, and it doesn’t mean that I’ve bought into some sort ofAtkins no-carbs B.S. It’s simply an easy way to slightly reduce thenumber of calories I ingest in a day — not to mention that sugarshave always been a no no for nutritionists, and a single can ofsoda often features twice the sugar of two whole bowls of FruitLoops, themselves hardly a low-sugar option — with minimal/noimpact on my lifestyle, to prevent the situation where I’moverweight. If I didn’t have the sugar substitute options, I’ddrink less, or I’d drink water.

On the same theme, the supplement section is overwhelminglyfilled with a) the elderly, b) people sufferingfrom serious ailments, such as cancer. It isn’t full of 20 yearolds realizing that the next couple of decades will determine howlong they live, and more importantly how well they willlive during that period.

It’s a perplexing, destructive situation that many of us onlystart caring about our bodies in our twilight years, when somethinghas gone seriously wrong, or when we look in the mirror and realizethat we’re obese. It’s like getting your car rustproofed after halfof it has crumbled away, and changing your oil after your enginehas seized. It’s carefully applying layers and layers of wax afterthe paint is scratched and dinged, and discoloured by the sun.

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Of course this isn’t to say that the elderly or those sufferingfrom terrible afflictions shouldn’t be concerned with keepingthemselves as healthy as possible — of course they should, and ofcourse it’s rightly important to them — it’s just that people needto think more preventatively: If an occasional cup of lycopene rich tomatojuice wards off prostate cancer, for instance, well then I’drather have an occasional cup of tomato juice rather than drinkinggallons of it after the fateful diagnosis, in an often futileattempt to stop what’s already been done. If some extra lutein, inthe form of a delicioussalad containing spinach leaves, provides anti-oxidants thatmaintain vision and skin health, well then it’s probably a goodidea to keep it in mind before the eyes are dried, degraded orbs,and the skin is withered and destroyed.

It seems like nutrition and fitness should be something all ofus should be concerned with, especially when we’re at theseemingly epitome of health. We shouldn’t only worry about calorieswhen we realize we’re medically obese, and we shouldn’t only startpaying to nutrition when our body has mostly broken down.