Intro to Food & Health – Final Weeks

I thought I’d crank out a quick post just to finish up what I learned in the course. I’ll reiterate that I *really* enjoyed this course. I finished it months ago so I actually had to go back and go over my course notes again to finish this little series. Ha!

Anyway: Weeks 3 and 4 were pretty straightforward.

Week 3

This week consisted of talking about the principle of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” which is Michael Pollan’s mantra regarding food and diet. In my opinion, it’s pretty sensible for general health. At present I’m following a meal plan provided by a bodybuilding nutritionist, but if I were just eating as I normally would, and not follow a specific plan, then I’d go by that too.  Heck, in general even on my current meal plan, I still eat a lot of plant-based foods (and yes I EAT CARBS).

Another important thing is the “not too much” part. One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is to slow down when I’m eating, give my stomach enough time to signal to my brain that I’m filling up and when to stop. My husband and I have to catch each other sometimes eating too quickly, and we even have had discussions with friends about cultural pressures of never throwing away food that we don’t want to eat because we’re full, or the “eat everything on your plate or you don’t leave the table” saying that got drilled into our heads as kids. In my personal experience, that taught me to stop listening to my body and become a habitual overeater, which led me to being overweight most of my youth and young adult life.

Even now, when my anxiety disorder is triggered (usually from sleep deprivation) I turn to snacking on junk food for comfort and just ignore my body’s signals of when to stop eating. Fortunately, it happens rarely nowadays and my “when to stop” skills have improved.

The rest of week 3 talked about cooking: ingredients to use, eating more veg, and sensible substitutions for high-calorie foods. What was nice was that the stuff Dr. Adam suggested on the videos having as staples (olive oil, onions, fresh garlic, tomatoes, and green veg) were things that we eat on a regular basis. Hooray! I liked the sensible substitutions section too because as an aspiring hobby-bodybuilder, I’m always looking for tasty but not-ridiculous calorie-wise foods. This led me to discover different types of baking ingredients, and substitutions for butter or other fats that I can use in cooking (though I don’t eat a ‘low fat’ diet).

Week 4

I enjoyed week 4, too! The first topic was constructing a healthy plate, i.e. what kinds of foods to include at each meal. I liked this because it concentrated on plant-based stuff but also talked about the importance of starches and proteins and not just veg and fruit all the time.

The second and third topics were intertwined because it gave tips about shopping at the supermarket AND talked about the importance of reading nutrition labels. I can’t stress enough how important it is to read nutrition labels. This especially applies to added unnecessary sugars – like why does yogurt need to be sweetened? I don’t like sweetened yogurt, dang it!

Anyway.

In America, there’s this trick that food companies use to get people to eat more of their processed food: they put on the labels the portion size, and THEN put “portions per container” which is usually way more than the actual amount you’d eat. I hate that and it makes me hate the idea of having to go grocery shopping in the USA. You don’t get that kinda tomfoolery in Europe, nope nope. It’s per 100g, and sometimes per portion, but not always. For bodybuilders and fitness folks that weigh out their food, it’s fantastic.

The fourth and final topic talked about the importance of moderation in maintaining a healthy diet. Pretty straightforward, but there was more discussion within the video that you really should go watch.

Like I said, the course was great. It was quick and to the point but really informative. I got some great book titles too that I’m looking forward to diving into when I get the chance.

Why don’t you go sign up?

Intro to Food and Health – Week 2

OK! So the first week of my Stanford Introduction to Food and Health course was pretty cool. I got a short crash course in the science of nutrients, how complex nutrition for humans really is and how junk food is manufactured. I’m enjoying it so far.

Week 2 goes more in depth and talks about processed foods, sugar consumption in the USA, cooking and even provides a case study of a pre-diabetic man to help the student learn about how changing one’s eating habits to focus more on eating fresh produce and staying away from too much packaged stuff can drastically reduce a lot of health risks.

This Week’s Interesting Tidbits:

I always knew that processed foods aren’t generally very good for you. A little bit is OK but having hamburger helper every night isn’t really an ideal part of one’s regular diet. The reasoning blew me out of the water. Processed foods are meant solely to have a long shelf life – this includes removing important nutrients such as fiber, iron and b-vitamins in order to soften the food and prevent moulding. Further, these foods are cheap because they’re made with cheap products – high fructose corn syrup, for instance, saves a lot in manufacturing costs. These foods have added colors, preservatives, and even fats/sugars in order to give them flavor since much of its natural flavor is contained within the nutrients that are removed to extend shelf life. So there’s a mind-whirl for you.

The most interesting question posed regarding processed foods was: if mould isn’t interested in growing on these foods – then how exactly is it good for us? Which, to me, makes sense. All organisms break down and create waste. It’s the circle of life. Twinkies, for example, generally don’t go old. They have an absurdly long shelf life and usually don’t go stale…so why exactly should I be eating them? Why indeed.

The worst part I found in this, is the BS they put on packaging. “With added protein! Low carb! Healthy choice!” Why can’t we just have things as it naturally occurs instead of adding “nutrients” after processing them? Oh, that’s right, because it’s basically Frankenfood.

In most instances, my family and I eat as much fresh produce as we can. We’re into fitness and eating healthy so it’s not really an issue for us. Living in our tiny lil’ country in the Pyrenees means that we get access to cheap, delicious produce. I’m aware that not everyone is this privileged, so I don’t judge anyone for eating processed stuff – hell, I still enjoy the taste of potato chips and gummy bears. And sometimes it’s not a choice, and you need to feed your kids.

Anyway!

The section on trends in sugar consumption was pretty neato too. Dr. Adam stated that in the last 60 years, consumption of sugar has gone WAY UP in the USA, and about 1/6 of sugar comes from desserts or actual sugar – the rest is from the added sugar in all the processed food on the market today. YIKES. But very sensibly, Dr. Adam also recommends not to vilify sugar because it will only lead to extremes taken where fats and proteins are a “free for all/eat as much as you want” and sugars must be avoided at all costs – MODERATION is the key here. Naturally, when an ingredient is vilified, food companies jump on board to immediately capitlize on that and profit from people’s ignorance about nutrition and balanced eating. Remember all those “fat free” options? Now it’s all gluten-free and high protein options. Blech.

Dr. Adam also has a section on the importance of cooking, which really sung to me as we cook all our meals at home because I’m a SAHM and my husband works from home. We are incredibly lucky that we can do that. The case study about the pre-diabetic man was fascinating and actually reminded me a lot of how my own daily life changed when I decided to opt for more healthy choices regularly about 3 years when I started working with my trainer, Steve.

This Week’s Takeaway (tee-hee!):

This week was actually my favorite one in the whole course (I’m writing my series on this course after I’ve completed it) because it stated out loud how I’ve always felt about food: eat fresh stuff, don’t vilify specific ingredients because it can lead to disordered eating habits, and cook at home as much as possible.

Interested in the course? You can take it for free and it’s designed for busy people: sign up here. 

Intro to Food and Health – Week 1

Coursera has a pretty nifty setup with many of their online courses. You can purchase a certificate of completion for your LinkedIn page or for use on a resume, or, you can just take the free online courses. The courses themselves are structured into short video lectures (no more than 10 minutes, usually less) with infographs and a narrator. This course is narrated by Dr. Maya Adam, MD, who is both a doctor and a professor at Stanford.

Week 1 gave short introductions to different types of nutrients, how we generally see food and how it’s probably better to simply see food as food, instead of trying to break it down into particular nutrients that we need each day (I’m looking at you, macro-junkies). It’s not to say that any particular nutritional strategy is bad, save for restrictive diets that usually involving demonizing one kind of nutrient over others, BUT what was emphasized was that food in itself is so complicated that scientists are still studying how it fuels us, why balance is essential to a healthy diet, and how fad diets are absolutely not recommended for sustainable, long-term health.

My favorite tidbits of this week:

I learned a simple explanation for how carbohydrates, fats and proteins are processed in the body. What I found especially interesting was how different types of sugars (glucose, sucrose, fructose, etc) are processed and why some types aren’t recommended to be eaten regularly as opposed to others.

The 3 macro-nutrient concentration dates back to 1827, where William Prout was among one of the first English doctors to recognize fat (lipids) as an important nutrient. Apparently the development of nutritional science started in the 18th century, and I wrote my MA thesis about material culture in the 18th century so OF COURSE I was excited to read that.

There are 20 types of amino acids, and 9 of them are essential (meaning we have to get them from food).

Plant-based proteins aren’t “complete”, as in they don’t have as many amino acids as meat-based proteins BUT the benefits of replacing meat 1-2x per week with plant-based protein (so beans, lentils, stuff like that) far outweighs the potential negatives.

Needless to say, I’m enjoying the course so far. If there’s any other interesting bits I learn, I’ll probably tweet about it if it’s not enough to make a whole post about it. If you’re super interested, you should sign up for the course yourself! 

Intro to Food and Health

I started a course on Coursera.org called “Stanford Introduction to Food and Health“. Getting a certificate of completion cost me €36, but I figured it’s worth it since the average person studying to be a personal trainer probably doesn’t get too much nutrition in. I have a long history of issues with food, but I think getting a strong background in nutrition, coupled with my own personal experience (empathy is a big deal!), and other requisite courses standards for PTs would give me a leg up against a lot of personal trainers where I live when I start training clients, as well as teach me about the foods I eat.

There’s a big emphasis in this course on the global obesity epidemic. To be honest, I’m fat positive. I think there needs to be more representation of fat people in the media, in magazines and in daily life. I like FatShion, and fat bloggers who are radical about fat positivity (not faux “body positivity” disguised as dieting fads in order for someone to sell their crappy recipe book) and those who write extensively about fat shaming and how fat/obese people are discriminated against. My personal opinion about this is, if a fat person wants to do some strength training but wouldn’t want me to advise them on nutrition (usually because they’ve already had someone hassling them for years about it), then I’ll work with them. You can still build strength even if you aren’t eating kale chips every day (I know it’s more complicated than that, I’m making a joke).

What I’m getting at here is that I will endeavor to avoid the bits about obesity. I just don’t want to come off judgey, or turn anyone off from the really useful nutritional science stuff. I don’t think, as someone who is average-sized and not discriminated against on a daily basis for my body’s size, that I need to be writing about this subject.

I will focus as much as I can on what I’m learning regarding nutritional science and how our bodies process nutrients from foods. This seems pretty interesting and I’m looking forward to babbling about it on here.