Have you ever wondered what it actually means to be healthy? Is it just healthy or not, good or bad, black or white. Find out this and more in this article...
Table Of Contents:
- What Does It Mean To Be Healthy?
- Why Do We Become Unhealthy?
- How Do We Remain In Balance
- Healthy Foods Vs. Unhealthy Foods
- Foods That Don't Work
What Does It Mean To Be Healthy?:
Healthy is defined by Oxford Dictionary as, “in good health” or “not in a diseased state, healthy cells”. This is a very vague definition, so let’s try to narrow it down a bit. Let’s define healthy as the ability to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is defined as the ability of the body and its cells to maintain a condition of equilibrium. – a stable internal environment — as it deals with external changes. So basically, being “healthy” means the ability to maintain balance between your internal environment-your body, and your external environment-your life.
Let’s take a look at an example to really make sure this is clear. As humans we must maintain a relatively constant blood pressure level. During exercise our body is capable of increasing our blood pressure so more blood pumps out of our heart and is delivered to the rest of the body. When we stop exercising, we no longer need this increased blood flow, so our blood pressure returns to normal. It is when we are out of balance with our body that our blood pressure does not return to its normal range and we are therefore in a “diseased” state or unhealthy.
Why Do We Become Unhealthy?:
If you have read my article, “Evolution: The Story of The Cell”, you will understand the one central principle that defines us as living beings....
“We Are A Sum Of Our Cells”
Every cell in our body is a living creature just like you and I and are capable of performing all of the same functions as we are, including:
- Respond to a stimulus (like light, heat, or a food source)
- Grow & Develop
- Maintain Homeostasis
- Process or Metabolize Energy
Now if you recall before, one of the definitions of “healthy” per Oxford Dictionary was, “not in a diseased state, healthy cells”. Our cells dictate our ability to remain in balance with our environment. When our cells become “unhealthy” or “diseased” they are no longer capable of maintaining homeostasis. So the real question becomes, why do our cells become unhealthy?
Just like in humans, our cells become unhealthy when they are no longer able to stay in balance with their environment. The environment of our cells is our internal condition meaning the hormones and nutrients they receive from our blood, and the signals they receive from their neighboring cells and the nervous system (brain). Cells become unable to remain in balance with their environment when they are placed under excess stress for too long.
What Is Stress?:
Stress is defined as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain, it is our body's response to anything that requires attention or action.” I’d like to make it clear that stress is stress. Meaning that whether it is physical, emotional or psychological stress, your body responds to it in the same way, by releasing the stress hormones like cortisol, estrogen and adrenaline. It is also important to note that stress is not inherently bad, without stress or stimulus, there is no change. Stress enables us to gain muscle, burn fat, heal wounds among an infinite number of other adaptations that we are capable of doing. The key to stress is to not be in an overly “stressed state” or a state of excess stress, meaning out of balance. The stressed state marks a shift in the priority of our body and our cells from growth and recovery to a survival state.
How Do We Remain In Balance?:
Staying in balance really comes down to living in balance, let me explain…
Our body requires a certain amount of energy to maintain homeostasis everyday. The amount of energy we use on a daily basis is known as our metabolism or metabolic rate, which we typically measure energy in calories. Our metabolic rate is determined by the amount of energy our cells use in order for them to remain in balance/ maintain homeostasis. If we want to be in an energy balance, we want to consume as many calories as we burn on a daily basis, also known as caloric maintenance.
Now in order to perform all of the daily tasks that are required to survive, but more importantly, to grow and repair, we need to consume adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are like the raw materials of our body and our cells and are necessary to perform thousands of cellular processes. For instance, Iodine is necessary to produce the active form of our thyroid hormone, T3, which regulates our metabolism. Iron, the main ingredient of hemoglobin, is required by our red blood cells to transport oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body.
Again, the key to remaining in balance comes down to consuming these micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) at about the same rate as our body uses them. When we do not consume enough micronutrients to replenish the amount our body uses, then over time we will become deficient in them. In the short-term this will increase the amount of stress placed on our body and decrease our body’s ability to handle the stress. In the long term this will result in a decreased metabolism because our body no longer has all the tools it needs to maintain homeostasis and therefore our body falls out of balance. This eventually leads to a diseased state of our body and our cells.
Remaining in balance comes down to three main principles:
- Consume enough energy (calories) through food and drinks
- Consume enough nutrients, by consuming foods and drinks that are rich sources of vitamins and minerals.
- Avoid consuming foods that deplete our body of any micronutrients or that increase our stress levels
Healthy Foods Vs. Unhealthy Foods:
Following these principles, I am going to define “healthy foods” as those which supply our body with vital energy (calories), vitamins and minerals. And I will define “unhealthy foods” as those which deplete our body of essential micronutrients and increase the amount of stress placed on our body.
Nutrient Composition & Availability:
This is a concept that is not discussed nearly enough in modern-day nutrition circles. Just because a plant or animal contains a lot of nutrients does not mean it is accessible to us as humans. To view this, it’s a lot easier to look at supplements. When you consume a supplement, let’s say magnesium, there are many different forms of magnesium you can choose from.
- Magnesium Citrate
- Magnesium Oxide
- Magnesium Chloride
- Magnesium Glycinate
- Magnesium Sulfide
- Magnesium Chlorate
How well our body absorbs each form of magnesium is known as the bioavailability, bio meaning life and availability meaning availability, how available it is to life. The higher the bioavailability of a supplement the more of the supplement we will be able to absorb per a given dose. For example, let's say magnesium oxide has a 50% bioavailability, so only 50% is absorbed, while magnesium citrate has a 100% bioavailability, so it’s completely absorbed. This means we would have to consume twice as much magnesium oxide compared to magnesium citrate to get the same effect.
Now the reason some forms of magnesium are absorbed more than others is largely associated with the charge of the molecule. Minerals need to have a positive charge in order for our body to be able to use them or basically for them to be able to “work” in our body. So forms of magnesium, or any mineral, that have a negative charge will be much less effective in our body.
*Pro Tip - Anything that ends in “ide” or ite” generally has a negative charge*
Foods That Don’t Work:
Nuts & Seeds - This same principle applies to many foods from plants. Although nuts and seeds are jam-packed with micronutrients they also contain a high amount of phytic acid. Phytic acid is a type of anti-nutrient. Anti-nutrients interfere with our ability to absorb nutrients into our body (think anti-nutritious). When we consume nuts and seeds that contain phytic acid, the negatively charged phytic acid binds to the positively charged mineral ions in our intestines. This prevents the absorption of many of the minerals present in nuts and seeds and basically renders the majority of the minerals we just consumed useless. Other animals and insects have the ability to break down or digest phytic acid and separate it from the minerals, but as humans we cannot. Goitrogens are another example of an anti-nutrient that is present in foods like broccoli and kale. Goitrogens interfere with our thyroid organ’s ability to absorb iodine to make T3, the active thyroid hormone.
Stems & Leaves - This transitions us perfectly into the next food, stems and leaves. The cell wall of stems and leaves are built with a molecule known as cellulose. When we consume cellulose we often refer to it as insoluble fiber, meaning it just passes right through us because we cannot digest it. This means as humans we cannot access the nutrients that are contained within stems and leaves because we do not have the enzymes required to digest cellulose. Think cellulose like the castle walls that surround a castle. If we can’t get past the walls then we can’t get anything inside the castle.
Other animals, like cows, do have the enzyme in their stomach required to break down cellulose, but they also have a 4-chamber digestive system in order to be able to completely break it down. Nearly all herbivores contain a multi-chambered stomach and a much longer digestive tract in order to be able to get the nutrients they need from stems and leaves because cellulose is so difficult to digest.
Unlike other animals we are capable of cooking our food to increase its digestibility. If you want to still eat vegetables, it is best to overcook them to the point that they are completely soft and are able to be cut through easily with a butter knife. This will ensure that all of the cellulose is broken down and will help to reduce the amount of anti-nutrients in the stems and leaves.
Poly-Unsaturated Fats (AKA PUFAs) - Lastly, we have poly-unsaturated fats. Poly-unsaturated fats are a form of fats that contain multiple (poly meaning many) double bonds in their chemical structure. Double bonds are much less stable than single bonds and are therefore much more likely to be broken down. This is why fats/oils that are made up of mostly polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, like most vegetable oils. Compared to saturated fats, like lard or coconut oil, which are solid at room temperature. When we consume poly-unsaturated fats the double bonds in them get broken down or oxidized and release free radicals into our body. Free radicals are associated with a number of health problems including inflammation, oxidative stress and cancer.
Now with this additional knowledge, let’s revisit our definitions of healthy and unhealthy foods:
- Healthy Foods - Foods which supply our body with vital energy (calories) and nutrients (vitamins and minerals).
- Unhealthy Foods - Foods which deplete our body of essential micronutrients and increase the amount of stress placed on our body.
In conclusion, the best way to remain in balance with our body is to supply our body with the energy and nutrients it needs to do so. To do this we should try to consume a lot of foods that are rich with vitamins and minerals or micronutrient-dense foods. As long as we have our bases satisfied in terms of eating enough vitamins and minerals there is no reason we can’t treat ourselves to foods, drinks, or desserts that may not be very dense in micronutrients, but contain a lot of calories. Because at the end of the day, they are still providing us with useful energy.
It all comes down to remaining in balance.
If you are interested in learning more about how to remain in balance with your environment, make sure to check out my article, “You Are What You Choose To Be: The Biology of Belief” and our Thermo Diet program to learn all the ins and outs about how to eat for optimal health.
My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good
B.S. Physiology and Neurobiology