Hopefully you had a wonderful Christmas and have had a chance for some down time between Christmas and New Year’s.
There were a couple of questions/comments last week on what I like to call “food efficiency.” I’m going to briefly prime the pump on this topic today, invite comments, and write more on it if there is enough interest.
In short, if you eat foods that your body can burn and use efficiently, you don’t need to eat as much. In the case of storing food for emergency situations, it also means that you don’t need to buy or store as much.
One example of this concept that many people recognize is the difference between low quality and high quality dog food. When people switch from feeding their dogs low quality food to high quality food, one of the first things they notice is how much less poop there is to pickup. This is because their dog is able to use and digest more of the food and there is less food waste that they need to pass.
What makes food efficient? How do you absorb as much benefit as possible from the food you eat? There’s a few factors…and they’re different from person to person. This topic gets REALLY complex in a hurry, but the following factors will address the majority of the issue.
- Complexity of the food
- Glycemic index
- Bio availability
1. Complexity of the food. Foods that have more complex structures require more digestive energy to break down into usable components. From a pure calorie/energy perspective, some foods take more calories to digest than they provide. Lobster is one of these…so if you would try to live off of nothing but lobster, you’d slowly starve to death. In general, protein requires more calories to digest than fats, which require more calories to digest than sugars. Protein has other benefits besides calories, so the fact that it is more complex doesn’t mean that you should avoid it.
2. Glycemic index & insulin response. The glycemic index is a measure of how rapidly carbohydrates break down into glucose. Foods with a high glycemic index break down rapidly and foods with a low glycemic index break down more slowly.
This is important because if your blood glucose levels get too high or rise too quickly, your pancreas will release insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels. The problem with this is that the pancreas usually over reacts, releases too much insulin and causes blood sugar levels to drop lower than they were to start with.
Most people understand this intuitively and know that when they eat high fructose corn sweetener or refined sugarcane they get quick energy and then quickly drops off. But if they have fruits and whole wheat bread, their energy levels go up nice and slow and stay level for hours.
3. Enzymes. Enzymes are very complex and amazing structures that can cause chemical reactions to happen more or less quickly. In relation to food, enzymes break complex food particles down so that the intestines can extract as many nutrients as possible from them.
Different people make different enzymes at different rates and it causes the body to spend more/less calories digesting particular foods. So, it might take me 80 calories to digest and extract 100 calories from a meal that only takes you 30 calories to digest.
If you can figure out which foods your body is efficient at digesting, your eating becomes much more efficient. Also, many raw foods contain some of the natural enzymes required to digest them. When you cook them, you kill some/all of the enzymes and put more of the stress of digestion on your gut and causing you to get fewer net calories. One free tool you can use to figure out the foods that are best for you is from my friend, Dr. Joe Mercola. You can use it by going to: nutritionaltyping.mercola.com/PreTest.aspx
Enzymes are temperature sensitive and are killed off by cooking. Many people, as a result, have switched over to a “raw” food diet. Personally, we do cook a lot of our food, but we supplement with enzymes to take some of the strain of digestion off of our bodies. This, in turn, causes the food to “burn” more efficiently, which takes some of the load odd of our livers.
4. Allergies. If your body identifies a particular food as a threat, then you won’t be able to digest it as efficiently as someone who’s body doesn’t identify it as a threat. In fact, the reaction could cause your body to rapidly expel the contents of your gut, cause general inflammation, or even kill you.
5. Bacteria in the gut. With the help of enzymes, bacteria in your gut break down the food that you eat into forms that your body can use for building, repair, energy, and other chemical reactions. Your gut has both good bacteria and bad bacteria in it. It’s good to minimize bad bacteria and maximize good bacteria to get the most benefit from your food. A couple of things that will kill the bacteria in your gut are antibiotics and Sucralose (Splenda.) This lack of good bacteria will cause you to extract less from your food and have more waste.
In addition to avoiding things that kill good bacteria in our guts, we also take probiotics to keep our good bacteria levels high.
6. Bio-availability. This has more to do with supplements than it does with food, but it’s still important. One of the best explanations of this is in Dr. Michael Colgan’s book, “Optimum Sports Nutrition.” Dr. Colgan became relatively famous in the late 80s and early 90s by showing Olympic athletes how to achieve steroid-like performance gains without destroying their bodies. My copy is 16 years old and WELL worn. In it, he talks about the various forms of calcium, how much calcium is in that form, and how well the body absorbs it.
As an example, calcium carbonate is 40% calcium (60% carbon and oxygen) and only 39% of that calcium gets absorbed. So, if you take 1000 mg of calcium carbonate, you’re actually only getting 1000x.40x.39=156mg calcium.
Calcium citrate is 21% calcium and 30% is absorbed. Calcium lactate is 14% calcium and 27% gets absorbed. This issue of bio-availability is present with every vitamin and mineral you take.
What happens to the rest of the pill? Your body has to process it which puts stress on your liver, kidney, and other organs…all of which takes energy.
This is why I am continually pounding the drum for people to buy food that they already eat for their food storage. And, if you want to buy pre-packaged long term food storage, to be darn sure that the food is compatible with your particular digestive system before you buy hundreds of meals.
This would be a great time for any nutritionists, biologists, or even chemists to chime in with either more technical explanations, expanded explanations of the factors mentioned, or other factors that I didn’t address by commenting below.
If you have a few bucks and a few minutes today or this weekend, check out your local stores for bargains on LED Christmas lights. I picked up a few 50 light, 7.2 watt sets for $2-$3 apiece at Home Depot on Sunday. (People who follow me at www.Facebook.com/SurvivalDave got this tip early this week and snatched up several sets apiece.)
Have a wonderful and safe New Year’s Eve!