“As your body moves and works each day, it must use energy” (Sizer & Whitney, 2016).
Food is this energy; it is necessary to survive for the body to grow, repair and function. Finding the best food to promote optimal health is then a duty, to give every cell and body system the best tools to function at its best.
WHAT ARE NUTRIENTS & HOW DO THEY POSITIVELY AFFECT OUR HEALTH & WELL-BEING?
Energy-Yielding Nutrients (EYN) come from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The body can use these for the energy that they contain. One interesting fact about protein is that it has energy, which the body uses, and it also provides essential materials needed to help form tissues in the body.
Vitamins and Minerals used to be a mystery to me; even now, I am learning so much about these strange necessary micro-nutrients. I find it interesting that all vitamins and minerals act as regulators, meaning that they assist in all body processes that maintain life, such as; digesting, moving, healing, and even obtaining energy EYNs.
There are six classes of nutrients, and they are measured in grams to weigh them or in calories in terms of the energy they provide. There are three primary energy-yielding nutrients or macro-nutrients Carbohydrates ( 4 calories in a gram), Fat ( 9 calories in a gram), and Protein (4 calories in a gram). Energy-yielding nutrients are essential for providing the body with energy and assisting in building tissue structure. Vitamins and Minerals or micro-nutrients are vital since they act as regulators for all the body’s major systems such as “digesting food; moving muscles; disposing of wastes; growing new tissues; healing wounds; obtaining energy from carbohydrate, fat, and protein; and participating in every other process necessary to maintain life”(Sizer & Whitney, 2016). Water is most important for our body to function optimally. “The body constantly loses water, mainly through sweat, breath, and urine, and that water must constantly be replaced. Without sufficient water, the body’s cells cannot function”(Sizer & Whitney, 2016).
Ensuring that you eat the nutrient-rich foods your body requires to function and eat appropriate amounts of food to sustain your life is needed to find the healthy balance between being underweight or overweight. When a body is underweight, they risk losing nutrients quicker and possibly die from starvation or die quicker from illness. Overweight and obese individuals are more at risk for chronic diseases. The list of serious diseases is much longer than the list of being underweight. This list includes coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, liver disease, low quality of life, arthritis, and cancer. (CDC Overweight & Obesity, 2021) Coronary heart disease is caused by atherosclerotic blocking of one or more blood vessels that supply the heart. When a major artery becomes more than 75% blocked, blood flow restriction to the heart muscle causes chest pain. This type of chest pain occurs most frequently during exercise or emotional stress when the heart rate increases and the heart works harder than normal (Powers & Dodd, 2017).
EXAMINING THE FACTORS (e.g., SOCIAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, PHILOSOPHICAL & PHYSICAL) THAT DRIVE OUR FOOD CHOICES.
I have had many different connections with food that changed at various points in my life. Growing up, I ate primarily Mexican food because, like you, my mother would monitor the types of food I ate. She was my primary caregiver and responsible for making sure that I ate. After becoming independent and while in the Marine Corps, I ate food when I could fit it into my schedule, or not at all. As a truck driver, I have eaten food to stay awake behind the wheel, curve boredom, and reward my hard work.
AS A TRUCKER TRYING TO LIVE A HEALTHIER LIFE I HAVE HAD TO COMBAT MANY PHYSICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, SOCIAL, AND/OR PHILOSOPHICAL FACTORS THAT ATTEMPT TO TAKE LEAD IN MY FOOD CHOICES.
Advertising: The media has persuaded you to consume these foods
I do not watch any commercials. In my family, we pay for various streaming services, which cut the commercials out. However, driving daily miles across state lines, I still fall prey to the hundreds of billboard advertisements on the nation’s roadways. Every road I have driven on across in the country markets hard to road travelers. When I feel tired and hungry, the Flying J Truck-stop billboard ads, which fill a circle with food items like half a soda or coffee and the other half of the circle a pizza or pancake, can wear my willpower down. I sometimes self-talk and rationalize that I NEED the food to do my job. Choosing to reduce the temptation by stopping at rest areas or only walk into truck stops to shower and laundry is the only way so far that I have avoided marketing pressures.
Availability: Poor-quality foods are present in the environment and easily accessible to you.
The food available in the truck stops is hot and ready to eat, which saves time! It is also cheap, which saves money. Pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers are the standard options; since these are handheld easy to eat foods, they can provide convenience by allowing me to get back on the road quickly or eat while I drive. However, I try to limit the number of times per month that I take the “easy way out” because these foods are low-quality nutrition. Again, the best way I prevent eating these foods is by staying out of the truck stops as much as possible, only stopping in for the necessities.
Emotional comfort: Bad foods can make you feel better… for a while
I often say that I am “food motovated,” and it is true! I enjoy delicious food, and one of my personal development reward systems is, rewarding myself with food! I have to be careful, though, because a reward that causes more damage to my body, in the long run, is no reward at all! I have come to crave high-quality foods truly, and I am willing to pay for high-quality food. Through self-awareness, I have learned that it is not just any food that motovates me; it’s the higher quality, divine chefs, and environmental experiences that make me happy.
AMERICAN CULTURE & FOOD
The most significant differences in culture in the United States seem to vary in “comfort food.” In the south, one can already imagine the comfort food as fried and with gravy. In the east, I have noticed a lot of pizza and sandwiches along with hearty soups. The west is full of all the variations of Mexi-foods; New Mexican, Authentic Mexican, Tex-Mex, Cali-Mex, and more. Major brands spend significant amounts of money and time marketing “comfort food” to children, Happy Meals with toys, or sugary cereals with graphic characters. If we think of personal growth as overcoming challenges and, therefore, moving towards being uncomfortable, then maybe we need to shift our mentality towards wanting to eat “un-comfort foods” for the sake of health and vitality in life instead of reaching for those foods with childlike impulses that we know are harming us.
Increased portion sizes since the 1970s (50 years), as shown in the figure from the text Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies by Sizer and Whitney (2016), exceeded a quadrupling in some foods! Americans are very privileged and fortunate people. Sixty percent of the world lives on $2 or less a day, drastically less than most US citizens categorized in poverty. The abundance Americans have allows for pleasure spending, such as eating out at restaurants. With the abundance of convenient foods, people satisfy the addictions they have built a dependency on, seeking pleasures through food and spending money. Marketing and advertising have honed our human weaknesses and sell the consumer on pleasure, desire, and convenience. The combination of prosperity in our country, advertising, and limited personal willpower contributes to the decline in American health.
Americans are also fortunate to have more occupations that require critical thinking and mental effort to conduct the job requirements. This means there is an increase in time spent sedentary at stationary desk jobs and, combined with large amounts of nutrient-poor diets, promotes all-cause mortality. Inactivity can shorten muscle tendons, decrease flexibility, and cause poor posture. More severe consequences of overeating and living a sedentary lifestyle include cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. What is worse is that even those who participate in the recommended 30–60 minutes of daily exercise may not be doing enough to compensate for their long periods of sitting (Powers and Dodd, 2017). With this information, it is more important than ever to include measures to offset inactivity wherever possible.
THREE SIMPLE & LOW-COST TOOLS/TECHNIQUES TO HELP WITH PORTION CONTROL
Portion control and ensuring the foods we eat fulfill our body’s nutrient needs can seem daunting, but here are a few easy techniques to control food portions. 1.) Purchasing plates or bowls that are smaller is an easy way to help limit the amount of food you serve yourself and is helpful when eating out at restaurants. 2.) Equating the quantity of food by thinking of measurements as everyday objects is another way to control the amount of food you serve yourself. Examples of this are 3 ounces of meat = a deck of cards, one piece of fruit = the size of a tennis ball, 1½ ounces cheese = the size of a 9-volt battery, 1 cup of cooked pasta = the size of a baseball (Sizer & Whitney, 2016). 3.) Use a scale. One low-cost tool I use is a kitchen scale. It is small and can easily convert from measuring solids and liquids. I enjoy this most since I can get an accurate measurement of any food.
POVERTY & FOOD INSECURITY CAN LEAD TO OBESITY
Food insecurity is when a family has one or more of their members go to bed hungry or loses weight from not eating regularly. I have only ever been temporarily food-deprived while deployed. I have been very blessed to have never worried about going without or not having semi-healthy food every other minute of my life. As a trucker, the trucking industry has provided me with financial security and allows me to purchase at minimum the overpriced options at truck stops.
Most impoverished communities have cheaper options of food that consist of lower-quality nutrients. Regularly purchasing cheap, poor-quality food causes families to become malnourished. They end up missing essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins (Sizer & Whitney, 2016). There are communities within America that have limited options for local healthy food choices. To prevent hunger and malnutrition globally, we should start locally. All our communities should strive for improving nutrition, knowledge, financial growth and provide options for physical activity.
There are more benefits from a project that includes physical movement because it helps with lowering depression and improving health. Many health risks seem to exist more predominantly in disadvantaged neighborhoods because of the effects of environmental stress, inadequate nutritional resources, lack of places to exercise, decreased opportunities to be exposed to nature, and exposure to environmental pollutants (Bhatnagar, 2017). I have seen a solution to inadequate nutritional resources in my city. The farmer’s markets now accept welfare (SNAP) payments, and they charge these customers a discounted rate for the food. Once this initiative began, I noticed more families around the farmer’s markets learning about food.
In the book Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies (14th ed.) by Sizer and Whitney (2016), they define food as:
“Medically, any substance that the body can take-in, and assimilate that will enable it to stay alive and to grow; the carrier of nourishment; socially, a more limited number of such substances defined as acceptable by each culture.”
And define nutrition as:
“The study of the nutrients in foods and in the body; sometimes also the study of human behaviors related to food.”
There is a clear scientific explanation of food and nutrition, but, interestingly, we can not define either without human behavior or culture. When anyone approaches the topic of food, nutrition, or diet, they immediately evoke feelings and cravings, which may contradict what is genuinely needed for the physical body to function. Malnutrition is deficiencies or excesses of nutrients, and if one’s feelings of food over time affect what is medically necessary for the body to function, then that is when malnutrition can lead to chronic medical conditions.
Of the many chronic medical conditions, cardiovascular disease is number one, and in the United States, one in three Americans dies from cardiovascular disease (Powers, 2017). When nutrient intake is balanced and lifestyle behavior includes physical activity such as engaging in as little as 30 minutes a day of exercise training, we can reduce the chances of a heart attack by 60% (Powers, 2017).
WHAT ARE SOME CONSEQUENCES OF INADEQUATE OR IMPROPER NUTRITION?
“A well-chosen diet supplies enough energy and enough of each nutrient to prevent malnutrition. Malnutrition includes deficiencies, imbalances, and excesses of nutrients, alone or in combination, any of which can take a toll on health over time”(Sizer & Whitney, 2016).
Diets high in saturated fat, salt, and calories can lead to obesity, contributing to diseases like cancer, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Diets high in trans fat can cause plaques to form on the artery walls and causes damage, hardening, and narrowing of the artery walls as well(Colbert et al., 2019a).
Altering or modifying diet and lifestyle can lower risk factors like high blood cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes. To minimize the risks of hypertension, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, limit sodium, trans-fats, alcohol, and adopt a diet resembling a Mediterranean diet with lower starchy foods and higher fiber intake (Sizer & Whitney, 2016). Most people can prevent many debilitating or chronic conditions by learning and implementing nutritional principles. Over-the-road truck drivers, such as myself, are at risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and more. These could all be prevented by providing our bodies with a high nutrient diet with high-quality calories to counter the damage from hours of sedentary behavior. Diet is a massive factor in altering chronic conditions, but lifestyle adjustments must also be applied and assist a diet.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY & NUTRITION GO HAND-IN-HAND WITH REGARD TO MAINTAINING A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
Lifestyle, genetics, environment, and healthcare are the four factors that most influence health. Lifestyle has the most significant impact on health as 53% of all diseases are due to lifestyle behavior (Powers and Dodd (2017). A great example of how nutrition and physical activity benefit from one another and fail apart is the protein to a muscle-gain relationship. Attempting to eat an abundance of protein and do a hard workout will not provide significant muscle gains because there is a protein-building limit. However, the repetitive combination of fitness and consumption of protein causes a net muscle gain over time. It is common knowledge that a healthy lifestyle includes physical activity. People who participate in an active life feel happier, have a higher cognitive function, lower chronic disease, a higher functioning body, and live longer. People who regularly engage in moderate physical activity live longer, healthier lives on average than those who are physically inactive, and despite the well-known health benefits of physical activity, only 20% of American adults meet the activity guidelines (Sizer & Whitney, 2016).
In a section of a documentary by HBODocs (2012), multiple examples of lifestyles are shared, but one story about diabetes stuck out. Twin brothers, one has diabetes the other does not; the shocking difference between the two is that the one with diabetes just gave up and did not take being diabetic seriously. The non-diabetic brother decided to think of his brothers’ health problems as a warning for himself. This early action kept him from getting diabetes like his twin. This story is a clear example of how impactful lifestyle behavior choices can be for anyone predisposed to chronic disease.