In moderation, sugar is essential for a healthy body. Millions of years ago our ancestors relied on sugar-rich fruit for survival. Not only did the nutrient give them enormous amounts of energy, but it also helped in the storage of fat — something which could be the difference between life and death during hard times. Those who didn’t consume enough sugar had neither the energy nor physical capabilities to reproduce and therefore were unable to pass on their genes.
As a result, the human brain evolved an interesting survival mechanism: a near-insatiable desire for sweetness. Sadly, in modern days this evolutionary edge often does more harm than help. Many, especially in the United States, consume far more sugar than is needed for survival. While weight gain and teeth decay may be the most obvious consequences of excessive sugar consumption, there are many other “hidden” effects of consuming too much of the sweet stuff.
The first step toward a healthier lifestyle is to understand how our diet affects our health. Once we have this base, or foundation, we can then begin to find the proper balance in our diet to attain proper nutrition and the exercise needed to personally achieve proper physical health.
Deficiencies, excesses, and imbalances in diet can negatively impact health, which may lead to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and other debilitating maladies. Many common diseases and ailments can often be avoided or prevented with proper nutrition and exercise.
Protein is considered the Holy Grail of sustenance; especially for those who are fitness inclined. Put simply, proteins are worth the sum of their parts. Our systems require amino acids; they are the fundamental building blocks of our tissues and the singular component of protein. All amino acids are important to our health, but it is particularly necessary to ingest essential amino acids (i.e., those our body is unable to naturally produce).
So, amino acids are capable of building our bodies, but what else are they capable of? According to research by Dr. Ewan Ha of Functional Ingredients Research Inc., amino acids have a variety of potential benefits for the body. For instance, many base components of amino acids have the capacity to “modulate adiposity, and to enhance immune function and antioxidant activity.” In layman’s terms, that means amino acids can help combat fat buildup and boost your immune system. They’re not just good at making you ripped; they can help keep you strong as well. After all, antibodies are made mostly of amino acids in the first place.
Amino acids aren’t just useful for muscle development and immune strength — they may also be key players in the development of your central nervous system. According to Dr. John W. McDonald of the Johns Hopkins University Department of Neurology, amino acids may “exert trophic influences affecting neuronal survival, growth and differentiation during restricted developmental periods.”
Now that you’re well versed in the benefits of amino acids, how can you incorporate these building blocks into your own diet? According to the National Institutes of Health, meat is the most easily digestible source. Of course, to avoid high cholesterol and other pitfalls, lean meats are your best bet. They recommend 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat (beef or pork — pick the round, top sirloin or tenderloin cuts and trim the fat; bison is also a great option), poultry (think chicken or turkey with the skin removed), or fish (shellfish works too).
Eggs contain plenty of amino acids, as well, and vegetarian sources include pinto, kidney, and black beans, lentils, and soy products like tofu and tempeh. And for a quick snack, you can also choose sunflower seeds, walnuts, peanut butter, or even cheese. Of course, always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet.