“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” – Adelle Davis
When people prepare for a long road trip, they fill their cars with gasoline and make certain that they choose the type of fuel that will keep their cars running efficiently. Food is the body’s fuel, and if the body is going to run efficiently, we need to be mindful of the food we use for energy.
There is constant talk about “good” foods like fruits and vegetables and “bad” foods like ice cream sundaes and desserts. Foods are not truly good or bad, but there are definitely foods that are healthier than others. There are times in our lives for all different kinds of foods, and we should never feel guilty about eating certain foods. It is important, however, to know enough about nutrition to understand when to eat which foods. Dancers need to know that a doughnut or an ice cream sundae are not healthy food choices before a class or rehearsal because these foods will not supply the necessary energy for those activities. With some knowledge, dancers can make healthy choices that will keep their bodies functioning at optimal levels.
In order to keep the body running efficiently, carbohydrates should compose about 60% of the human diet since they are the body’s main source of energy. Carbohydrates also help maintain even blood sugar levels and supply the body with fiber and vitamin B. It is important to understand the difference between simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. The body treats simple carbohydrates the same way it treats sugar. Simple carbohydrates are broken down into energy by the body immediately and burned through very quickly. Eating a lot of simple carbohydrates causes short bursts of energy followed by drops in energy and creates a high sugar environment within the body. Research has shown that sugar suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to disease. Complex carbohydrates are excellent sources of energy because they break down easily and slower than simple carbohydrates so the energy is released at a more even rate, avoiding the spike in sugar levels. Whole grain breads, rice, and pastas as well as beans and snacks like pretzels and popcorn are great sources of complex carbohydrates.
Fats should comprise about 25% of the human diet because they also supply necessary energy. The body uses carbohydrates first, but after about twenty minutes of exercise, the body begins to rely upon stored fats for fuel. Mono-saturated fats are healthier choices than trans fats. Trans fats are very difficult for the body to break down, accumulate in arteries and can cause blockages that lead to heart attacks and strokes. Mono-saturated fats, however, aid the immune system and supply building blocks for hormones. Some healthy food choices that contain mono-saturated fats are olive oil, canola oil, nut butters, nuts, olives and avocados.
Protein should make up about 15% of the human diet. The body uses protein to build and repair muscle tissue, making high protein foods a perfect exercise recovery choice. Proteins help supply necessary enzymes and minerals like iron and zinc. While protein is essential, too much protein can put extra stress on the liver, kidneys and digestive system. Protein can be found in meats, soy, dairy products and eggs.
Knowing the roles that carbohydrates, fats and proteins play in the body is the key to understanding the best way to fuel the body. Armed with this knowledge, dancers can begin to make healthy choices to keep their bodies running at optimal levels. Next week’s post will offer some suggestions for healthy eating before, after and during classes and rehearsals.
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