Kalongo Hospital in Uganda is on high alert. Medics are facing the pandemic amid an already precarious healthcare situation, in a country with only 55 intensive care beds.
Food is a signal
For too long food has been considered just a heap of calories, vitamins and microelements. But it is much more than that: it’s what comes of the sun entering the soil, plants and animals, transforming them into the energy our body requires.
The habit of turning on a switch, pushing a button or clicking on an icon to activate some objects such as a telephone or control a drip irrigation system from the other side of the globe let us understand that the modulation of energy sources has significant effects even at a distance.
For too long food has been considered just as a heap of calories, vitamins and microelements our body requires. But modern immunology and biochemistry are explaining that food provides every living being with stimuli and signals that don’t have merely to do with the amount of calories but also with inflammation, the relationship among the different types of food we have in our plate, the time when we’re eating it and the emotional state in which we are when consuming our meals.
Food is a signal, starting from breakfast
The current epidemic spread of some diseases has raised the public interest in the signals determining weight gain or loss, which can be explained in light of the theory of evolution.
Indeed every living being reacts to the danger messages given by the external or internal environment in order to survive. By eating at a different time or changing the foods included in your meal, high-impact signals are sent to your brain.
A full and hearty breakfast within an hour after you wake up boosts the metabolism, while avoiding eating breakfast has the opposite effect. If adipose cells that act like energy detectors don’t find the fuel necessary when our body is more stimulated, they inhibit the activation of hormonal signals that activate in their turn the thyroid, muscles, bones and sexual apparatus. On the contrary, when nutritional signals are adequate the whole endocrine system is stimulated, and it can build the muscles, consume energy, produce heat, maintain physical shape and send our brain signals of health.
Balance in motion
Our relationship with food can be defined as balance in motion, the expression of a meaningful dynamic relationship that hasn’t to do with cold food calorie tables or a mechanistic perception. When we introduce a food in our body, of course we also introduce calories, protein, fats and other micronutrients, and with them a number of signals regarding the food we eat, when we eat it and what are our meals made of. Food is not just matter it becomes a link that connects people to the environment.
The traditional yogic belief of a universal energy (prana) which flows in food has lately been supported by scientific evidence that promotes a conscious consumption of food in order to stay fit and healthy. In respect of scince today we can say that food is also happiness, history, signal and relationship.
The ever-common western habit of considering dinner the main meal of the day worsens insulin resistance and the more dinner is abundant and is consumed late in the evening, the worse is this effect. The right food in the right moment is one of the signals that make the difference on the metabolism, inflammation and regulation of sugar metabolism. To understand why this message is systemic you need to know that a scientific study published in JAMA-Oncology in March 2016 revealed that consuming small amounts of food at dinner and during the night (and not eating food for about 13-15 hours), reduces the relapse of breast tumour because insulin and sugars are kept under control.
What the dish includes
For years food pyramids, just based on a mechanistic vision of nutrition, have been suggesting to consume large amounts of refined grains during a week. But our bodies respond to the direct contact with a single meal in that moment and specific situation. Signals come as we “push the button” and channel the energy food offers; it is unlikely that the body responds to the food we eat the week after, yet this vision has long influenced the food habits of millions of people.
The Harvard Medical School has defined a few years ago what an ideal meal should include. Its choice was followed by the United States Department of Agriculture that rejected the tragic suggestions of food pyramids, which led to an obesity epidemic, and promoted the consumption of well-balanced meals containing the same amounts of protein, whole cereals, fruit and vegetables that send the right signals for our body to regulate the insulin resistance and inflammation.
The right protein amount of a meal
The knowledge of these signals and the way they can be used is today available to anyone who wants to analyse its scientific bases. The correct amount of protein that everybody should consume every day is 0.8 g per kilo of body weight, so a person weighing 70 kilos should eat about 60 grammes of protein a day. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in November 2014 shows that in order for our body to send the right signals and boost the metabolism it is necessary to take almost the same amount of protein at every meal (about 20 g at breakfast, about 20 g at lunch and about 20 g at dinner in the above example). By doing this our body can build the muscles, transform the energy also modifying our mood and mental efficiency.
Inflammation, eating the same foods
The beautiful thing about signals is that, like music notes, they deserve to be varied and pleasant. It is annoying to hear a message be repeated too many times and the same happens with food. That food item or food group sends a signal provoking the production of inflammatory substances that send in their turn alarm signals to the body. One of these substances (Baff) increases the insulin resistance, which can cause a number of negative effects above described. An inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis is the same in Europe as in China in its forms. Yet in Europe it is caused by gluten, milk and yeast while in China it is related to rice, soy and corn consumption (as stated in PLoSOne in November 2014). Which indicates that the disease is not caused by a single food item, on the contrary it is caused by the way this is used and consumed in different regions of the world. Today, those who don’t know how to have a varied diet, replace the cereals or protein they use to eat or opt for seasonal products, can study the inflammation level (Baff) and determine their personal food profile that shows the foods that trigger inflammation. Giving the right signals to our body today is an option.
Signals as a symphony
The signals that food sends to our body should be perceived as a symphony, where food colours have their own meaning and function.
The right approach to the signals food sends to our body is to intelligently manage the different situations that our body identifies as alarm indicators, meal times, food-induced inflammation, the excessive consumption of sweets, the correct amount of protein in a single meal and all other messages whose interpretation can help us be and stay fit and healthy in a more effective way than counting calories.
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