I’m a hacker, and I love to build stuff for the Web.

 

Nutrition

Saturday 3rd July, 2010

This post is written in the second-person, addressed to myself. I’m publishing it in the hopes of creating some extrinsic motivation through peer pressure.

It might just be helpful to you, if you’re dealing with the same problems as me. Note that I’m an omnivore, but if you’re a vegan or otherwise observe a special diet then you’ve probably done more research than I have anyway.

Nutrition is about consuming (in the form of food) the raw materials you need to survive. Over millions of years, your ancestors developed methods of extracting and processing those materials from the bodies of animals and plants in your environment. These methods were ‘designed’ for conditions of scarcity, yet subsistence is no longer an issue. You are programmed to eat whatever you can get, but due to the abundance of energy-rich food, you’ve stored the excess as adipose tissue. Once upon a time, this behaviour allowed your g’g’g’g’g’great-grandparents to outlive their peers. Now, it will probably consign you to an early grave.

Being overweight/obese sucks for a variety of reasons. It’s not sexually attractive, it greatly increases your risk of several life-threatening diseases (including stroke, cardiopathy, cancer, diabetes and friends), it makes it hard to find nice clothes that fit you, it impairs your general fitness (to the point where it’s hard to run up a flight of stairs without losing your breath)—the list is enormous. However, it’s a problem that can be solved, by fixing your nutritional habits (commonly known as your diet).

Low-hanging fruit

Stop eating shit. ‘Shit’ here includes:

  • Chocolate
  • Cake
  • Fries
  • Potato Chips
  • Milkshakes
  • Fast food (in general)
  • Ice Cream
  • Candy
  • Soda (regular, diet or otherwise)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Donuts
  • Frappaccinos (or any drink containing a metric fuck-tonne of cream)
  • Anything deep-fried

You get the gist. Most of these foods just appeal to your primal instinct to consume sugar, but provide no essential nutritional value. I’m not saying cut the fun stuff out entirely—life would suck if I couldn’t have a can of Coke now and then—but don’t consider it a valid form of nourishment.

Drinking

Water is perhaps the most nutritious substance you can consume—and you should consume lots of it. Cordial is acceptable if the tap water in your area is especially nasty, but it’s really not ideal. Bottled water is a rip-off, and in blind taste tests is typically indiscernable from tap water.

Alcohol is fun in moderation. I don’t like getting drunk, and I don’t like hangovers, so I have at least one glass of (tap) water or soft drink between every alcoholic drink. Also, in most bars and clubs, tap water is free.

Fruit

Most fruits have been artificially selected for sweetness (i.e. sugar content) over hundreds of years, so I prefer to get most of my plant intake from vegetables. Still, it’s better than the refined sugar found in most foods.

Vegetables

Eat lots of green vegetables. Go for variety, to get the right amounts of all the different vitamins and minerals you need. Starchy veg like potatoes should be avoided for their high energy content. Favor raw over steamed, steamed over baked, and baked over boiled.

Meat

Most meats are OK. Consume lean cuts of meat, and if you prefer meat-based products (such as sausages, burgers, nuggets or bacon), it’s far better to pay more money for higher quality. If cost is an issue, just eat less, or buy a raw cut of meat and prepare the dish yourself.

Dairy

In general, dairy products (milk, butter, cream, cheese) are high in fats, so consume them in moderation. Don’t cut them out entirely, because they’re good sources of calcium, protein and vitamin D.

Maize (Corn) and Wheat

These two plants are relatively recent additions to the human diet, yet both are surprisingly pervasive throughout the food supply. Followers of the Paleo diet opine that, from an evolutionary standpoint, human beings are ill-adapted to deal with such a high proportion of maize- and wheat-based foodstuffs in the diet. I’m inclined to agree; eat less bread and pasta, and check the labels of food for large quantities of cornstarch (often used as a filler in ground meat products like sausages).

Takeout

The general standard of takeout (in the UK, at least) is horrendous—we’ve all experienced oily curry, greasy pizza and salty rice and noodles. The quality is there if you’re willing to fork out the cash (again, just eat less), but most of the time it’s not worth it.

Eating locally

Lots of people prefer to eat only locally-produced food, mainly due to concerns about climate change. I have no such reservations myself, although I’ve found that supermarket meat tends to be of a lower quality, less fresh and more expensive than meat from the local butcher. Likewise, local greengrocers and markets usually offer very good fruit and vegetables at impossibly low prices, and local fishmongers offer great seasonal seafood, often caught only a couple of days before.

The undeniable allure of the supermarket tends to be about convenience; the food is always more expensive and of worse quality than what you can get elsewhere. For certain exotic products there’s sometimes no choice, in which case the quality over quantity rule applies.

Provenance

Tied into this idea of local eating is provenance. When you buy and prepare food yourself, you know exactly what’s in it, and where it came from. You can even trace it back to the farm it was grown on. This makes it a lot harder for harmful ingredients to penetrate your diet, and also makes for a rather satisfying cooking and eating experience.

Exercise

How you spend your energy is just as important as how you obtain it. You need daily exercise, even if it’s just walking around. Aim to get a good mixture of cardio and resistance; by building muscle you’ll speed up the rate at which your fat deposits are consumed. It’s advisable to consult a professional who can help you plan a thorough exercise régime.

tl;dr

Being fat sucks.
Don’t eat shit.
Drink water.
Drink responsibly.
Quality over quantity.
Avoid cereals.
If it’s green, it’s good.
Eat locally.
Get to know your food.
Move more.