If you read article one in this series you’ll have better insight into the importance of nutrition as it pertains to health and fitness, and you’ll have a basic understanding of what foods form the foundation of good nutrition. You need to eat good quality protein, vegetables including roots and tubers, some fruit, healthy fats, little to no sugar, and avoid refined and processed carbohydrates (CHO). Eat an amount of food that supports your levels of activity but not body fat.

Knowing that, however, is not enough in my opinion. Understanding why is important. It gives you purpose. It’s essential to your health and fitness is the first nutrition why, of course. Let’s touch on the others.

Digestive Health

Everything we consume must pass through the stomach and intestines (the gut) to be processed into transportable and usable nutrients for the body. Gut health is therefore critical for your overall health. The body has a difficult time digesting some foods. Some examples are foods that contain gluten, lectin, lactose and dairy proteins. Depending on the individual, it could even be red meat. So how do you know?

Common tell-tale symptoms are indigestion, heart burn, bloating, an upset stomach, and nausea after eating that food. This happens because when the gut isn’t able to digest a food or part of it, that food gets left behind in the gut. It’s almost like leaving leftover food uncovered in the fridge. In worse cases the gut lining is damaged and insufficiently digested foods pass into the bloodstream. It’s not a good place to be, but it’s entirely avoidable by eating good quality foods for you!

Psychological Health

Consider any one of your favourite foods. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a sweet or savoury treat; it can be a favourite meal too. It’s almost like you have another stomach for that food. Despite having a full stomach and your body saying it’s had enough, you just keep going. This desire – eating for pleasure instead of according to hunger – is called Hedonic hunger. In general, humans in the developed world are Hedonic eaters.

Research has shown that these favourite foods activate the body’s reward system. This system encourages you to repeat the behaviour that is providing the pleasure, and is the same system that casinos exploit in gamblers. It’s a powerful system. Research has shown that the reward system can override the body’s cues for satiety which may lead to overeating.

We also know that dietary treats have the same effect on the brain as recreational drugs. These foods give you that feel good feeling.

You need to enjoy food, but if you solely eat for pleasure you won’t be giving your body the fuel it needs to perform. Food is in fact just that – the fuel your body needs to function. While some of what is surplus to those needs is removed by waste, the rest unfortunately ends up somewhere as a fat cell. So whether you’re eating to support your levels of exercise or to maintain a good body composition, approaching food as a fuel is a must.

In the next article we’ll cover two of the other foundational nutrition why’s: the hormonal response to food and needing fuel for fitness. Gut and mental health, however, should be reason enough to eat healthily!

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