I want to begin this article by saying that nutrition is complicated and it can be very confusing, especially when there are so many different diets and opinions about how and what you should eat. Since there is so much competition among nutrition plans, each one tries to market a unique angle to help it stand out from the crowd. As a result, much of the information focuses on explaining why one particular plan is better than all the others. While this certainly helps attract new customers, it also makes people lose sight of the big picture by making them focus on the aspect(s) of the program that makes it different or unique. However, when it comes to nutrition, the last thing you want to do is lose sight of the big picture.
Even when the main focus of the eating plan is generally healthy and effective, it can still lead to problems if things are not kept in perspective. For example, one of the best approaches to fat and weight loss involves minimizing insulin level fluctuations and this strategy is used by a number of the more popular diet programs. However, while regulating your insulin level is responsible for many of the positive results, choosing the foods you eat solely based on their effect on your insulin level does not guarantee you will have a well-rounded or even healthy eating plan.
Keeping your insulin level in the right place is important, but it is still just one characteristic of the food, even if it is an important one. A food that helps maintain your insulin level can also contain high amounts of unhealthy fats or have a large number of calories, which will promote fat gain instead of fat loss. As a rule, you don’t want to include a food in your nutritional program just because it has one positive attribute. There is no perfect food that includes everything you need, so you always have to weigh both the positives and negatives when deciding the overall value of a food.
This can be difficult to do, especially when companies go out of their way to publicize the positive qualities of a food and try to hide the negative ones. For example, many products promote the food as positive by including big lettering with phrases like “all natural,” but the nutritional information on the back often tells a different story. The term “all natural” sounds healthy and these foods often are, but some of them still contain high levels of fat, empty calories, or even very unhealthy additives like MSG.
People also tend to lose sight of the big picture when they choose to eat foods just to get a particular nutrient. Probably the most common example of this is when people eat foods specifically to get more calcium. There is no doubt that calcium is important for your bones and your overall health, but so are many other nutrients and calcium isn’t important enough to ignore the overall nutrition of a food. Just because a food contains a significant amount of calcium, it doesn’t mean the food is necessarily healthy, regardless of what advertisers want you to believe.
Even so, there are many people eat cheese mainly because it is a good source of calcium. While it does have calcium, it also has a high amount of fat and calories and the fat contained in cheese is some of the unhealthiest fat you can eat. It is not as bad as trans-fats or partially-hydrogenated fats, but it is just a step above those. Cheese also has a negative effect on many people’s digestive systems, which causes a reduction in the amount of all nutrients you are able to absorb. If you think of cheese as just a calcium source it doesn’t seem bad, but considering it can also make you gain fat and lose other nutrients, it is clear that cheese is a food that is not good for your overall health.
The above examples show how looking at only one attribute of a food can provide misleading information about the overall quality of that food. While this does convey the importance of looking at both the positive and negative aspects of a food, it still doesn’t really give you the big picture of your whole nutritional program. To do this, you have to go beyond looking and specific foods and think about how everything you eat and drink adds together to form you total daily calorie and nutrient intake.
Even if every food you eat is healthy, it is still possible to have an unbalanced nutritional program that results in nutrient deficiencies. This can happen both with micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) and macronutrients (protein, carbs, water, etc.). For instance, many people strive to eat healthy foods and keep their fat intake as low as possible to help lose fat. Unfortunately, this is not a great long-term strategy, because certain fats are essential for a healthy body and avoiding fats altogether actually causes nutrient deficiencies and ultimately inhibits fat loss.
This is just one of many examples, but again it illustrates that there are numerous things to consider when deciding what foods to eat. Naturally this can get rather complicated, especially when you want to eat healthy foods and maintain a good balance of micronutrients and macronutrients. This is one of the reasons why many diets don’t really look at the big picture and only focus on one or two main points. While this strategy does serve to make things less complicated, it also means there is a greater chance of eating foods or developing habits that may lead you away from reaching your goals.
Personally, I don’t think you should stress about getting everything perfectly balanced and you can probably stick with that you are doing, especially if you are seeing positive results. However, you should still take a step back every so often and check to see if there are any significant problems with your eating behaviors or the total combination of the foods you eat throughout the day. In many cases, a few small changes to your nutritional program can significantly improve your results and your overall health, but you may not see any of the problems if you are not looking at the big picture.