Nourish, nourishment, nutrition — three words that should have fairly simple definitions, and yet I personally struggle with their meanings more and more. I often find myself wondering what these words actually mean. We have “nutrition labeling” on almost all food products that are meant to provide information about the nutrition that is to be found in that product broken down into percentages of fat, protein, carbohydrates, sugars, sodium and a variety of vitamins. And labels seem to scream out at me from every shelf and aisle in every store about “organic”, "naturally flavored”, “gluten free”, “low fat”, “non fat”, “low carb”, “unsweetened”, “no added sugars”, “no artificial sweeteners” until I find myself turning all of the noise off and wandering around the store in utter confusion not knowing what actually is good for me, not knowing which foods will actually nourish me, and wondering just how things became so crazy and complicated.
So the other day, I decided to find out how these words are defined in the dictionary. According to Cambridge English Dictionary nourishment means “food that you need to grow and stay healthy”. While nourish according to Google dictionary means “provide with the food and other substances necessary for growth, health and good condition”. Webster’s defines nutrition as “1 : the act or process of nourishing or being nourished; specifically : the sum of the processes by which an animal or plant takes in and utilizes food substances”. And Medline Plus defines nutrition as “…eating a healthy and balanced diet. Food and drink provide the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy.”
Do you feel like you understand those three words any better now? The last definition really confuses me because it seems to imply that all of items labelled as ‘food and drink’ provide the nutrition I need to be healthy. Really? Am I reading that correctly? Cakes are categorized as food, but am I really nourished by cake? Soda? Candy? Well, okay, maybe my “social” side is nourished by cake when I share it with friends at a party, but the actual cake — a nourishing food? I am not sure about you, but the more I wander around the grocery stores’ aisles, the more baffled I become about what food is and what nutrition actually means. We seem to be constantly surrounded by items considered to be food with labels that tell us the ‘nutrition’ in each serving, and yet we are considered to be an “overfed but undernourished” society. If our food was as nutritious as we are lead to believe, and our bodies could digest, absorb and transport that nutrition throughout our bodies, why would we need the supplements that fill the other aisles of the grocery store? Or all of the medications that we then get from the pharmacy located in the same store?
Could it possibly be that most of the “food” that fills the shelves, in fact I will go out on a limb and say that most of the food we actually consume, has little or no nutritional value even though it is sold and labeled as “food” and has a nutrition label on the package? And that my friends is a really scary and disconcerting thought. My health (both physical and mental ) depends upon the nutrition that can be gotten from the foods I eat. My digestive system needs to digest, absorb and transport that nutrition throughout my body to all of my cells so that those cells can do their very specific jobs in the intricate ecosystem that keeps me alive. And the ability of my digestive system to function properly in order to do its life sustaining job also depends on the quality of the foods I eat. Feeling like this is a little intense? Starting to see the enormity of the importance to making a commitment to actually nourish yourself by consuming REAL food?
When you detach yourself from society’s view of what “food” is (items produced in a factory with both “real” and “artificial” ingredients to make our taste buds happy and make us addicted to the product) you begin to make choices that will allow you to nourish yourself in a drastically different way.
Not quite convinced yet? May I suggest you try an experiment? Go to the grocery store not to purchase anything (in fact leave your wallet at home). Instead just walk around and notice how much food is actually “real”. Stop and really read ingredient labels especially on foods that you find yourself buying frequently. How many items in the store actually provide nutrition? And depending upon what you see, how many of the aisles do you need to walk down if you are truly shopping for real food? Then take notice of what people pile into their carts. See any patterns? Do you find yourself wanting to tap your fellow human on the shoulder and warn them to pay heed to what they are choosing to consume?
There are a couple of sayings to keep tucked in the back of your mind when you shop for food. The first saying is: “You are what you eat.” And when you think about the meaning of that sentence in physiological terms, you understand that you are literally what you eat because you digest, absorb and transport the “nutrition” and that then becomes your cells, your blood, your skin, your hair, your muscles, your hormones, your mind. So do you want a donut to be the nutrition your cells receive or a dark green salad with nuts and roasted vegetables? The other saying is: shop the perimeter of the grocery store if you want to purchase real food. And while there are a couple of exceptions to this rule, with just a quick look around the store you will be sure to agree. Real food, or rather nutritious food shouldn’t need an ingredient label simply because there shouldn’t be any ingredients. What you see is what you get: broccoli is, well um, broccoli; blueberries are, yup you got it, blueberries, and flax seed is just plain old flax seed. Even peanut butter, the most nutritious kind, is just ground up peanuts. Keep this in mind: “Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.” (Food Rules, Michael Pollan)
So if you are wanting to truly nourish your physical body — and perhaps even heal some of your physical ailments — try nourishing your body with just real food. Gather your courage and stick with the perimeter of the grocery store, or better yet go to the local farmer’s market, and spend your hard earned dollars on food that will nourish every part of you. It is not as complicated as it appears to be — eat real food, digest it and let it nourish your body. If you can do this 80% of the time, you will be truly be on a path to improved health. The other 20% of the time — well go ahead and enjoy the chocolate or the cake or the wine and let those be the times and foods that nourish your spirit and relationships.
Want to chat a little more about how eating real foods can help heal your health? Contact me to sign up for a consultation.
In Health and Balance,