Our diet can have a significant impact on our physical and mental well-being. It is easy to become overwhelmed, however, with all the medical terminology surrounding food and the role it plays in the functionality of our bodies. Below you will find definitions for three of the more common terms concerning diet and health. These are calories, trans-fats, and cholesterol.
Different foods provide differing levels of energy. Furthermore, the way energy is distributed within the food can have a definitive impact on how our bodies process it. To simplify matters, scientists identified what they consider the most basic unit of food as a calorie. Thanks to the Western World’s preoccupation with body weight, most of us know the more calories you consume, the more weight you can put on.
Exactly how we process calories varies by our level of physical activity. If an individual consumes 4,000 calories a day and lives as a couch potato, the likelihood is that, over time, they will likely gain weight. In time, in fact, they will probably become obese or even morbidly obese.
To illustrate the fact presented above, consider the obesity epidemic we are currently facing regarding American children. Far too many consume only junk food, and their level of physical activity revolves primarily around the television screen or a computer. A marathon runner, in contrast, may need far more calories to achieve a healthy weight and maintain the stamina required for the grueling physical demands they regularly place on their bodies. The marathon runner is burning most of the calories he or she puts into their bodies, while the couch potato simply converts them to fat.
Unfortunately, obesity comes with many health risks, not the least of which is cardiovascular disease. Another factor affecting such health hazards are the types of fat that various foods contain. Trans-fats, for example, also impact our propensity for succumbing to cardiovascular disease.
Trans fats form when liquid oil solidifies. Margarine and shortening are trans fats. People often use trans fats when cooking. Practically everyone in the more technologically developed world is aware of the dangers inherent in using shortening to deep fry foods, but how many of us realize baking is not always a healthier alternative?
The health risks of your foods revolve around two factors: what those foods are composed of and how you prepare them. Baked goods, like cookies and other snack foods, are often full of trans fats because they are added directly to the mixing bowl. Trans fats put us at risk for cardiovascular disease because, when consumed, they are used to produce cholesterol.
Your body does not need more cholesterol than it naturally produces. Eating high cholesterol foods has been proven to be detrimental to your heart. Interestingly, cholesterol is a natural component of our bodies. It is a waxy substance that is a natural cellular component. The National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute clarifies, in its natural form, cholesterol is used to produce critical hormones, vitamin D, and other substances that aid in food digestion. Notably, there are two types of cholesterol:
• High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
HDL is considered the “good cholesterol.” HDL serves to collect and transfer cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, which then removes it.
• Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
LDL is considered the “bad” form of cholesterol. LDL also transports cholesterol. The only difference is that LDL encourages cholesterol to build up in the arteries, rather than being efficiently removed by the liver.
Although the three terms defined above represent just a fraction of the substances and processes that affect human health, they are three of the most important. Understanding what is in your food and how it could potentially interact with your body should allow you to make better food choices. When it comes to your diet, the foods you chose could have both short- and long-term impacts on your health.