Good or Bad? Gluten, Avocados, Granola + More, Part 1

The women of Stylebook had a flurry of emails recently prompted by that New York Times article we’ve written about before — the one that found that people have a lot of confusion about what food is actually healthy, and that there is a big disconnect between what nutritionists think is good and what the general public believes — so we thought we’d examine some of the more common confusing items: granola, nightshades, avocados, gluten, and grains. Are they good for you or bad for you? And is the answer ever really that clear?

First, we need to understand the mind-body connection of food and nutrition to understand why some foods might be deemed “good” or “bad”.  On the mind side, what and how we eat, what we choose, and when we stop eating starts and stops with your brain. Yes, even food types and tastes all come down to the old noggin. These choices come from our genes, social cues, learned behavior, environmental factors, circadian rhythm, our hormones… and much more that nutrition science has still yet to figure out.

All of this is in part influenced by satiation — the perception of fullness you feel during a meal that causes you to stop eating. (Satiety is your perception of satisfaction, or reduced interest in food, between meals; satiation is your perception of fullness during a meal.)

On the body side, we need to consider the importance of our Gastrointestinal System. Consider the following about the gastrointestinal system:

  • The gastrointestinal system comprises 75 percent of the body’s immune system.
  • There are more neurons in the small intestine than in the entire spinal cord.
  • It is the only system in the body that has its own independently operating nervous system, which is called the enteric nervous system.
  • If you stretched out the gastrointestinal system in its entirety, it would have the surface area of a regulation sized singles tennis court.
  • There are more than 400 species of microbes living in your gut, totaling more than 15 pounds of mass and containing more bacteria than there are known stars in the sky.

Source: Precision Nutrition

Suffice it to say, if the body allocates this many resources to one system, it must be important. Adding less desirable foods can compromise its efficacy, so being curious about what, when, where, and why you eat is well worth your time.

Nutrition Therapists, like Megan Crozier at Fitness on the Run, are on the cutting edge of nutrition in the healthcare arena and general population. The Nutritional Therapy Association was specifically created to work with medical and healthcare professionals to teach the importance of properly prepared whole foods that are delicious, nourish our bodies, and restore good health. Once foods have been highly processed, as most foods in America are, there is no combination of carbohydrates, fats, and protein that will ultimately be healthy.

So back to that mind-body connection: a diet with hyper-palatable, hyper-rewarding, heavily processed foods can overthrow the brain’s “stop” signals. And the body’s gastrointestinal system was built to process food the way that food grows. For example, it takes your digestive system much longer to process a granola bar bound with some sugar and sticky substance than it does to process an apple. So consuming an avocado makes the beautiful body happy…not so much on something with an extensive list of ingredients. The body has to work harder to extract nutrients and process ingredients, which can negatively affect your entire mind-body connection (think sugar crashes on the “minor” side to cortisol-gone-haywire adrenal failure on the serious side).See? Still lots of confusion. Source: New York Times

Sadly there are no definitive answers to the questions raised by the New York Times article. Why not, you ask? Because nutrition science is filled with very smart people who are on very different sides of the food spectrum. On the one end are those who believe food should be measured in calories. Somewhere in the middle are those who count macronutrients, or protein, carbohydrates, and fats, for each meal. Some, particularly those who are hospital-based, dietitians, or public health officials — are focused on portion control. At the opposite end, you have those who intensely subscribe to no measurement, simply eat the food the way it grows, pay attention to how you feel, and work to lead a balanced life of nutrition and healthy living.

What really matters to your weight and overall health, of course, is what you do consistently — i.e., what and how much you typically eat, day after day. Just like your fitness, your food choices and experiences matter over the long haul. Check back tomorrow and we’ll give your our take on the nutritional pros and cons of granola, nightshades, avocados, gluten, and grains.

Is there a food that you wonder about? Comment below and we’ll tackle that, too.

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