What is Complete Nutrition?

Cheese eggs and hamMost of us make an effort to eat what we think is a healthy meal. We really do.  

And those who prepare meals for the family, be they moms or dads, husbands or wives, all do their best to make it a nutritious and delicious meal.

I think it is relatively safe to say that no one steps into the kitchen thinking “let me prepare a meal deficient in nutrients to promote poor health.”

But how many of us can answer this one question?

“What is complete nutrition?”

If you stop and think for a second, can you answer that question?  

Let’s simplify the question even further:

How many nutritional elements are there?

When you ask yourself that question you are most likely faced with an uncomfortable silence. If you can not answer it confidently, it is highly likely that there is more to know about nutrition.  And while you may be preparing nutritious meals, it is also true that you may not.

Well, there are forty or more nutrients required to build good health. Some foods contain most of them, some contain only one. As a general rule, the more processed or refined a food is, the fewer nutrients it contains overall.

Why is complete nutrition not common knowledge?  I personally believe the most likely cause lies in false advertising.  Every food manufacturer advertises “nutritious meals,”  “reinforced with vitamin D”  or “rich in protein” and “contains essential fatty acids.”  These are all common advertising slogans. Truth be told, such slogans are generally meaningless at best, and at worst are utterly misleading.

Let us take one of these slogans: “rich in protein.”  It sure sounds good, and it sounds healthy; that’s part of the reason it’s used in advertising.  But does that make it healthy?  You’ve just bought the product with the impression you have a healthy meal and are getting a lot of protein.  

But let’s take a look at the term protein. “Protein” comes from the Greek word, protos, which means “first.”  Proteins are a composition of various amino acids. They are the stuff that every cell in your body is made of.

But protein itself is a very general term.  Not all proteins have the complete set of amino acids you need for good health.  Proteins contain, and are made from, amino acids, so any combination of amino acids can be called a “protein” even if it lacks the essential amino acids required for good health.

The next deceptive term is “essential proteins.

There are currently twenty-two commonly-known amino acids.  The actual number of amino acids in existence is closer to 200.  Twenty-two of them, however, have been classified as the basic building blocks for good health.  Out of these twenty-two amino acids, thirteen of them can be produced by your body when it breaks down proteins. Nine of them can not.

The nine amino acids that can not be produced by your body are therefore called “essential amino acids” because they have to be part of your diet.  But this doesn’t mean you can ignore the other thirteen.  After all, you need something in your food to make them out of.

As you can see, the term “rich in protein” doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  Protein containing all the wrong amino acids is still called “protein” while it does not supply you with the nutrients to build good health.

To confuse things even more, there is the term “complete protein.”  This sounds like it has everything you need, but it’s only partially true.

A food that has “complete protein” has each of the nine amino acids your body and cells can not produce by themselves.  But remember there are thirteen amino acids that it can produce, providing it has the resources to do so, as you need the total of twenty-two amino acids for good health.

Some foods contain protein that have all amino acids, some only a few.

Eggs, for instance, contain complete protein, with all essential amino acids, as well as the “non-essential” amino acids.  Other foods lack certain amino acids, and would have to be eaten in combination with one another.  Most grains are missing two of the essential amino acids, so even whole-grain bread needs to be eaten with something containing the missing two, if one wants to obtain complete protein.

Another less-known fact is that complete protein is needed at each meal. If you take half the essential amino acids for breakfast, and the other half for lunch, it doesn’t work.  They need to be taken at the same time, to form complete proteins in your body.

As you can probably see clearly by now, our food-labeling and advertising practices are misleading and can cause one to think that one is purchasing a healthy meal, when one is not.

There is something to learn and know about nutrition, and as you can see, it’s not something you learn over night.  It takes some work.  

In the above example I’ve covered only the subject of protein, without getting into any real detail. I haven’t even bothered to tell you what the nine essential amino acids are, or what food combinations give you complete protein.

All I have tried to make clear so far is that I think everyone wants to eat healthy, and be healthy, but that in order to know one is eating healthy, one needs to study up on nutrition – even if only a little bit at a time.  

And most importantly, we need to be skeptical of  advertisements as a source of nutritional information.  Advertisement is intended to sell product, not to give health advice, but it sure is made to sound like health advice.

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