Chapter 5: Portion Control
We humans have a bad habit. Even though we are full, we will still eat more. This is not only because white foods and junk foods taste so good. It is also because we are too smart. For the majority of human history, people have lived without a continuous access to food. Therefore, our ancestors learned to eat as much as they could when food was available. Today, even with an abundance of food, this overeating habit is still ingrained in us.
A perfect example of this is a buffet. It seems to be the goal of almost everyone who goes to a buffet to gorge him or herself in order to get their “money’s worth.” Some buffets have the potential to be healthy, but it depends on what you eat and how much. A buffet may have a salad bar, with greens, vegetables, and other relatively healthy items. That is good. The things that are bad are the salad dressings, bacon, and cheeses and such. Why? Because they are full of fat, and people tend to eat larger portions of them because they taste so good.
The main buffet may also have healthy things on it, such as corn, broccoli, spinach, green beans, and other vegetables and leafy greens. These can be healthy, depending on how they are cooked, but the greasy chicken wings, macaroni and cheese, pizza, and other unhealthy foods we typically find on the buffet overshadow them. Even in limited quantities, these greasy and fattening foods can still be harmful to your health. In addition to fat, these items are usually full of sodium. We need sodium to help conduct the electric energy that courses through our bodies. The recommended daily allowance is, at most, 2,300 milligrams(mg).1 Just one cup of macaroni and cheese usually contains approximately 1,000mg of salt. Of course, people tend to eat more than just one cup. If this becomes a habit, too much fat and sodium will lead to heart disease, kidney damage, stroke, and high blood pressure.
After indulging at the main buffet, what is left? How about the fruit bar? It is surely ok to eat your fill of the variety of fruit at that table…or is it? Fruits themselves may be healthy, but portion control must still be practiced. The sweeter the food, the more we tend to eat. A small serving of fruit is fine, but not everybody has good self-control. We rationalize another trip to the fruit bar because we think it is healthy. Remember, even fruit has calories. Too much of a “good thing” is bad. For example, if you eat only fruit, but consume too much, your body will store the remaining energy in the liver as fat.
Things that are sweet tend to make us eat more. That is why you see corn syrup on so many food labels. The food manufacturers want you to eat more and more of their food, because it is money in their pockets. Interestingly enough, scientific studies have found that consuming things that are sweet elicits a response in our brain similar to the response a drug addict experiences when they use drugs.2 In other words, our brains will rewire themselves and eventually equate sugar with intense pleasure. So in the end, we end up gorging ourselves on junk at the fruit bar.
The buffet is a dangerous place and the threats do not end with the fruit bar. To sum everything up, it is full of unhealthy foods. Not to mention, the dessert bar looms in the horizon. It offers, among other things, puddings, pies, cakes, and ice cream. Will a little hurt you? No. But, the key word is “little.” Once we have a taste, our brains tell us we want more.
There are problems associated with eating foods like ice cream, pudding, cakes, and even sweet cereals. All of these practically disintegrate by themselves in your mouth. Look at the puffball type snacks in the chip isle at the grocery store. Or, look at cereal that is made up of mostly air. Stick them in your mouth and they start to break down immediately. It takes very little time for you to chew them up. The sugar in them makes us eat more due to the pleasure our brain gets from it. These foods are considered “empty calories” by the scientists who study them, because they have lots of calories in them, but it takes the body forever to feel full. You usually only stop eating because you get tired of the flavor. In the end, we can consume hundreds, even thousands, of calories in just one sitting.
Now, compare these sweets to foods that are not empty calories. Think of a steak with a side dish of beans and rice. This meal contains healthy nutrients because the calories are not coming from sugar. What happens? One, you get full from eating. You cannot comfortably eat slabs and slabs of steak and bowls upon bowls of rice and beans, like you can with the sugary cereal. Two, these foods are considered nutrient dense, meaning they are packed with nutrients that are healthy for your body. Your body needs and uses them to function. Your body craves these nutrients. The opposite of this is the sugary foods mentioned above and calorie dense foods. Calorie dense foods are different than nutrient dense. Calorie dense foods contain a lot of calories in very small servings, and have no nutritional value. Let me ask you this: what would happen if you were fed a steady diet of these junk foods? You would lose muscle mass, become diabetic, and have no energy.
Remember how the sparrow eats? It sustains its energy by eating the limited quantities of food that it finds. Do sparrows gorge? No. Do they have an all “you can eat buffet?” Yes, the seeds, whole grains, berries, and worms that make up their diet are readily available in the trees or on the ground. However, they know that their survival depends on eating only what they need. If they ate a lot at once, they could not fly because they would be gorged and tired. Additionally, seeds are life itself. You plant a seed, and it grows. Therefore, seeds provide essential nutrients to the cells in our bodies. Sparrows keep their cells alive and revitalized by eating these whole grains and seeds. No greasy, chemical riddled, or sweetened foods for them. This is how we need to eat as well.
Imagine, for a moment, if we were not at the top of the food chain. In fact, thousands of years ago, we were not. Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers and, unlike today, they had natural predators. These enemies could attack, kill, and eat them at any moment. If attacked, our ancestors only had two options: to use a weapon to defend themselves or to try to outrun their enemy. You would be hard pressed to find any human who was overweight back then. They knew that, in order to survive, they would need to be able to run faster and be more mobile. To do so, they ate small meals instead of large ones.
Think of your body as an empty container. Our cells have empty space between them. Our blood transfers oxygen and nutrients throughout. If our blood sticks together in the arteries, we are no longer empty. Our blood cannot transfer nutrients throughout our bodies and our vessels become blocked. Eventually, our heart will explode (i.e. heart attack) due to all of the extra work it has to do. We can treat the symptoms related to heart problems, like high blood pressure, with certain medicines, but this only alleviates the side effects. To truly be healthy, we must go to the source of the problem, which centers upon poor food choices.
The sparrow has taught us to eat smaller meals made up of whole grains, and to limit our protein intake. We must not eat until we are stuffed, only until we are full. Therefore, do not eat processed food, greasy food, or a lot of artificially sweetened food. By following these lessons, your stamina will increase, your arteries will be clean, and you will have a happy, healthy heart.
See Lowering Salt in Your Diet. The U.S. FDA recommends that an adult consume no more than 2,3000 milligrams(mg) of sodium in on day. Older individuals should limit consumption to no more than 1,500 mg per day.
See Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit.. This study shows that sugar and sweetness can induce cravings that are comparable to those induced by addictive drugs. This is one explanation as to why many people have difficulty with controlling the consumption of foods high in sugar.