Systems and Cells
By Chris Zinn
The past few blog posts on nutrition, we've been overviewing some basic nutrition concepts, and some overarching themes that are essential to a healthy diet. But, before we can get down to the nitty-gritty of nutrition, we need to first have a basic knowledge of how the body functions, the body's systems, and how nutrition can affect cellular health.
Let’s start with the hierarchy of living things.
For the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to skip over some systems. Otherwise, it's going to start looking like biology 101 here pretty quickly.
Humans are considered organisms. We’re self-contained systems that can repair ourselves, reproduce, and maintain a state called homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the body's ability to maintain a state of balanced function.
Organisms are made up of organ systems.
For humans this includes:
Integumentary system: includes skin, hair, nails, and sweat glands. This system provides a layer of protection for the body.
Skeletal system: includes bones, ligaments, and cartilage. This system provides structural support, and acts as protection for organs.
Muscular system: includes skeletal muscles, cardiac muscles, and smooth muscle. This is what gets you around from place to place, what keeps your heart beating, and also moves food through your body.
Nervous system: includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Whenever you stub your toe, this is the system that is responsible for sending pain signals as well as interpreting them.
Endocrine system: includes the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, pineal gland, thyroid gland, liver, pancreas, kidneys, adrenal glands, testes, and ovaries.
Circulatory system: includes the heart, blood, and blood vessels. Without this system, there would be no way to circulate blood, distribute electrolytes, or remove CO2 from the bloodstream.
Immune System: includes the thymus, lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, and leukocytes (white blood cells). This system is our body's natural defense system that protects itself from unwanted pathogens, foreign cells, and tumor growth.
Lymphatic system: includes lymph, lymph vessels, and lymph nodes. The lymphatic system drains lymph, which is transported to the heart, delays infection and delivers fats that have been absorbed by the intestine.
Respiratory System: includes the nasal cavity, trachea, and lungs. This system’s job is to regulate pH in the body, excrete CO2 from the body, and bring oxygen into the body.
Digestive System: includes the oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, intestines, as well as the pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts. Its job is to break down the food we eat so that it can be converted into useful energy.
Urinary system: includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, urethra, and other related organs. The urinary system's job is to regulate pH in the body, and excretes, produces, and stores water, salts, and other waste products in the body.
Reproductive system: includes the sex organs and glands. Its job is to regulate development and reproduction.
The above-mentioned organ systems are each made up of different organs. They include many of the organs listed above such as the skin, brain, heart, liver, and many more.
Going even deeper, organs are composed of many different types of tissues, each with specific jobs and functions.
Epithelial tissue makes up our skin and lines our GI (gastrointestinal) tract.
Muscle tissue is the basis of our skeletal muscles (biceps), cardiac muscle (heart), and smooth muscle (stomach lining).
Connective tissue makes up ligaments, bones, fats, and fascia which all keep our body held together.
Nervous tissue composes our brain and all the nerves in our body.
Adipose tissue, which is technically a type of connective tissue, stores energy for our body to use.
Finally, tissues are composed of cells.
We could go deeper than this but that’s a biiiiig rabbit hole that would take way too long to discuss over the internet!
So, if we are composed of organ systems, which are composed of organs, which are made up of tissues, which are created from cells… then it’s pretty dang important that we keep those cells healthy.
There are many, many different types of cells, and like organs and tissues they all have specific jobs such as:
· To grow and mature
· Metabolize and absorb nutrients
· Remove waste
· Exchange gas
I could probably write an entire blog post on each of those things and what cells are involved, but for now, let's just ask ourselves why all of this matters to you and your nutrition?
Healthy Cells, Healthy You
Your entire body is dependent on your cells working correctly to keep you feeling and looking healthy.
Everybody is different, but in general, we all need varying amounts of nutrients to keep our bodies functioning correctly. So, getting the right nutrients for ourselves is important, but it's also important to get the right amount of nutrients.
So, when your kid has one bite of spinach at the dinner table and exclaims “okay I had my vegetables! Let me go outside now!” You can confidently show them this blog post and explain that they need to eat all of their veggies.
Our body needs the right number of macronutrients and micronutrients to sustain life and keep us growing.
Once we ingest those nutrients our bodies decide what to do with them next.
They can be used as energy for cells to keep us awake and moving. They can be used to repair broken tissue either from and injury or from the previous exercise session. They can act as a helper in other important bodily reactions. Or they can stimulate hormone production. This is just a short list of what our food can do once it is converted in the body.
If part or all of our nutrition is lacking, it can fundamentally change the way we live our lives.
Trust the Unprocessed
Okay, so we need protein, carbohydrates, fats, and the right vitamins and minerals, right?
A cheeseburger has protein from the meat, fat from the cheese, and carbohydrates from the bun along with nutrients that are present in those ingredients as well.
Good to go?
While a cheeseburger does indeed have all of the macronutrients and some of the micronutrients that we need, burgers are mostly composed of foods that are highly processed. Highly processed foods have had nutrients stripped of them over and over and have had preservatives added to them as well to keep them from going bad too quickly.
If you’ve ever left a fast-food cheeseburger to sit out for weeks and not even the fly’s want to touch it, that might be a sign that you should eat less of that.
The burger also most likely contains the wrong amounts of nutrients we need. Yes, it checks all the boxes of macronutrients, but if we take a closer look, you’ll see why that might not be enough.
The source of carbohydrates from the burger is mainly coming from the bun (unless you opt for a salad bun). These carbs have been processed and enriched with preservatives and are far from what the natural version of those carbs should look like.
The protein is coming mostly from the meat, and a small amount from the cheese, but the amount of fat in the meat and cheese are most likely higher than the amount of protein in them.
To get the correct ratios of macronutrients, we should aim to eat lean sources of protein with small servings of fats alongside the protein.
Although at first glance a burger may seem like a good choice that checks all the boxes, it might not be the best option for a meal that will benefit you in the long run. Don’t get me wrong though, I love a good burger as much as the next person, and there are definitely ways to create a healthy burger. However, it probably shouldn’t be a dinnertime staple in your diet.
Give your body what it needs, and it will keep you happy and healthy!
Healthy or Risky?
Even seemingly healthy diets such as partially or entirely plant-based diets need to be monitored to ensure the right number of macronutrients and micronutrients are consumed.
Plant based eating is clearly healthier than eating large amounts of processed foods. But is it truly superior than let’s say… a regular diet?
As always, it depends on the person who is engaging in the diet.
But let’s assume someone does well with plant-based eating, because dairy upsets their stomach and they don’t like the thought of eating animals.
This person is much closer to becoming a healthier person, right?
Well sure, the fact that they have cut out a piece of their diet that doesn’t agree with them is a big step, but it’s also important to be at least partially aware of how much of each macro/micronutrient you’re consuming.
Cells need protein for many reasons. They use protein for building and repairing, for enzyme function, and for cell signaling.
People who eat plant-based diets tend to eat less protein because of the nature of the diet. No meat from animals and no dairy for this person may lead to a healthier and happier life, but it also means they might not be getting enough protein because some of the major sources have been taken away.
Another issue with plant-based diets is vitamin deficiencies. Specifically, B12 (cobalamin) deficiency. B12 is only produced by bacteria, but it is only found in animal products because of bacterial symbiosis, specifically in red meats. This means plant-based diets will need a complimentary B12 supplement in order to avoid vitamin deficiencies.
Getting certain nutrients from a fully plant-based diet is much more difficult than a conventional diet, but it is possible with enough effort and awareness. Of course, plant-based diets have the benefit of ADDING a bunch of different vitamins and minerals that might not normally be consumed by someone who doesn’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, and/or fungus.
So, you can see that even though plant-based eating is a much healthier alternative for some people, it may also cause some issues with the body and its ability for its cells to function properly if the diet isn’t closely monitored.
The main idea here is that in order for your body to function as efficiently and effectively as possible, your body’s cells need the proper nutrients. Eating a healthier diet, meaning eating less processed foods and a wider variety of whole foods will help your body stay healthy and happy!
Want to find out more about how to craft an approach to eating that will fit in with your needs, goals, and lifestyle? Well, starting today you can work with Med Gym's own Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Chris Zinn, in our brand new Nutrition Coaching Program!
If you've tried diet after diet and struggled to reach your goals, nutrition coaching may be the answer you need. Working with a qualified nutrition coach to find, craft and stick to the plan that is the right fit for you can be game changing!
Contact us here to learn more about the nutrition coaching program and how you can get started.