You may have heard the saying, "every bite you take leads you on a path toward health or toward disease". This is especially true over the course of time. Or, you may have heard about eating a "balanced diet". But what does that mean? It it the same for everyone? Let's delve into this further...
Homeostasis & Dietary Direction - Defined
Before I define “Dietary Direction”, I should define “Homeostasis”, which means balance and a relative state of equilibrium. Homeostasis is the goal in regards to health. The foods we eat either support or conflict with this balance. Nourishing foods and depleting foods have an obvious effect on homeostasis, but so do health-supportive or health-draining lifestyle habits such as sleep, stress, rest, play, emotions, exercise, work, spiritual practice, and social interaction.
Any refined or processed foods like sugars, artificial sweeteners, refined oils, trans fats, and refined flour products are non-nutritive and move an individual away from homeostasis. If eaten in excess, they drain the body of valuable reserves in order to metabolize them. Poor health can result.
The "Dietary Direction" of a food is an indication of the food’s metabolic effect on the body, and it indicates where on a continuum a particular food, meal, or entire diet lands: anabolic, neutral, or catabolic.
The human body requires foods on both sides of the continuum to maintain homeostasis, and the amounts needed are based on what the individual person’s needs are at different times throughout their life. A health professional may look at the cumulative effect of a client’s diet to determine if their dietary direction is appropriate to foster homeostasis. Over time, the health of a person will be determined by how appropriate their overall dietary direction is in relation to their needs.
How to Determine Dietary Direction
The dietary direction of a meal (or many days of meals) is largely determined by the macro-nutrient ratios. The macro-nutrient in largest amount will have the greatest influence on dietary direction. The catabolic direction is more cleansing and has a higher percentage of carbohydrates. The anabolic direction is more building and has higher percentages of proteins and fats. The neutral direction will have fairly equal amounts of carbohydrates to the sum of proteins and fats. (These are all explained in further detail below.)
In general, here are approximate the macro-nutrient ratios:
Carbohydrates : Protein : Fat (percentages of calories consumed)
Catabolic direction 80:10:10 or 70:15:15
Neutral direction 50:25:25 or 60:20:20
Anabolic direction 40:30:30
In catabolic metabolism, complex materials in the body are broken down to simple. It is a destructive process involved in the release of energy. This is a normal body process and involves the clearing of wastes and toxins from the body. However, if this process becomes unbalanced, more cells are destroyed than created and illness will surely follow. The catabolic foods are an essential part of a healthy diet and happen to be the alkaline-forming foods such as fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, juices, herbal teas, sprouts, and non-glutinous grains.
In general, catabolic foods are cleansing, contain some fiber, and are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. It is normal to naturally eat more cleansing foods in the springtime. The cleansing qualities also make them appropriate for an individual who feels sluggish, congested, or constipated. They are also cooling and hydrating due to high water content and appropriate in hot weather. Catabolic foods are a source of quick energy because they are high in carbohydrate content. Therefore, a primarily catabolic diet may not be appropriate from someone with poor blood sugar regulation or with a faster metabolism.
In contrast, anabolic metabolism is involved in the constructive processes of the body. Simple components, the amino acids from proteins, build the body’s complex structures and new materials including our hair, teeth, and bones. Therefore, anabolic foods are appropriate during periods of growth in children, during pregnancy, or if someone is tired or needs to repair or restore their body after an illness, injury, or surgery. Anabolic foods also contain a higher proportion of fats, which are a concentrated source of long-burning energy. Anabolic foods are often the acid-forming foods and include: meats, poultry, fish, soy, eggs, dairy foods, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and beans.
The stabilizing, settling, and grounding qualities of anabolic foods are great for athletes who have a higher energy output demand, as well as individuals with attention or hyperactivity problems. They are naturally attractive foods in the wintertime. Both fats and proteins take longer to digest, so they can be clogging and congestive in excess or without adequate fiber to move them along the digestive tract. Eating an anabolic, acidic diet over long periods of time can be detrimental to health without the balancing effect from cleansing, catabolic foods.
Neutral foods have both anabolic and catabolic qualities, are moderate in density, do not contain a concentrated amount of amino or fatty acids, and have a fairly neutral pH. Neutral foods include complex carbohydrates, starches, root vegetables, sea vegetables, whole grain cereals, pastas, breads, soups, and nut milks. They are often cooked to reduce the water content and tend to be warming, comfort foods.
Which Direction is Right for YOU?
Appropriate dietary direction can be altered as personal circumstances warrant. It can change with the seasons, with the amount of physical activity or energy demands, and with health status. Dietary direction can be altered meal-to-meal depending on daily needs. It can also be rotated over longer periods of time, depending on the need for cleansing and detoxification versus the need for more recovery, restoration, or physical demands. Remember: Balance, homeostasis, and health are always the goal.
Source: Hawthorn University lecture, MHNE 606, Evaluating Individual Food Characteristics, (2008)
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