Sheep: Why We Can’t Just Eat Grass Like A Sheep…

Why We Can't Just Eat Grass Like A Sheep

Do you understand the basics of nutrition?

Do you know why our bodies need protein, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals and fibre? … and what it does with each of these?

Alan came to me a few days ago with the following slightly strange question:

What unique food, on top of water, could he eat at every meal and nothing else to simplify his diet?

In fact, with his recent fixation on diets and coupled with his love for systems and simplicity, Alan wanted to simplify things even further and even told me that he’d been thinking a lot about sheep that day! Sheep just eat grass he said – what is the minimum we need to eat to survive and stay healthy, just like a sheep?

Of course he knew we are very different from sheep but he wanted to know how much we could simplify our diet.

I couldn’t (and still can’t) see the appeal of such a boring diet as I love food’s diversity, different tastes and textures but, I suppose, one single food means that shopping and cooking become extremely easy, fast and removed of all thought process.

But…. there is a good reason why humans need a variety of food and that is to provide the body with the 3 macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate), the micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals) and the fibres it needs.

Here is my simplified guide to understanding basic nutrition principles.

Our body is just like an engine. It needs fuel to work. Food is OUR fuel. We consume it, transform it, use what we need, store the excess, reject what we don’t need. But, we’re a bit more complicated than machines because we’re made out of living components. So, we need a complex fuel containing different elements that can fulfill different roles.

Protein

Proteins are found in meat, fish, eggs but also in plants (soy, beans, nuts and in smalller quantities in vegetables and fruits). Through the digestion process, proteins are broken down into amino-acids.

Why do we need amino-acids?

Amino-acids are the building blocks with which we are built. Hormones, hair, tendons, organs, enzymes, bones, muscles, etc… are made out of amino-acids. Proteins are particularly needed in periods of growth and wound healing.

What happens if we do not eat proteins?

There are 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot make out of other sources. The body must get them through the food we eat in order to remain healthy. Lack of these essential amino acids leads to growth problems, increased risk of diseases, low energy, increased stress. Complete lack of protein can cause growth failure, loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity, weakening of the heart and respiratory system, eventually death.

How much protein do we need?

The recommended amount is 0.8 to 1.8g per kilogram of our weight a day depending of how active we are (0.8 for not active to 1.8 extremely active).

Fats

Lipids can be divided into two groups: oils, which are liquid at room temperature (they can be unsaturated or polyunsaturated) and fats, which are solid at room temperature (they are usually saturated). The fats most relevant to humans are called fatty acids, some of which can be made in the body but others need to be included via the diet – essential fatty acids.

Why do we need fatty acids?

Because they provide a larger amount of energy per gram than carbohydrates and proteins, they are an efficient energy storage system. They play a role in improving the digestion and metabolism of certain nutrients and in the absorption and transport of others, including fat-soluble vitamins. They have protective abilities for organs and provide insulation for the body.

What happens if we do not eat fats?

Let’s be more precise: not all fats are good. Transfats (also called hydrogenated) should be avoided (see our article: “Ban Trans Fats…” on the subject). Saturated fats (fat in meat, dairy products,…), you can eat less of as they increase your bad cholesterol levels. However, unsaturated fats (avocado, nuts, oils, oily fish,…) are beneficial to health and without the essential fatty acids they contain, we would run out of the building blocks needed by cells to maintain health.

How much of these healthy fats do we need a day?

40 to 70 g per day according to your gender/weight.

Carbohydrates

The body, through the digestion process, breaks carbohydrates (pasta, cereals, rice, potatoes, vegetables, fruits) down into glucose.

Why do we need glucose?

Glucose is used as energy by all the cells in the body. Muscle cells consume glucose for muscle movement. The brain is the top consumer of glucose (20 to 25% of glucose consumption is made by the brain).

What happens if you consume no carbohydrates?

Unlike, proteins and fats, lack of carbohydrates does not end up in death because the body can use other sources of energy:

  • red blood cells will use glucose produced from amino acids (proteins you ingest or your own muscles)
  • the other cells including the brain will use ketones (produced by the breaking down of fatty acids – fats stored in your body or ingested)
So, why do we need carbohydrates????

We do not need them to survive but we do need them for a healthy life.

  1. Because of what else carb foods contain: They contain fibres and a large variety of vitamins and minerals (which benefits many internal processes and contribute to a healthy life).
  2. Because, if we eat less carbs, we’ll eat more proteins and fat which, in large quantities, can be detrimental to health (increased bad cholesterol, constipation, weight gain, …).
  3. Because ketones in large quantities can be harmful causing acidity in the blood, malfunctioning of the brain
How much carbohydrate do we need a day?

This again varies greatly depending on your activity level (from 0.9 to 1.4g per kg of your weight or 2/3g/lb).

Vitamins and Minerals

They’re called micro-nutrients because they appear in far lesser quantities than macro-elements in the food we eat but they are essential to good health. Each vitamin and mineral has a specific role to play in our body. We need a varied source of food to obtain them all.

Fibres

They are not to be left out. Fibres are not nutrients per-se but they contribute to the good functioning of our body. Insoluble fibres (found in whole grain, bran, nuts, seeds, fruit skins,…) help with the good transit and elimination of food matter.

Soluble fibres (found in oats, barley, berries, apples,…) help regulate blood sugar and blood cholesterol.
We need 25 to 38g of fibres a day.

CONCLUSION… There is not ONE ideal food

The ideal food would need to contain the right proportion of carbs, healthy fats (including essential fatty acids), proteins (including essential amino acids), fibres and all the vitamins and minerals. Try as you may, that single super nutritionally balanced food does not exist.

Boring as it may be, there is some reason in the recommendation of a varied and balanced diet and that is to give the body as many of the nutrients as it needs in the right quantities in order to remain healthy.

If you want to limit the foods you eat, why not remove the manufactured, transformed, man-made ones (cakes, biscuits, candies, margerine, edulcorants, already made…)?

My advice… Go for natural, varied ingredients in moderate quantities. Learn to love making tasty food and enjoy eating it!


Comments

Sheep: Why We Can’t Just Eat Grass Like A Sheep… — 15 Comments

  1. Actually, when olive oil is heated it actually turns into a trans fat. I know I’m going against what the majority says, but the truth is that any time you’re going to cook with fats/oils, they need to have a high smoke rate. This means they don’t change form when heated. The two best oils for cooking are clarified butter (real butter only) and coconut oil, which are both mainly saturated fats. Contrary to popular belief, we actually need a moderate amount of SATURATED fats to help our body synthesize certain nutrients. I actually believe we are such a sick society as a whole because we’ve substituted so much grain for high quality animal protein. No matter what people try to do to “make” it be “healthy” they just aren’t the same thing! Grains for instance are a very inflammatory food by nature. You will always see degeneration in societies that consume a lot of grains. Do your research and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Look at India (mainly vegetarian and high grain consumption overall… That’s just one) Peace!

    • Hey Jennifer,

      thanks for the comment.

      You had me worried for a moment (as I’ve always been a big fan of olive oil) – I think you’ll find the idea of olive oil becoming a trans-fatty oil when heated is a myth though – at least at any temperature that can be produced by any kind of household stove.

      Check it out and let me know what you think…

      thanks for the comment though – & interesting point about the grains (I’m going to check that out next),

      take care & best wishes,
      Alan

  2. Fats, though cursed by many, should still be had in ample amounts. The good fat that we need are necessary for us to survive much more if we want to be healthy. Aside from that fats are important to exist in our body because it is our emergency energy storage vessels that we could use in case we lose all of our energy. If we don’t have fats in our body, we would be dead in a couple of minutes the second we lose all the calories in our body.

  3. Isabelle,
    I thought this was going to be an article about eating JUST Mutton but i’m glad it’s not.

    I can relate to Alan’s strange obsession..

    One of my sons has ADD (the inattentive kind). It’s a rarer form of ADD where instead of being super hyper you are SUPER LETHARGIC.

    Anyways, in the beginning I didn’t want to medicate him so I researched every natural method under the sun to help him with his concentration and his energy levels. Thus began my obsessive fixation on experimenting with food. (we are a family of foodies).

    We eliminated (as you stated in your article) ALL manufactured foods. No chips, no cookies that were store bought. Nothing with ingredients we could pronounce. We even eliminated bananas and all yellow foods because some doctors believe the yellow in the food has a certain chemical reaction that can make ADD worse. And lastly, we limited carb intake from pasta and rice to once a week. And we ALL ate this way and for the most part we still do today except that we now eat rice but in smaller quantities.

    Result, we were left with only things we could buy fresh and smaller portions of meat. We all felt much healther and best of all, our food bill was reduced from 1,000 dollars a month to 600 dollars a month. Junk food and prepared foods cost a lot apparently.And eating only fresh foods really simplifies things a lot.

    FYI, back to what food you could eat. Well a guy ate only potatoes for 60 days. you can watch it here. Very interesting. http://vimeo.com/23066546

    • Hi Annie,
      It’s true, isn’t it. It is cheaper to buy good ingredients than already made food AND it can taste a whole lot better. I’m not convinced though about the potatoe diet. Potatoes are certainly not as bad as they are made out to be… but, even though potatoes do contain many vitamins, carbs, proteins, they are not a complete food. If you ate only those for ever, you would be missing vitamin D, E, A, essential fats.
      What happened to your son’s ADD? Did your new diet improve his condition? I think it’s great that you all adopted the same healthy diet to help him out.

      • My son’s ADHD did improve slightly. It certainly did not hurt. He has to exercise regularly. something to do with seratonan and dopamine production. He also has to have lists for everything. He is a little like the rain man. He can remember large sets of data and information. pass tests without studying but he forgets to put his left sock on. He gets lost outside our front door. It’s really strange. The doctors say this is normal and he will grow into it a little. SIGH…..

          • Yes, that was one of the first things we did. It was the low hanging fruit. We eventually put him back on his medication to see what would happen and the teachers called me that weak telling me he had miraculously changed for the better. He was alert, outgoing, on top of it. I was happy but sad at the same time because the medication gave him horrible stomach aches and he couldn’t sleep at night. I took him off after a year and we are trying to get him to deal with his condition without medication. It’s an uphill battle.
            But we’re so used to it now that we all just rally around him and help him as much as we can..

  4. Thou we are not a sheep that eats grass, there are many vegetable to consider that has vitamins and minerals like grass.

  5. What a great overall guide to nutrition. I’m glad you went over the differences between good and bad fats. I think some people lump them both together without realizing that unsaturated fats are actually good for you. For the most part, I try to get my good fats from olive oil. Just throw some olive oil on top of a piece of chicken you’re cooking and you have a pretty good mix of good fats and protein.

    • Oh yes, I agree with olive oil. I come from the South of France and, there, we eat olive oil in pretty much everything! When I first moved to the UK (16 years ago), there wasn’t much olive oil in supermarkets, not always the cold pressed virgin quality and it was very expensive. Olive oil was mainly found in pharmacy to help with earache I believe! So, whenever I went to France, I’d buy olive oil to take back to the UK. Thank God it’s changed now.
      I’m planing to write a more detailed article on good fats, so watch this space.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *