In Defense of Nitrates: Balance Outperforms Science when it comes to Wellness
In my early twenties, I was on the hunt for a part-time job in nutrition. As a recent college graduate with a degree in Cinema, I had no formal training in the field, so I signed up for an at-home Fitness Nutrition certification program. The course focused on the basics of carbohydrates, fats and proteins; the goal was to train us to help our clients lose fat and gain muscle tone. As this was the early 2000’s and a very basic course, there was no emphasis on the more nuanced aspects of nutrition (i.e. antioxidants, gut health, hydration, etc., and there was certainly no talk of adaptogens!).
I had a nice mix of clients…. two women in Brentwood, CA who were looking to shed a few pounds, and one guy in the Upper East Side who created a posse of wellness gurus, including his own a personal chef. And I had one client in particular, who I will never forget — the attorney for a popular diet at the time. It wasn’t the attorney herself who needed my help, but she hired me to advise her teenage daughter to lose some weight.
After the initial consultation, it seemed like there was some disordered eating behavior, not weight loss, that needed addressing. I was really not the person to help in this case. But, actually I thought… maybe there was a reason why I ended up in this odd situation. I had experienced a bout of disordered eating in high school and had since worked through that to develop a healthier mindset. Perhaps, I thought, that I ended up in this three-story brownstone, advising a girl that I had no place to advise, because actually I did? Once I came to that potential conclusion, I began to give her the advice that I wish I had received at her age. I began to offer her my suggestions on how to eat more intuitively, to enjoy her food, without focusing on macros, calories, etc. During one session, she told me how she struggled to find food to eat at her lunch cafeteria. She was just picking at the lowest calorie options she could find. I asked her to tell me about all of the foods available at the lunchroom buffet; the only protein available was deli meat. While of course I understood that this may not be the healthiest option, I wanted her to choose something “normal” as opposed to relying on disordered eating habits, picking away at pieces of lettuce. So I advised her to eat a turkey sandwich the next day. And wouldn’t you know it… the next day I got a call from my boss! Looks like the fact that I suggested she eat something with nitrates was enough to get me fired!
That really ate me up (no pun intended!). I realized that nitrates may not be the best option, but when faced with deli meat v. lettuce (and less OCD behavior v. disordered eating behavior), I felt (and still do feel) that I picked the best option. My takeaway from that experience is that we are all constantly making choices when it comes to our eating. Rarely will our choices be perfect, but over time, if we can find an equilibrium that gives us mental, physical and emotional balance, we will all be in a healthy place. And that is one of the key factors to overall wellness.
When I struck out to launch Fat Leaf Water, I wanted to create a drink that would hit this balance, by providing a tasty, yet healthy drink. We are not a zero sugar nor zero calorie option, but we are relatively low in both. And our drinks offer a mix of electrolytes, antioxidants and taurine to boot — all aimed to fuel the type of movement that is gratifying, energizing and part of a comprehensive approach to wellness.
The same part of me that was interested in learning about the science of nutrition nearly twenty years ago crept back in recently, as I became curious to learn more about the science behind the nutrients in Fat Leaf Water, namely our electrolytes, antioxidants and taurine. While I had read a number of articles to help me validate our product, I was looking to speak with a real expert. That’s when I reached out to Leslie Bonci, a well known Sports Dietitian, who has worked with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and Olympic athletes … to name a few! I figured if anyone could provide more insight into my questions, Leslie certainly could.
First, while I was of course aware that electrolytes aid in hydration (by expediting the delivery of fluid to working muscle and improving fluid balance within and without cells), I didn’t understand exactly what the resulting benefits would be. Leslie explained that when we are sufficiently hydrated, we are able to optimize a number of functions, such as:
- Injury prevention
- Improve strength, speed + stamina
- Cognitive function
- Transport nutrients to the cells and waste from the cells
In terms of antioxidants, Leslie relayed that they have multiple possible benefits, such as:
- Protect cells from damage
- Help to decrease inflammation
- Support the immune system
- Protect against upper respiratory infections
Lastly, when I asked Leslie about the benefits of taurine, an amino sulfonic acid that has often been called the “wonder molecule” by scientists for supporting muscle growth and potentially benefiting those with heart disease, she explained that “in the performance space, taurine may improve muscle function and prevent the rise in blood lactate in high intensity exercise.”
Most interesting to me about Leslie’s approach is that she actually has the same mindset that I embraced back when I was consulting my teenage client years ago! Leslie also believes that it’s all about balance. Leslie noted: “I do think it is important that our fueling and hydration plan be practical, realistic, do-able, not complicated and ready to implement. Not all people who exercise want to have to overthink their fueling and hydration. Whatever we do, we want it to be a routine, so to me, I talk to my athletes about being in a state of prepare or repair, and that should guide the fueling and hydration recommendations. We should personalize food and hydration for gut acceptance, palatability, accessibility, affordability and practicality.”
Understanding the science behind each ingredient is valuable for a number of reasons. It helps to focus on the target demographic for Fat Leaf Water and educate our customers on what benefits they can reap from our drinks. But most meaningful to me in my conversation with Leslie was that it validated my long standing belief that it is instinct and balance that should guide our nutritional choices more than hard facts alone.
Elyse Sara is the Founder of Fat Leaf Water, a cactus-water based sports hydration beverage. She is based in Long Beach, CA and is balancing her healthy dinner with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.