You Are What You Eat: Dietary Consequences
by Gina Roethle
You are what you eat. Have you ever considered this quote in a literal sense? The idea that food directly affects one’s level of health is ancient, but to understand exactly how may be the key to sticking to a more nutritious diet. Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and nearly two thirds of Americans are overweight (Adam Weisgerber, 2010). But no matter who you are or what dilemma you may have, you can make positive change in your life by becoming a conscious consumer. Take a moment to reflect on your own personal health concerns, as well as those of your loved ones, and keep these in mind as we delve into some edible biology, the impacts of a modern age diet, and better alternatives.
The digestive system breaks down food molecules into nutrients that are used as a source of energy, to build and repair tissues, or regulate body processes. This food we ingest becomes a part of us in the form of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Proteins are made up of amino acids that are known as the building blocks of life because of their ability to form tissues. Fats are known for energy storage, but are also essential in the absorption of many nutrients. Carbohydrates are a quick fuel source as they are quite easily broken down into sugars via glycolysis, the Kreb’s cycle, or an electron transport chain. Vitamins are classified by their function rather than their structure but their deficiencies are linked to innumerable diseases. Minerals support life sustaining chemical transformations within our cells.
By taking a look at the complexity of the human body, one is reminded of the purpose of eating. The food on your plate is meant to provide you with essential nutrients your body cannot create on its own. Imagine you are rushing from one class to the next and hunger strikes. You may crave a candy bar for a quick boost, but a shiny apple catches your eye. Today, you allow yourself a chance to weigh the pros and cons of either decision. The candy bar is full of sucrose, a sugar that quickly elevates insulin levels resulting in a blood sugar crash soon after the sweet peak of energy. Short term this could cause you to feel even more tired and hungry than you already do. Long term, excessive sucrose consumption can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity. On the other hand, the apple contains fructose which has a low glycemic impact and provides you with enzymes that assist metabolic efficiency. You decide upon the apple, enjoy it wholeheartedly, and at snack time tomorrow you’ll remember how good it made you feel, perpetuating a healthy cycle over a little bit of knowledge!
Modern technology and societal demands has greatly altered the common diet through genetic engineering, over processing, and the need for convenient meals. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have had DNA tampered with to produce desirable traits in agriculture such as insect resistance, increased shelf life, and larger crop production. Unfortunately, studies are now showing that the effects of consumption can be highly health hazardous and alter human DNA in unforeseen ways. For example, 65% of corn produced is a genetically altered to produce a toxin causing insects’ intestines to explode upon digestion. This “Bt corn” is now found to be linked to gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and learning disorders.
The more junk we put in our body, the less energy it has to defend itself against disease and continually repair itself. Processed foods often provide less energy than it takes to digest. Chemical additives, irradiation, hydrogenated oils, sweeteners, refining, and bleaching are found in most products on the shelf. This increases our exposure to toxins, shoots our blood sugar through the roof, supports infectious yeast overgrowth, and strips the original nutrients from the food. In our fast paced society, we are forced to rely on these affordable and easy to prepare meals- only to pay the price physically. While stress is connected to every disease ever imagined, most don’t consider the stress load put on our bodies by a heavily toxic diet.
Meat and dairy is consumed in much larger amounts than our species has adapted to digest which causes inflammation and stagnation in the body. Most mammals cannot properly break down milk after infancy as we lack the digestive enzymes to do so. On top of this, most animals bred for consumption are fed antibiotics, hormones, grains and cheap byproducts. This leads to antibiotic resistance and hormonal imbalances in humans.
The physical consequences of our food choices also branch out into other areas of our lives. Mental sharpness, emotional stability, and self-control can all stem from proper diet. Every cell of our body is encoded with DNA and its vitality depends on the sustenance we provide it with. According to many Eastern philosophies there is much more to our food than the biological makeup. Everything is designed with different qualities that when consumed, can either bring our bodies in or out of balance with those qualities. We also speak through our purchases, and create demand by what we spend our hard earned cash on.
“Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be food,” (Spice of Life). Hippocrates had it right. Changing your diet can be a long process and should occur with one baby step at a time. Too much change at once can cause undesired stress and shock on the body. Some basic health tips include avoiding GMO products, processed/artificial foods, hydrogenated oils, and limit dairy/meat consumption. Eat whole foods, organic when possible, cook your own meals, enjoy lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and try to stay regular with mealtimes.
Whether you need more focus to study, stamina for the big game, or are just feeling off, making small adjustments to your diet can have glorious benefits. Empowered with physiological and dietary knowledge as well as guidelines for success, I hope you choose wisely next lunchtime.
Adam Weisgerber. (2010). 10 Weight Loss Statistics. Retrieved February 15th, 2013, from http://ezinearticles.com/?10-Weight-Loss-Statistics&id=4874388
Spice of Life. History of Health & Medicine. Retrieved February 15th, 2013, from http://www.spice-of-life.com/quotes.html