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You are what you eat… wait, is that really true?

If you’re like me, you grew up being told how important it was/is to eat your vegetables. If you were also as annoyingly inquisitive as I was as a kid, you probably demanded to know why it was so important the thousand odd times that topic came up each year. If we’re being honest, most of our parents probably gave us passable answers to this question as kids but since our youthful brains were still too underdeveloped to really grasp what those answers meant, most of us ignored this piece of wisdom.

At some point in your teenage years or in early adulthood, you may have eventually encountered the “you are what you eat” mantra which basically implies that your health is very often correlated with what you habitually eat. I must say that over the years, I have found this to be more or less aligned with the truth. As a prime example of this, I often notice an appreciable dip in my singing ability if I eat too many consecutive meals that taste really good, but hold little to no nutritional value. Same goes for my athletic ability in the gym… it is a lot easier to get through my workout sessions when i’ve been fueling my body correctly than when not.

The idea that the quality of your nutrition can have a sizeable impact on other parts of your life might seem a little far fetched to some of us so let’s take the liberty to break it down. Through many years of study, I have come to understand that the true purpose of the food we humans consume is to build and repair the body in a very concrete way. Your body is always in a constant state of flux with your cells constantly dying and being replaced by new ones… such is the natural ebb and flow of life. Proper execution of this cellular turnover requires many raw materials such as simple sugars, minerals, vitamins, fats, proteins, water etc. Most of the raw materials required to support cellular turnover and the legion of biochemical reactions that keep us alive from moment to moment come directly from the food we eat. It therefore stands to reason that the higher the quality of food you take in on a daily basis, the better able your body will be to repair and sustain itself. On the other side of the coin however, if we eat too much junk, our bodies are left with very little (if any) quality raw materials with which to continually build and sustain. If this carries on for too long, the body will eventually break down. As with most things, there might be exceptions to this general train of thought, but in the lion share of cases, it holds true.

Keeping all of the above discussed points in mind, one may be tempted to think that the “you are what you eat” sentiment is in fact the incontrovertible truth. While “you are what you eat” isn’t exactly a crazy thing to believe in, the truth however is a tad bit more complicated. As you may very well already know, the food we humans eat is converted by the digestive system into materials that our bodies can use for building, repairing, and general maintenance. The components of the food we eat that our bodies can utilize (such as proteins, water, simple sugars etc) are absorbed in the small intestines, while the components of our food that cannot be stored in the body (fiber etc) are excreted. Let’s do a quick thought experiment… What do you think would happen if the digestive system of a person malfunctioned to the point where its absorption mechanism was broken? Well, it stands to reason that such a person could have the best diet in the world but their inability to actually absorb/assimilate any of the nutrients in their food would still mean they’d suffer from poor health. The same thing goes for someone who cannot eliminate the parts of the food that the body cannot use for growth and repair. In some cases, the stuff that you cannot eliminate ends up poisoning you if you don’t get it out quickly enough. So taking all of the above points into consideration, we find that the mantra “you are what you eat” is incomplete. We may want to replace that saying with something like the following – “You are what you eat, digest, and assimilate… and if you’re not careful, you can also become what you don’t eliminate”.

So what does all this mean on a practical level? Well the way I have come to understand it is that it behooves each of us to be mindful of what we eat, focusing on green smoothies, salads, steamed veggies, etc. Please note that this doesn’t mean you have to be a saint… I for one still go to In-N-Out burger occasionally. We should all also be paying attention to how often we go to the bathroom for “number 2”, and how difficult or easy it is. Your stool should be like long logs that come out fairly easily. If that isn’t the case for you, you probably aren’t eliminating correctly and might want to change something in your diet. For example, it has been scientifically shown time and again that adding more fiber to the diet by eating more fruits and vegetables makes a world of difference to the quality of your stool. On that rather awkward/funny note, i’m signing off… please take care of yourselves and each other and as always, thanks for stopping by.

Without Wax
Oyolu B.C. Ph.D.
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2 thoughts on “You are what you eat… wait, is that really true?

    1. Hi Daniela. Thanks for stopping by.

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