You Are What You Eat!

February 17, 2023

Many of us grew up being told that we are what we eat. Although this may seem a slightly archaic view to our relationships with food, almost a quarter the way through the 21st century, this old saying has never been as true as it is today.

The rise in deadly diseases that can be directly related to our daily lifestyle choices has been astronomical over the last 50 years. These range from heart disease and cancer to diabetes, strokes, etc. With advances in technologies and research, we can now help to stem or avoid these through better dietary knowledge and discipline. But with such a myriad of advice and fads out there, how do we know what works best for us?

What we eat is a key component to a healthy lifestyle. It can be very difficult to cut through the multitude of tips and advice out there about what is safe to consume but there can be some general rules that help. Do your best to get in intake of a range of vitamins and minerals daily - this means eating a range of fruit and vegetables. The old adage is true that the more colourful the plate, the better. Alternative popular advice from worldwide physicians has been to eat a recommended ‘5 a day’ when it comes to fruit and vegetables. Truth be told,  10 would be more realistic, in order to fully maximise the requirements of needed vitamins and minerals (with moderation, which is discussed shortly).

Remember that a balance of each food group is a good thing and that this will have a direct impact on energy and concentration levels.  It has become popular  to reduce or cut out carbohydrates or sugars entirely from diets in recent years. This may have an influence on weight loss but this is attributed directly to calorie deficits. Caution should also be adhered to, to avoid creating a ‘binge’ sensation by avoiding certain food groups. Additionally, veganism, although a very sustainable approach to consumption, should be approached with caution and protein and calorie intakes must be monitored and supplemented if and when necessary. Remember that fats and sugars will also give you that energy you need, in the absence of other sources. Carbohydrates will also source you with energy, through both its simple and complex forms. Simple carbs can be found more regularly and will give you quicker, instant energy. This can be found in examples such as fruits and dairy products. Complex carbs are found in more healthy options but will burn slower to supply the body with energy. These are found in foods such as whole grains, starches and beans.

As much as we are what we eat, the same can be said in reverse in respect of being mindful of portion sizes. Recent years have seen spikes in fasting trends, such as the Ketogenic diet and the Dukan diet, named after the French nutritionist Pierre Dukan. This can steer you away from the ‘traditions’ of 3 main meals a day of breakfast, lunch and dinner. As mentioned earlier, weight loss can directly be attributed to a calorie deficit, which is generally the main aim of diets but does this constitute a healthy lifestyle? Regardless of any diet, it is key to ensure that you still maintain energy levels and engage your metabolism - the fundamentals behind this are portion size. The principles of food intake should be based on individual body size and needs. For example, even when it comes to water intake, ‘The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends drinking 2.7 litres (or 91 ounces or 11 cups) for adult women a day, and 3.7 litres (or 125 ounces or 15 cups) for men.’ However, it is vital to remember that there are many factors that could affect this. This could include age, gender, levels of activeness, dehydration levels, weight, to name but a few. Moderation should be considered with all meals and consumption. As monotonous as this may seem, regulation of portion sizes and contents are essential for truly adhering to a diet that is considered ‘balanced’.

Juxtaposed to this but often overlooked is the monitoring of when we eat. Research has shown that our bodies very much react to when we eat in the same way that our circadian rhythm dictates our body clocks and sleep patterns. Trying to eat during the times of sunrise and avoiding eating ‘after dark’ can have a major effect on digestion, sleep and metabolism. Disruption to this biological rhythm can be detrimental and has also been linked in recent years to reduced life expectancy and obesity. Just as exposure to a bright screen after dark or too much caffeine can affect the amount of sleep we can get, equally so will that sneaky late night bar of chocolate or biscuit.

As part of an international minded community, I encourage everyone to embrace a love of food from the various cultures of the world. The challenge to be consistently conscious to every bite you take is certainly not simple, however it is poignantly important that we acknowledge the connections our eating habits have on our everyday health. Food is not purely fuel - it’s the wheels, gearbox, the steering and the brakes, the exhaust - it’s even the radio!! As the Greek philosopher Hippocrates said ‘Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food’.

Cited References

Rehydration. Forbes Magazine (Jan 4th 2023) - Retrieved on 15th February 2023.

Circadian Rhythm. Sleep Foundation (Updated Jan 18th 2023) - Retrieved on 10th 2023.

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