It is a phrase that is used frequently but how many of us actually pay close attention to the phrase “You are what you eat’?
The western world is a world full of processed food heavily marketed to convenience and budget. Sometimes even unhealthy food is labelled healthy. I use a phrase with my personal training clients ‘Don’t ask why healthy food is so expensive, ask why junk food is so cheap’. I just wanted to touch on that as it feeds in to the thought processes of people when looking specifically at we are what we eat. Lets take a look at the meaning behind it.
Nutrition is one of the most powerful tools we have access to in terms of managing our health and preventing long term illness and disease, yet is one of the most underestimated and underutilised.
When looking at food choices how it impacts on our health overall from digestive and gut health to brain function needs to be seriously considered. Not to mention goals we have such as weight loss and fat loss. The moment food enters the mouth the process starts.
When we start chewing and producing saliva it’s the first step in the process of digestion, which is the beginning of the breakdown of foods in to a simpler form to aid nutrients entering the blood stream. The digestive tract consists of 3 sections, the mouth, the stomach and small intestine. Now when it comes to the food we eat and put in our bodies, if we’re putting the wrong foods in or the wrong combinations digestion and absorption can be significantly affected. Heavily processed foods just don’t contain the nutrients we necessarily need as well as containing preservatives and added ingredients that can actually inhibit digestion and absorption of nutrients. Combining the wrong food groups as fats, carbohydrates and proteins can equally cause imbalances in what we eat to what our bodies can use and how affectively.
Proteins get broken down in to various amino acids, while carbohydrates consisting of sugars and starches are converted to glucose. Fats and simple sugars are broken down in to fatty acids. The body is then able to use the materials converted to build new tissue. The conditions within each section are of importance as different substances such as starch require different enzymes to those of say protein. If we’re getting food choices wrong we generally have an unhappy gut which can lead to a whole host of knock on effects. Pressure can be placed on our organs such as the liver, kidneys and heart. Not to mention the yo-yo effect of insulin spikes.
Digestion and gut health has a significant link to brain function. One correlation would be our relationship with the food we consume and the signals our body gives out in determining the foods we eat. When we consume processed foods that are high in ingredients such as salt, sugar etc the body gets used to these things going in, in turn our bodies starts throwing out cravings. If having a bar of chocolate do you feel satisfied or do you feel that you could eat another bar or two? Many people I work with and even friends, the majority of the time state they feel unsatisfied and their bodies tell them they could devour more. This is the brain craving the sugar hit and your digestive system not being able to gain what it needs from the food put in. An unhealthy gut to brain relationship can have an impact on things such as mood, energy, happiness, depression, skin conditions, asthma, long term illnesses, as well as being a contributor to obesity and hormone imbalances.
Putting the wrong foods in our bodies is a bit like having the wrong key for your front door, your body can’t unlock what it needs from the food we’re putting in and nutrients can’t enter the body efficiently. From a daily performance view point, a good thing to do is focus on how you feel throughout the day. How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? How do you feel through the morning or shortly after eating a meal? How much energy do you have at different points in the day? If feeling lethargic, low energy, low mood or motivation, craving something shortly after eating, it’s a sure sign that something nutritionally isn’t working for you. Sure, there are external factors that can be at play too, but nutrition, without even realising is having a bigger impact than we may think.
Whole foods generally provide the nutrients the body requires for it’s many different functions. Bodily functions and processes rely on vitamins and minerals and have different roles and responsibilities. Across the range of food groups different foods contain the vitamins and minerals we require, therefore it is imperative we ensure nutritional variety. For example spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, managanese, folate, and magnesium. It also contains, iron, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. It also contains fibre, vitamin B1, zinc and protein. Where as red peppers for example contain other vitamins and minerals such as higher levels of vitamin C and vitamin B6. If we’re not putting these foods in we’re simply heading down a road of deficiencies and imbalances.
Obesity continues to rise in the UK. In simplistic terms we’re simply putting too much in our mouths in terms of calories and generally a lack of movement. But the processed, fast food nature of the western diet is also contributing to ill health. It was recently mentioned that 5 a day may not be enough and that 10 portions of fruit and veg a day could be optimal. I don’t think 10 a day is an unrealistic target but due to the state of the general human diet it seems to many as impossible. If we give ourselves a few minutes a day to plan and organise our food choices it is very much achievable. If we consume 2-3 potions of fruit/veg across 3-4 meals a day including snacks and focus on a whole food approach it can be done.
Eat well and we improve our health, wellbeing and overall bodily functions. Good food doesn’t have to be bland and boring. Be adventurous with flavours. See our Nutritional Variety is the Spice of Life blog
We are what we eat.
Eat Well. Move Well. Live Well.
James & the Optimum3 Team