The contribution of a healthy diet to keep you healthy in body and mind certainly make a huge contribution so that you can strive to be who you are. Who you are is influenced by an ideal balance of many other hereditary and lifestyle factors and not only the food that you eat.
You are what you eat – is that a truism or what? The origin of the saying dates back to the German philosopher Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach who in his essay “Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism” (1863), said: “Der Mensch ist, was er iβt” – you are what you eat. In this he suggested that the food one eats has a bearing on one’s state of mind. This quote became the mantra of the hippie culture based on eating organic and healthy food. Today, people across the developed world believe that the food they eat can have a profound effect on their health, longevity, and well-being.
Question is whether this is a generalised truth. Are you only because of what you eat? What is generally true is that people being considered overweight or obese, as a percentage of the population, is increasing. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease are increasing. The body and mind are however part of a very complex designed system that makes up the YOU. Who you are is influenced by an ideal balance of many other hereditary and lifestyle factors and not only the food that you eat. But in this short review the focus will be on what you eat and what is good for you. The research done by the University of Michigan and published in Nature Food (August 2021) could easily be interpreted that eating a single hot dog will cost you 36 minutes of healthy life. What becomes apparent is that the overconsumption of food that is bad for your health and underconsumption of food that has benefits for your health are both reasons for not achieving optimal health. The most medical journal quoted principles of what to eat, focus on the Mediterranean diet followed by people who live around the Mediterranean Sea, mainly in France, Italy, and Spain. These principles embrace the view that eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and healthy unsaturated fats (olive oil), and low in processed foods, red meat, and saturated and trans fats, is health beneficial. Add to that that mainly green, leafy vegetables and berries have been demonstrated to protect the aging brain.
The food-as-medicine concept is not new and refers to the diet changes prescribed by doctors as part of treatment recommended for prevention, treating and reverse chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and , yes, obesity (which has now reached epidemic proportions world-wide) and many other chronic diseases and the sequalae there-of. The contribution of a healthy diet to keep you healthy in body and mind certainly make a huge contribution so that you can strive to be who you are.
Recently, interest in bacteria (germs) that exist in a beneficial way in the human body, especially those in the gut, has increased because research indicates that not only does those bacteria play an important role in the development and maintenance of our bodies, but also plays a key role in prevention of diseases in the gut. These bacteria are referred to a “microbiome” and they are the “good germs”. Of interest is that the human body cannot digest dietary fibre in foods recommended for good health, like fruits, vegetables, beans , peas, nuts and seeds and whole grains. But the body’s symbiotic relationship with these gut microbiomes which ferments these fibres into fatty acids that plays an important role in preventing inter alia cancer of the colon. The interesting fact is that a diet low in fibre causes this symbiotic relationship to be dysfunctional with resulting development of certain diseases.
Thus, the important reminder, the dietary principles are important but being health-conscious with other healthy habits such as regular exercise, good sleep, and low stress, moderate alcohol consumption and not smoking contribute to who you are.
So having “digested” all these interactions we probably come to the conclusion that our diet does play an important role in who we are, but not exclusively so. Perhaps the contribution to you are what you eat, in addition to the health benefits of the dietary components, could be ascribed to the Mediterranean culture and tradition of family and friends sharing in the preparation of the food and partaking in the social event of eating the meal they prepared. Socialise, laugh a little, retain a positive mind-set, do something that makes a difference to some-one’s life every day. Makes you think!
Dr Martin de Villiers MBChB (Stell) DOM(Stell) FCFP(SA) MBL Medwell SA