You’ve likely heard the saying, you are what you eat. But is this scientifically sound or just an urban myth? The answer may both be surprising and more complicated than one would think. While what you eat doesn’t necessarily make you what you are, what you eat dramatically affects your physical and mental health, even at a cellular level.
What Does It Mean to Say, You Are What You Eat?
At its surface, this phrase tells you that what you eat determines what you are, and there is some truth to this. After all, what you eat is what your body uses to build cells. Oxford researchers determined that diet can affect the genetic composition of organisms. DNA, the building block of your body, can be affected by your diet.
So, in some sense, what you eat does become what you are. After all, eating foods high in fat will lead to weight gain, while eating lean foods will help with weight management. This sounds like it could be scientifically based, but is it?
You Are What You Eat in Excess
It turns out that just eating fats won’t make you fat. What may be more accurate is that eating small amounts of literally any food won’t affect you too much.
Therefore, the real risk isn’t eating fat, cholesterol, sugar or anything else; it’s eating anything in high amounts. Instead of attacking these food groups, what we should be focusing on is the size of our portions. Perhaps a more accurate saying would be, you are what you eat a lot of. But, of course, that’s not so catchy.
Your Mood May Be What You Eat
However, it is true that what you eat can significantly affect your mood. Something we often forget about when we eat is our so-called “brain-gut connection.” Simply understood, when you eat healthy food, you feel better and are happier. On the contrary, your happiness and mood will take a hit when you eat unhealthy food.
It even goes beyond this simple connection. Shockingly, it turns out that some foods can do more than just make you feel good or bad but can cause you to be more aggressive, confident, happy, uncomfortable or even increase pain. For example, even without consumption, spicy foods can incline us toward aggressive thoughts or intent. On the other hand, sweet foods trigger neuroreceptors in the stomach that can improve your mood, causing you to be happier and more confident. Hot food also affects your mood, increasing the discomfort and pain your body experiences. So, while it’s not necessarily true that you are what you eat, what you eat can dramatically affect you.
How to Make Yourself the Healthiest You Can by Eating the Healthiest You Can
With the dramatic effect of food in mind, how can we eat healthier?
Fortunately and unfortunately, it’s not so simple as avoiding one type of food. Whether it’s a high-fat diet like the Mediterranean diet or the fad diet that targets cutting out a different food group every five years, dieting is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the best advice you can probably receive for a healthy lifestyle is to focus on unprocessed foods, vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and foods high in fiber and nutrients.
Moreover, the best dieticians say that the best diet plan is eating in moderation while focusing on plant foods. This approach will keep your fiber high while ensuring that you’re eating well in moderation. It’s better to make sure that you’re getting enough fiber by eating lots of plants and eating some carbs, fats and proteins than to neglect one and overly prioritize another.
A Parting Reminder
Ultimately, the saying, you are what you eat is not entirely inaccurate, although it is misleading. Eating something unhealthy in moderation will not make you unhealthy, and eating something (or even not eating something) that the current trends say is healthy in overabundance won’t make you healthy either. The truth lies in eating in moderation.
Luke Argue is a junior in the government department at Patrick Henry College. Aside from writing, Luke enjoys playing volleyball, reading about foreign affairs, and studying world cultures and religions.