You are what you eat
If the old saying “You are what you eat” were literally true, there would probably be a lot more cheeseburgers than broccoli stalks walking around.
Unfortunately for too many people, it is, however, figuratively true.
Barbara Quinn, Community Hospital clinical
“You really are what you eat,” says Barbara Quinn, a clinical dietitian in Diabetes and Nutrition Therapy at Community Hospital. “As a country or community, it would be much easier if we could all learn this together and then act on it.
“The body is a lot smarter than we realize. People need to understand that food is a collection of different nutrients the body breaks down and uses as it needs. Your body can only work with the nutrients, the building blocks, you provide it. If it doesn’t have what it needs, either it will break down, or it will try to pull what it needs out of your system, taking calcium from bones, for instance, or cannibalizing itself to get protein from its own muscles.”
Despite considerable advances in nutrition science, people seem more confused than ever about what, when, why, and how to eat for optimum health.
One culprit, says Quinn, is the internet, which feeds us a glut of information from sometimes untried and untrue sources, leaving amateur researchers unsure about whether to eat fruit on an empty stomach or if they can combine protein and carbohydrates.
(Yes, it is OK to eat fruit on an empty stomach; and yes, it’s OK to combine protein and carbohydrates. )
“In the old days, information came to us from scientists,” says Quinn. “Today, we get statements off the internet before the scientists have had a chance to prove them. But once these statements hit the
headlines, we think they’re gospel.”
Quinn suggests a different information source: your grandmother.
“What your grandmother said is true. It comes down to having a balance of nutrients, and making good choices to ensure that.”
Starting with vegetables. The one food group that nobody seems to argue about, Quinn says, is vegetables. In fact, she adds, if each of us consumed two to three cups of vegetables each day, the decrease in the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer would be staggering.
“Fruits and vegetables are both important food groups,” says Quinn, “but they are not interchangeable. Cup for cup, you will find double the calories in a serving of fruit versus non-starchy vegetables. There also are higher amounts of sugar in fruit. This is why the number of recommended daily servings for vegetables is higher than the recommendations for fruit.”
We also need adequate protein, whether it comes from animal sources or vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
“Whether you are a vegetarian or a carnivore,” she says, “you can have a healthy diet, as long as you know what choices to make.”
Making healthy choices does not have to mean a deprivation of taste, enjoyment, quality, or even quantity. With training and practice, eating right can become an appealing lifestyle.
Lisa Holden, also a clinical dietitian at Community Hospital, says every deprivation leads to a binge. Most people who eat too little food will eventually go to the other extreme and overeat.
How much is enough? A sign in Quinn’s office reads: “Enough is as good as a feast.”
“What I see with many patients,” Quinn says, “is that they get on this all-or-nothing track. They eat too little, followed by too much. They don’t want to eat too many processed foods, so they eat none and feel deprived. They follow the myth that if they eat a fat-free diet, they can’t gain weight. Or if they shop only at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, they won’t gain weight. People who get realistic about their eating habits, who enjoy good nutrition on a daily basis but allow themselves the traditional holiday foods and the birthday cake, are striking that balance.”
Many who are successful in creating and maintaining balanced, healthy nutrition, says Quinn, work with a health professional, family member, or friend who can support and motivate their efforts and encourage them to eat well. Sometimes, she says, people need a cheerleader to encourage compliance with healthy habits and to stay on track with their nutritional plan.
“We also want to remember that food is more than nutrition,” she says. “It is something we share with other people, something we build ritual and tradition around. It is a social thing, meant to be savored and enjoyed.
Those who enjoy their food are doing their body good. But it takes practice.”