“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
(Hippocrates, c. 460-c. 370 BCE)
It seems a trivial aphorism, “you are what you eat,” but it is actually quite profound when pondered longer than it takes to utter the phrase. In this series I will strive to assist your appreciation for this underappreciated saying.
Let me begin with the reminder that you and I are chemical beings. That is, all of our bodily functions happen at, or a few orders of magnitude above, the scale at which chemicals interact, and everything you think, say, or do has a direct basis in chemical reality (see The Foundations of Health for an even more in-depth appreciation).
For now, we can ignore what happens at subatomic scales and all that unfolds above scales greater than, say, a few meters. Human health is a phenomenon that happens within the scale defined roughly by the size of an electron (~2.82x10-15 m diameter, or 2.82 femtometers) and the size of a person’s body (~2 m, largest dimension), about 15 orders of magnitude difference.
Besides chewing, most of the important interactions, including the breakdown and utilization of food, in our bodies happen in the lower half of this scale, say, between the size of the electron and the size of a large protein (~2.0 x 10-8 m, or 20 nanometers)—about seven orders of magnitude.
This is the scale within which molecular interactions power cellular metabolism, and it is the scale that encompasses the nutrients in food and the enzymes that convert food into you and me (biosynthesis).
I stress these points because it brings home the fact that we cannot readily detect the quality of our food, nor can we easily detect most toxins--especially the artificial ones.
Despite my somewhat technical introduction, this series will not be a course on the chemistry of food—not entirely so, anyway—but rather I will stick mostly to a discussion of food philosophy, with a fair bit of food science to back things up.
In the Health Matters blog, I stress the importance of thinking about context and evolutionary history in relation to health. That series covers a broad set of health-related topics centered around life and the optimized processes that underpin life. In this series I will be more specific about food. That is, I will focus on the inputs to life, and specifically to human life.
What to Expect
In this series, I will cover topics of relevance to food and health, which will touch on historical and contemporary practices and their relevance to the flexible human diet. We have not always had grocery stores and worldwide distribution networks, and it will be instructive to explore what it was like without them.
I will address the controversies surrounding organic foods, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides and herbicides, farming practices, food additives and preservatives, sugar, carbohydrates, meats, veggies, supplements, probiotics, alkaline water, and much more.
I will discuss veganism, vegetarianism, keto, and paleo diets, and their relationships to a truly natural human diet. Not to spoil things, but none of them makes the mark—and there is no mark. There is, however, a way to optimize one’s diet, and I will spend a lot of time on that topic.
Because it is a relatively new and unfolding issue in human diet studies, I will spend a fair amount of time discussing the microbiome. This subject has become one of the most important topics relating food, toxins, and antibiotics to health, and no modern discussion of human sustenance would be complete without it.
Ultimately, my goal is to empower you to take control of your diet, and thereby your health. As always, I encourage your comments and suggestions for areas to cover. We are far from knowing all that we need to know about food, so this series is, above all, an exploration.