photo: Annie Spratt, Unsplash
We normally think of food as fuel that gives us energy throughout the day. We view it as either good or bad, as something that we enjoy with friends and family: “Oh, it was so good today!”, or that we would rather not eat again.
Many of us also think that food’s only impact on the body is to make it either gain weight or lose it. It seems logical when we are told that a healthy weight is a result of the number of calories ingested versus the number of calories burned. But we know now that a calorie is not just a calorie. In a lab, the calories from all foods release the same amount of energy when burned, but when we eat them they have profoundly different effects on our hormones, our brain chemistry, and our metabolism. It is not the calorie content but the macro composition and quality of the foods that we eat (and the effect they have in our hormones and biochemistry) that determines our weight and our health.
Related: The truth about fat (coming soon)
The human biology is incredibly complex – it is a network of genetic, hormonal and biochemical reactions that dynamically change under the influence of the environment. And food is the biggest “environmental” regulator of the complex system that our bodies are. Food is not just energy, food is information that communicates with the body on a cellular level. It controls every aspect of our bodies and the risk of developing diseases by deeply shaping our genes, hormones, immune system and even the gut flora with every bite. This process is called nutrigenomics and it shows just how deeply connected our diets are to our health.
The food that we eat provides the nutrients that enable our cells to perform their functions, giving instructions to each cell about how to work. For example, sugar does a lot more than just providing calories. It causes the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood to spike, which gives quick energy, followed by a hard energy crash. When glucose binds to the surface of any cell in the body, it starts a chain reaction that causes the cell to make inflammatory molecules that can cause many health problems, if this goes on for too long.
Naturally anti-inflammatory foods can, in opposition, activate some genes creating a positive chain of events. A good example is how our cells respond to resveratrol. Studies have shown that when we eat red grapes or drink red wine, the resveratrol from these foods travels into the cells in the body, where it turns on what has been called the “longevity gene” because it makes enzymes that help the cell live longer.
This is the reason why even though an avocado and a bag of candy can have the same amount of calories, the response they generate in the body is totally different. The avocado contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been found to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, among other functions. The candy, on the other hand, is loaded with sugar and bad fats, two things that can create inflammation. So you should keep in mind that every food has the potential to cause an immune reaction, either increasing or decreasing the level of inflammation in the body. And we know now that inflammation is present in virtually every chronic disease that we can think of, from autoimmune diseases to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and even Alzheimer or depression.
Everything we eat is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, eventually arriving to feed all our cells. This is how every cell in the body is affected by our diet and why we can say that food is information. It can have a powerful effect on activating the immune system making it work better and in controlling the amount of inflammation in the body, preventing and even reversing many chronic diseases. And it can do it as well or even better than medicine can.
Related: My story - part I: illness and My story - part II: epic fight for health
By selecting nutrient-dense foods that promote healing and avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms it is possible to manage autoimmune disease. This is the principle behind the Autoimmune Protocol: to shape your diet in a way that allows you to modulate the immune system to manage your disease and live symptom-free.
As the old saying goes, we are what we eat!
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