As the Saying Goes, We Are What We Eat

By Chuck Norris

September 4, 2015 6 min read

Next month, Fred Kummerow, nutrition expert and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, will celebrate his 101st birthday.

As I pointed out in June, Kummerow has a long and distinguished history as a leader in the fight to ban trans fats. He first published research warning about the dangers of the artery-clogging substance in 1957. In 2009, he filed a petition to ban trans fats, an action that ultimately led to a fundamentally new take in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food and Drug Administration's recent ruling that trans fats are no longer "generally recognized as safe" for use in human food.

Nutritional thinking now places the emphasis on fat quality rather than on total fat in the diet, which I would think also sits well with Kummerow. For years, he has started his day by eating a fried egg — a notion that defied popular nutritional thinking. Now come findings that suggest that eating an egg (or maybe two) a day not only can be part of a healthy diet but also just might provide you with a healthy attitude adjustment.

According to researchers at Leiden University, eating eggs could make you a more generous person. In a study published in Frontiers in Psychology last December, researchers found that a nutrient in eggs called tryptophan had the curious effect of increasing the likelihood that participants in a control group would donate to charity. This do-gooder behavior was traced to tryptophan's crucial role in producing serotonin, also known as the feel-good hormone.

The study also points to earlier work that has linked serotonin to charitable giving, as well as other behaviors that benefit others. It also seems to lower the level of a hormone connected to social isolation and aggression.

"In a way, we are what we eat," noted Laura Steenbergen, who led the Leiden University study.

How many times have you heard that old axiom? Maybe we've heard it so many times that we stopped seriously considering its meaning. The saying is traced back to the 1800s, when many great thinkers believed that the food one eats has a bearing on one's state of mind and health. Among them was Ludwig Feuerbach, a German philosopher and anthropologist who may have been the one to coin the phrase. He wrote, "Man is what he eats." In 1942, nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, a strong believer in the idea that food controls health, said: "Ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat." In the 1960s, the concept of the importance of maintaining a macrobiotic whole-foods diet was strongly associated with Adelle Davis.

Before we look too disbelievingly at the notion that eating an egg hatches a charitable act, we should consider for a moment the wealth of information available on the impact that what we eat and drink has on our state of mind. Evidence is mounting, for example, that sugar-rich food and drinks mess with the neurotransmitters that help keep our moods stable and that high levels of sugar consumption can create a negative effect on brain health, from cognitive function to psychological well-being.

As reported here in July, one recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found some sugars to be associated with depressive disorders. The data came from roughly 70,000 women, none of whom suffered from depression at the start of the study. Researchers found that diets of higher added sugar were associated with greater odds of depression. At the same time, they found that some aspects of diet had protective effects against developing depression, including fiber, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

A separate study of postmenopausal women, from the Columbia University Medical Center, found that the more sugar and refined carbohydrates the study group ate — such as white bread and pasta — the greater their chance of developing depression. On the other hand, those who ate a lot of fiber, whole grains, vegetables and non-juice fruit had a significantly decreased risk of depression.

At the same time, a study led by researchers at the College of William & Mary found a possible connection between fermented foods, which contain probiotics, and symptoms of social anxiety. According to the findings, young adults who ate more fermented foods demonstrated fewer symptoms of social anxiety, with the effect being greatest among those at genetic risk for social anxiety disorder. A secondary finding showed that more exercise could also be related to reduced social anxiety.

Seems that old axiom remains true; we really are what we eat. Imagine the benefits if we started approaching what we eat and drink with that notion firmly in mind.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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