You have likely heard the phrase, “You are what you eat,” many times in your life. But have you ever paused to think about what that really means? Of course, eating a piece of chocolate cake won’t turn you into one, nor will eating an apple. But food absolutely will affect your body and mind.
So how exactly does food shape you? “Just as the crashing waves caress the beach cliffs every day, every night, relentlessly, and thus shape those cliffs ever so subtly, so too do the foods we eat shape our forms subtly, slowly, and methodically over time,” says David Wolfe in his book, Eating for Beauty.
When you eat something, your body has the important job of breaking down the foreign material into raw materials for the 37.2 trillion cells in your body. Through the process of digestion, food actually 'becomes you'. Food can beautify or age you, and the right foods can even make you feel happier. Before you eat, stop and ask yourself what foods you are choosing to be a part of you.
Foods that beautify
You may have heard the saying, “What you eat today, you wear tomorrow.” Your skin, the organ that covers your body and keeps your insides in, is often the first place to show the power of a good diet.
Food can fight aging. Collagen is a protein that helps to give structure to your skin. As you age, your body produces less collagen, making skin appear less elastic. Instead of investing in that fancy collagen face cream, begin with at what you put on your plate. Vitamin C, the vitamin required to make collagen, is abundant in raw fruits and vegetables. The best sources of Vitamin C are parsley, bell peppers, kiwis and citrus fruits. Antioxidant-rich berries have been found to slow the aging process and help even out skin tone. Fresh fruits and vegetables also contain plenty of water, which will help to plump your skin and make you appear younger, so eat up.
To revive a dull complexion, and “tan” from the inside, try eating more orange- and yellow-coloured fruits and vegetables. These guys are rich in carotenoids, which help to give your skin that healthy glow that has been shown to be more attractive than a tan (it’s true, according to researchers at The University of Nottingham! ). Foods rich in carotenoids include carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, mangoes and even leafy greens.
Heal your hair and nails
To make your skin, nails and hair strong and luscious looking, try silicon. Silicon is a mineral that is found throughout your body, but is in highest concentrations in your nails and hair. Silicon has been found to increase the thickness of skin, improve the look of wrinkles and give the hair and nails a healthier appearance. Silicon-rich foods include cucumbers, radishes, bell peppers, tomatoes, nettles, romaine lettuce and steel cut oats.
The good news is that skin cells turn over every two to three weeks, so it won’t take long to see progress.
Foods that boost your mood
We've all felt “down in the dumps” at some point in our lives and many Canadians have dealt with anxiety and depression issues. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, in 2012, 10.1% of Canadians reported symptoms of mental or substance abuse disorders, including anxiety and depression.
Your brain and mood is more sensitive to your diet than you may think. Your brain and nervous system are made up of a network of neurons, cells that form tens of thousands of connections with others. These connections are what you know as your thoughts and feelings. The brain and its neurotransmitters are derived from food, and are affected by what you eat and drink. The wrong foods, like processed convenience foods can actually affect your mood. British researchers found that a diet rich in processed and convenience foods increased the likelihood of depression by 58%. But the right foods can actually help to boost your mood and make you feel happier.
Probiotics and more
Your body contains the same amount of bacteria as it does cells (this is around 30 trillion). New research is just beginning to uncover the importance of what is called the microbiome. There are more nerve cells in your gut than in your spine, and the bacteria in your gut can even “talk” to your brain through a pathway called the vagus nerve. Your gut is where 90% of your body’s “feel good” neurotransmitter, called serotonin, is made. So if you want to feel good, start by feeding your microbiome by eating probiotic-rich foods every day. Sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables (like kimchi and sauerkraut), kombucha, miso and tempeh.
The power of protein
Protein isn’t just for helping you feel full. You may have heard of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – these are all neurotransmitters (your brain’s chemical messengers) that are associated with feeling good and alert. Neurotransmitters are derived from amino acids, the building blocks of protein, so to ensure that your neurotransmitters are firing as they should, eat protein. Good protein sources are eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, beef, nuts, quinoa, beans, lentils and organic dairy.
Eat good fats
Sixty percent of your brain is fat. In particular, omega-3 fatty acids. High concentrations of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids have been found in the brain’s grey matter. DHA is a type of omega-3 fat that helps to improve transmission of brain signals. You may know omega-3s as the “good” fats that help to lower inflammation throughout the body, and you’re right. Omega-3s have also been found to lower inflammation in the brain (a study conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that depression and brain inflammation are indeed linked).
Most people don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet. Good food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish and grass-fed beef. You can also find omega-3 fats in plant foods, like flaxseeds, walnuts, cauliflower and cabbage.
When you feel good about what you put in your body, you feel good everywhere else. Your interactions with others can improve, as can the attitude that you carry with you throughout the day. You are what you eat, indeed.