Michael S. Fenster M.D., FACC, FSCA&I, PEMBA

You Are What You Eat

Determining the Value of Food

Do We Have It Wrong? (Part 2)

Posted Apr 03, 2016

But within the last decade, that variable of quality has become more complicated. Only recently have we begun to appreciate that a direct remnant of those prehistoric times plays a critical role in mediating us between health and wellness or disability and disease. The human gut microbiome is that collection of an estimated 100 trillion cells that inhabit our innards, compared to the only 10 trillion human cells that make up our body.

Our personal cadre of minions derives in part from genetics and in a large part from the environment. There is no bigger environmental impact upon both ourselves and our minions than what we choose to consume each day. In fact, anything we choose to consume first interacts with the gut microbiome before it ever reaches our own.

Therefore what we choose to eat has a tremendous impact on the character of our gut microbiota. According to some studies, in just as little as a day we can significantly alter the bacterial composition of our alimentary associates. We are in charge of the condition of our own internal garden.

Red Tail Productions, LLC
Source: Red Tail Productions, LLC

Consumption of the processed, preserved, prepackaged, and preprepared offerings that constitute the bulk of the modern Western diet are associated with the development of an infertile internal landscape. It becomes a seething cesspool capable of yielding only the slow poison of chronic, continuous inflammation; one readily apparent in the malevolently odiferous greeting found in any airport bathroom.

Many of our modern food products and additives like artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers to name a few, were felt to be totally inert with respect to our metabolic pathways following ingestion. And while it may be true that they do not directly interact with us, research has now shown that they can have a significantly detrimental effect upon our gut microbiome. The end result is a disturbance in our symbiotic organ that has coevolved to co-metabolize our food with us, and maintain the homeostatic point of health and wellness.

Therefore in our original definition of food value, where we defined value of some food X as dependent upon both quantity and quality; we now see that food quality itself must be further defined. The original equation, Vx= Nx + Qx, now becomes more precise. There is an aspect of quality that can be objectively quantified as it relates to the food as fuel nutritional approach. This is the objective nutritional quality of food X; QONX.

The objective nutritional quality of food X with respect to its direct impact on humans can be determined to some extent; these are the guidelines with respect to intake of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and RDAs for vitamins, minerals, trace elements and the like.

But this measure of objective nutritional quality must also now by extension be applied to the human gut microbiome. In this arena, we have very little insight into the needs of this symbiotic organism when compared to ourselves. And it is not even clear if there is a singular human gut microbiome or as is more likely, that each individual’s baseline healthy gut microbiota is as unique as that person’s set of fingerprints.

So our objective measure of nutritional quality, QONX, is comprised of one variable in which we have some understanding, QHuman Nutrition, and one which is essentially a complete unknown, QGutMicrobiome Nutrition.

So to recap, the value of some food X can be expressed as the quantity and the objective measure of nutritional quality both in terms of known human nutrition and in terms of the nutritional status of the gut microbiome, which is an unknown;

Vx= Nx + (QHuman Nutrition + QGutMicrobiome Nutrition)

But there is one more critical aspect to quality that was briefly touched upon we first discussed this topic. That is the completely subjective variable of the food experience. This is to Tony Bourdain’s point, the pleasure principle. In conjunction with an avoidance of suffering; it is the pleasure principle that drives our behavior. Between the two, the pleasure principle fuels our long game.

Our life can be characterized as a series of experiences. The collection of which, some would argue, is all we get to take with us at the end of days; that our lives become one long recorded memory. Of all our senses, only taste and smell are directly plugged into the base of our brain. We may eat first with our eyes, but smell and taste take the express into our hippocampus; that area of the brain where memory dwells.

This is why as you walk down the street and catch a whiff of some long forgotten perfume you remember. A high school sweetheart, a date, a dance and a mullet you had long since thought buried away never to be recollected; and yet there it is playing out in fast forward in your mind’s eye.

Never mind the anonymous trigger, because the memory lives. The moment is ever alive in that complex reality that exists between the observer and the observed; the taster and the tasted. This is why the food experience, wrapped in the DNA of the social experiment called civilization is so powerful. This subjective quality of food is perhaps the most powerful of all the variables in our definition of food value:

Vx= Nx + [(QHuman Nutrition + QGutMicrobiome Nutrition) + QHuman Experience]

This subjective quality is what elevates the value of food to the food experience and thus transforms the human experience. It is why food, and particularly food of love, is an integral part of those memories we call life.

So forget the supersizing; that’s not value. Life’s memories are not sold by the pound; they are graded by the experience. Strive to make your meals like your life; wholesome, natural, authentic and satisfying. If you follow the proper form; healthful function will follow.

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