Feeding our Bodies According to Science: But do we actually know how?
The media hype, the readiness to believe, and the fear of missing out. In a hyper-connected world, it is inevitable these three factors govern what and how we eat. Is there any truth to the hype, or are we just puppets in an industry-driven game?
With the platform provided to me by the Founder and CEO of Luhv Drinks, I dove into the world of food science to gain insight into whether food is and should be considered the ultimate health aid and, if so, whether we can hack it. Can we create drinks that empower consumers with the knowledge of why and how foods impact our bodies so that they can ultimately take back control of what they put in their bodies?
Do we have the tools to understand how foods impact our bodies?
The simple answer is no. Let’s take an apple – a nutritional powerhouse with over 100 macronutrients, micronutrients and minerals. Eating an apple benefits your health, but what is it in the apple that drives this? According to supplement companies, we can attribute this to vitamin C. Does this mean we can just pop a vitamin C pill to reap those benefits, or take as much as 100% of our daily recommended amount so we don’t have to worry about getting enough from our diets? If only it were that simple.
We can study the effects of single compounds from apples by extracting and exposing them to blood cells, skin cells, and brain cells in the laboratory.. or by giving people pills with high concentrations of the compound and observing physiological changes over time. But this does not necessarily mirror what happens in our bodies when we consume whole apples: chemical reactions are already happening from the moment the hundreds of compounds in an apple touch our saliva, and there’s a myriad of reactions happening between the compounds. Our obsession with pinning individual nutrients and compounds to the health benefits of whole foods is leading us down a dangerous path of pill popping and potential ill-health.
Whole foods are better than the sum of their (known) parts
We can determine the physiological impact of certain nutrients by observing individuals suffering from acute or serious nutrient deficiencies. Examples include the associations of vitamin B12 deficiencies with dementia-like symptoms, folate deficiencies in pregnant women with birth defects, vitamin C deficiencies with scurvy, and vitamin D and C deficiencies with osteopenia and osteoporosis. When whole foods do not provide sufficient levels of these compounds, pill popping is a necessity. Yet, for the majority of us, supplementing our diets with pills is flushing money down the drain and even detrimental to our health.
We are aware that including carrots in our diet improves eye and skin health, but we are not certain which nutrients account for this; it is not only the beta carotene but likely the myriad of other carotenoids and vitamins working together to elicit this response. In other words, isolating compounds (and we do not know all the compounds found within a carrot) and ingesting them will not produce the same effects as eating the carrot. In fact, supplementing with beta carotene (often in high doses) has been associated with increased risk of lung cancer, especially in smokers, and colon cancer.
Combining foods for better taste and health
Why is green tea often served with a slice of lemon, why does olive oil drizzled on salad leaves taste so good, and why do yoghurt, seeds and berries work so well together? There’s science behind why we combine certain foods. For example, the main active compound in green tea is catechins which are responsible for some of green tea's reported health benefits. Lemon juice has been shown to increase the stability of catechins in beverages and improve the amount of catechins available for our bodies to absorb. Catechins are relatively unstable in non-acidic environments, such as our intestines, and less than 20% is left after digestion. Citrus juice, specifically that from lemons, has been shown to increase recovered catechin levels by more than five times (Green et al., 2007; Peters et al., 2010)!
Another example is combining seeds or nuts (that contain vitamin E) with fruit (vitamin C) in the same meal to help maintain skin health. The vitamin C is needed to synthesise an important protein called collagen that maintains the structure of our skin, and vitamin E ensures the connections between all the collagen fibres are upheld.
Is there a cheat sheet to a longer, healthier life?
We are all striving to hack nature and health, to ultimately find that loophole to optimum health. But we are playing a dangerous game by simplifying the complexity of how our bodies cope with foods without fully understanding this, and by further dissipating yet-to-be-proven messages to the wider public. This has in part led to the rising rates of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, owing to the villainising of dietary fats before realising simple carbohydrates may in fact have been the villain all along.
With the current knowledge we have, nothing trumps eating foods in their entirety. It is time we get back to basics and strive to understand why certain whole foods, spices, and herbs may be good for us. Whether we eat them raw, steamed, boiled, in powdered form, or blended, it is better than popping chemical pills.
Until (and if) we demystify these complexities, I urge you to ingest your food as closely to as nature intended.
Article written by Dr Elisabeth Buhl Thubron, Head of Science & Research at Luhv Drinks.
Green RJ, Murphy AS, Schulz B, Watkins BA, Ferruzzi MG (2007) Common tea formulations modulate in vitro digestive recovery of green tea catechins. Mol Nutr Food Res. 51(9):1152-62.
Peters CM, Green RJ, Janle EM, Ferruzzi MG (2010) Formulation with ascorbic acid and sucrose modulates catechin bioavailability from green tea. Food Res Int. 43(1):95-102.
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