diet where rubber meets road

Chemistry Versus Philosophy: Where Rubber Meets Road in Diet Debates

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At least once a week, I have a conversation involving all the reasons why someone cannot/does not/will not consider changes to their diet a necessary step to health. Sometimes the conversation is more about the difficulties of overcoming lifelong bad habits. For those folks, change is difficult but not impossible. Sometimes the conversation involves appreciating that diet and nutrients actually matter. For these folks, change is possible but considerably more difficult. It often does not occur until their health hits rock bottom and they have nothing else to lose by addressing diet. This, of course, makes healing that much more arduous.

Inevitably, however, there are folks for whom eating a particular way is a deeply entrenched philosophical decision. There, I am of no help. Nothing I say and no research I provide will convince them that their body chemistry does not care about their food philosophy. Maintaining that philosophical fortitude is all that matters, health be damned and it often is, sometimes quite severely. These are the conversations that simultaneously infuriate me and break my heart. To watch someone’s health degenerate, knowing all-the-while it does not have to, is perhaps one of the more painful aspects of my work.

It seems that food is no longer valued for its nourishment potential. Instead, it has become a religion of sorts, one that is wrapped tightly in emotion. It is our reason for pleasure and pain, stress, and in many cases, though we don’t like to admit it, no small amount of self-loathing. It seems no matter what we eat, we feel guilt and then, as if to bury that guilt, we give ourselves a reason to eat more of the very foods we know we should not eat. It is a vicious cycle. With all of these emotional tags to food, it is difficult to acknowledge that food, or good food rather, is a necessary component of health. What is even more difficult to acknowledge is that unhealthy foods or even just the wrong foods, can induce disease.

Food, Mitochondria and Energy

A fundamental, though unrecognized, component of health is mitochondrial functioning. As the producers of cellular energy and regulators of a host of other important functions, mitochondria determine how well our bodies respond to stressors. And let’s face it, everything in life is a stressor requiring some amount of energy to resolve. Living itself requires energy. Living in a toxic, ramped up world is a big stressor, requiring more energy. Illness is a stressor, chronic illness even more so. The medications used to treat most illnesses are stressors, damaging the mitochondria by a myriad of mechanisms including depleting vital nutrients. Those nutrients have to come from food, real food, not the processed, sugary, food-like substances we crave. Sometimes, the extra energy needed to fight illness requires supplements, at pharmacological doses, but, and this is important, supplements will never compensate for a bad diet. Ever.

A Healthier Way to Think about Food

What we ingest and how well we metabolize those foods determines to what degree and whether the mitochondria function. In that regard, food is the very foundation of health or disease. It can heal us or harm us based upon its chemistry and ours. For all the complexity of nutrition, it is really quite simple: does the chemistry of the food you eat match the needs of your chemistry? If it does not match, no matter what else you do to improve your health, there will always be something lacking. This is a critical point that is frequently ignored in modern medicine.

Folks often ask me what they should eat and while I cannot recommend a particular diet, here are three questions to evaluate the ‘healthiness’ your diet. Is the inherent chemistry of the food you eat well-suited to your body’s chemistry? Does what you eat provide your body with the necessary macro- and micronutrients it needs to function efficiently? Does what you eat reduce or induce stress in your the body?

How do you know the answers to these questions? Simple. Ask yourself, are you healthy? Are you doing all that you want to do without pain and without medications? Do you have what you consider an appropriate amount of energy? If the answer is yes to each of these questions, then congratulations, you are among the healthy and maybe there is no need to look at diet. For most folks, however, the answer is no to one or all of these questions. In fact, for most of the folks I interact with, energy levels are suboptimal, pain and other issues are present, and medications are used chronically to subsist. This is where diet matters most, and sadly, this is also where dietary changes are often the most difficult.

If one is chronically ill, using multiple medications, chances are the chemistry of the food consumed does not match the nutritional demands. Sometimes the diet is too toxic – e.g. conventionally grown, raised or processed foods. Other times, the diet simply does not provide sufficient macronutrients (protein and fat) and/or micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to meet the body’s energetic demands. This effectively starves the mitochondria, evoking the reactions involved in chronic disease: inflammation, immune and metabolic dysfunction. Reactions, that no amount of medication can resolve.

Still Don’t Believe Diet Impacts Health?

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of the effects of diet on health can be seen below. Dr. Wahls was essentially chair/bedridden, crippled by multiple sclerosis until she addressed her diet. Sadly, none of her physicians suggested addressing diet. She, like so many others, had to come to this recognition on her own and figure out what her body needed to heal.

If you have not seen this, take 20 minutes to watch it.

And while the Wahls’ diet may not work for everyone, the point it makes is clear. Diet and nutrients matter. Chemistry matters. One’s philosophical or emotional ties to food do not.

If you are suffering from a complex or chronic condition, consider how what you are eating affects your health. Put aside your philosophical views on food and just look at the chemistry.

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Photo by George Huffman on Unsplash.

This article was published originally on March 7, 2018. 

Chandler Marrs MS, MA, PhD spent the last dozen years in women’s health research with a focus on steroid neuroendocrinology and mental health. She has published and presented several articles on her findings. As a graduate student, she founded and directed the UNLV Maternal Health Lab, mentoring dozens of students while directing clinical and Internet-based research. Post graduate, she continued at UNLV as an adjunct faculty member, teaching advanced undergraduate psychopharmacology and health psychology (stress endocrinology). Dr. Marrs received her BA in philosophy from the University of Redlands; MS in Clinical Psychology from California Lutheran University; and, MA and PhD in Experimental Psychology/ Neuroendocrinology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

1 Comment

  1. Oh the ironies, the ironies, here, as Snail Oil Salesmen/women and chemical manipulators and wizards of multisyllabic toxins and poisons to trick the human taste buds, well, we’ve given our guts and bodies to body snatchers.

    Imagine a company that produces a fat that isn’t a fat (remember Olestra?) and gets fast-track approval from the Food and Drug Administration. And all the side-effects.

    Oh, we have feedlots with thousands of cattle crammed in, eating their own manure (up to 6 percent of feed can be cow waste) and eating road kill rendered by Purina and other rendering plants?

    Imagine a food system that allows farmed salmon, genetically modified with bass genes (so-called Frankenfish), crammed in floating pens, fed fish meal and now soy meal.

    Cattle and fake fish crammed in corrals with millions of gallons of antibiotics, fungicides, food coloring additives (in the case of the fake salmon)?

    Oh, those Mad Men and Women who have that Super Bowl half-time Doritos and Pepsi fun — hiring on psychological hucksters for the subliminal draw of those fake and danger products so kids get addicted, and then all the chemistry majors coming up with super shelf-life additives, chemicals created in factories, and the added punch of sugar-salt-fat mixed up in a recipe to get the old human noggin to want-want-want more until we just can’t eat one Lay’s Potato Chips!

    Fast-food nation, super-refined nation, genetically altered children, chickens and pigs producing Great Lakes worth of blood-guts-and-urine/poop as a by-product of factory farming.

    What do they do with that waste in those toxic lagoons? State and federal felons approve of spraying it all over the land, as it ends up as aerosols and toxic layers of land poison.

    Every step of the way the Capitalists with their Big Ag-Big Chem-Bid Marketing getting away with how much residues on apples, in baby’s peach smoothies?

    Every word out of these factory poison manufacturers and CAFO lovers — Confined Ag Feeding Operations — and PhD-driven food wizards helping destroy the human biome and our own ecosystems.

    Pig farms producing more waste than four times the number of humans congregating together, except in the South, those Tysons and Smiths get the green light for the waste to go untreated, as it seeps into creeks, rivers and water supplies.

    Warnings to adults and kids to NOT swim in those rivers, to stay away from the watersheds.

    Oh-oh, we call poison farming conventional, and we think organic is unconventional?
    Oh-oh, we have created blue collar and redneck millionaires with all the subsidies for beef-pork-poultry and soy-corn-dairy-wheat while here in Portland, we have apple and cherry orchards bulldozed over because of no government subsidies, no migrant pickers and suburbanization.

    What is it now in this toxic food system to get the calorie from farm to plate? Think about it, bottled water from Fuji consumed in California. Imagine, coffee from Mozambique floating all over the world on container ships and 18-wheelers so we world powers can sip sip sip. The embedded and expended energy for that one calorie is now 15 to 20 calories of fossil fuel to get it from field to plate. That includes the fertilizers, the farm equipment, the travel, the packaging, etc.

    How many countries have lost traditional foods and the ability to subsist on safe food, unadulterated foods because their paid-for leaders get payola from western nations to dam up rivers, flood tillable land, and grow cash crops for the western market.

    Imagine, corn fed to cows creating these bloated and dying animals, corn from genetic Frankenstein companies, and other corn of the GE kind that tastes raw like plastic but is cooked and thrown into stills to create High Fructose Corn Syrup, that fake-fake sugar.

    Imagine activists thrown in jail for 20 years for attempting to expose the lies and the toxins coming out of these factories of the devil. A book, Green is the New Red, lays out that anti-democratic move to call people like myself a terrorist — eco-terrorist.

    I had a radio show and plenty of columns in newspapers, and we talked about those Nazi Lawyers working for the farms and food devils — food disparagement laws, the cheeseburger bills? We can’t posit that all those fast-food restaurants (sic) in poor neighborhoods cause obesity? Think about that — we can’t expose the food deserts and the other systems of structural violence and structural caloric poisoning. How many 7-11s and liquor stores and gun shops and Dollar Stores and PayDay loan outfits sited in low income neighborhoods.

    It take far less money to purchase that super subsidized Big Mac than a head of lettuce, kale, nuts, tomatoes, and yogurt dressing.

    The earth is crying — garbage patches the size of Texas; coral reefs gray and dead because of runoff, poisons, chemicals; mountains cut in half for coal; entire watersheds hot from nuclear leaks; forests and jungles plowed over for the millions of acres of soy for animal feed and sugar cane for ethanol to power our lovely billions of cars and trucks.

    Imagine, how obvious the science (good) is around the death foods and death farming and ranching processes and the mining processes and oil and coal and shale drilling. Imagine imagine imagine how obvious all of this is, and we continue on and on.

    Eating the piles of waste and chemical slurries, and we wonder why we have one out of two chronically ill children, why we have allergies in PK12 never seen before, why so many young people have head ticks and can’t settle down or concentrate or read a paragraph.

    Imagine, that Botany of Desire now a bounty of carcinogenic crap, and imagine imagine the lack of nutrients in foods caused by Climate Change (global warming), ground ozone, and the over-tilling and spreading of inorganic waste on fields of organic fallow.

    So, when you say people have so much difficulty changing their diets, well, for many in industrialized food systems, the people — eaters/consumers — are addicted to not only the chemicals produced for such addiction, but also we all are addicted to oil and waste and water death.

    Oh, for all of us who are so well-well informed, well-read, and like me, a ground-truther who has been in Guatemala, all states in Mexico, in Vietnam and Thailand, and other places and have seen the complete destruction of entire cultures and entire ecosystems and agrarian (organic) because of this modern weapon called factory farming and turbo-charged pesticide-fertilizer-fungicide madness.

    It’s like talking to a wall attempting to show people the evil of our ways as industrial-post industrial oil eaters!

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