Calihan: You Are What You Eat

By Martha Calihan, MD

I wonder how many times we have all heard this said and just blown it off. I know I used to. It seemed both painfully obvious and not really that important; we all knew that whatever we ate that was “bad” we would wear on our hips!

But over the years, the focus on nutrition has changed, and we have come to know and understand so much more about the benefits, even the necessity of good foods, for a variety of reasons. It’s no longer just a question of how we look, what we eat is at the core of our health and wellbeing.

Our food is the source of our micro-nutrients, those vitamins, minerals and other compounds that fuel our cells and make our biology work. It’s the source of our macro-nutrients too, the proteins, fats and carbohydrates that give us our energy. When we eat poor quality foods; foods that have been overly processed, or food that has been grown in poor quality soil or is from animals that are not being fed high quality food, then we risk having nutrient deficiencies. This can be significant, and we need to remember that the RDA (Recommended daily amounts) for specific vitamins and other nutrients are the levels needed to prevent disease, not necessarily hose needed for optimal health.

So yes, the food we eat is important in terms of providing us the nutrients we need, but we have come to realize in recent years that the foods we eat can have a profound impact on the health of the bacteria in our gut, our microbiome.

Our microbiome plays a vital role in our health because of the role it plays in out immune health. Our gut bacteria perform a vast number of functions, and their balance and wellbeing is critical to ours. An imbalanced microbiome is at the heart of many of our modern chronic health conditions, including the almost epidemic rise in the number of people who have auto-immune disease.

And the food we eat can, and does, impact the microbiome. We know that fermented foods provide an excellent source of healthy bacteria for our guts, and there are a number of foods that function as pre-biotics; these actually help nourish and feed the good bacteria that we think of when we talk about probiotics. It is especially important to think about replacing the beneficial gut bacteria anytime we take an antibiotic, because along with killing whatever infection we have, the antibiotic will also likely wipe out a large amount of the healthy, beneficial bacteria in the gut. Taking pre and probiotics while taking an antibiotic can help restore the balance.

There is much more to say about the importance of a healthy gut microbiome and a healthy gut overall in terms of our own health. One particular area of interest of mine is the concept of “leaky gut” and its impact on our health. Look for more on this in the coming weeks.

So yes, it’s true, we really are what we eat, and it really does matter!

Dr. Martha Calihan has practiced Family Medicine for more than 20 years, during which time her interests and her practice have gradually evolved into a holistic, integrative approach to medicine. She is licensed to practice acupuncture and is also trained in both Mind-Body Medicine and Functional Medicine. She is the founder of the Five Stones Healing Arts & Wellness Center in Leesburg.

[Ask The Expert is a promotional program sponsored by Loudoun Now. The writers have held out that they have experience, training, education and/or certifications to qualify as experts in their fields. Although shared on Loudoun Now‘s online platforms, the writers are solely responsible for this content.]

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