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February 18, 2024 | Max Jenkinson

Your Body Is Confused By What You're Eating

Yesterday I was explaining the basics of nutrition to a person who has no formal education in the subject. I came up with, what I think is, a good analogy to use as a framework to categorise foods. I thought I’d use this week’s newsletter to elaborate.

Think of food as information. The food contains information about what it is and what the body can do with it. But, it needs to be written in a language the body understands. Food for some species is unusable or even dangerous for other species.

During evolution, we’ve gone through a lot of changes. Over millions of years, we have developed a sort of internal instruction book that tells us what to do with what foods. Let’s call it the Book of Nutrition.

The more we eat something the better the instructions become. And, the less we eat of something the less detailed the instructions become.

The Book of Nutrition is constantly being rewritten but, to rewrite, even a chapter, could take millions of years. Over time we have deleted and added many chapters.

A cow has an internal instruction book of what to do with everything inside of grass. They can derive most of what they need from grass, we can’t.

This is why taking an evolutionary perspective makes so much sense. If you ate what a gorilla ate you’d literally die. Why? Because you evolved to eat something else.

By using this analogy we are left with some questions, that if answered lead to a reasonable diet.

  1. What is in our book (what foods do we understand)?

  2. What are the most developed chapters and subchapters (what foods do we understand the best)?

During evolution, humans have narrowed it down to 4 fundamental chapters in our book of Nutrition. There is one more chapter I’d call The Rest of The Molecules, but, we will leave that out for now.

The four fundamental chapters:

  1. Carbohydrates

  2. Nutrients

  3. Protein

  4. Fats

If I were to give you an instruction in Spanish you would not be able to follow the instruction. The same is true of food, and our book happens to be written in English.

Foods are made up of molecules and molecules are what the body uses. The molecules are read by the body. So, let’s say we eat something fried in seed oils. Some parts of the food will be in English, others in Latin, and others in Thai.

When the food enters the body, it is slowly deciphered. The body then cross-references the deciphered information with the book of Nutrition to determine what to do with the food that came in.

  1. What is it?

  2. What should we do with it?

  3. Who should do what with it?

Once this is done the body regulates millions of internal machinery to ensure the molecules coming in are put to work. If the information is in a language our bodies can’t understand it still does its best to use the molecule. But, confusion (biologically) is dysfunction, and dysfunction is eventually disease.

The book of Nutrition is the thing that every person trying to figure out the optimal human diet is trying to transcribe. The book title and the chapters are the same for every human but the details will vary.

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. The fundamentals of a good diet will get you 90% of the way toward optimal. Most experts focus on the details instead of the fundamentals which is why we can’t even agree on what is fundamental.

We can at least agree on what we want to do by using the book of Nutrition analogy. We want to mainly eat foods that have the most detailed chapters. Meaning we, or our bodies, are extremely adept at using that food to maintain health.

I continuously ask myself the questions:

  1. What carbohydrates do we need to thrive?

  2. What nutrients do we need to thrive?

  3. What protein do we need to thrive?

  4. What fats do we need to thrive?

My answers are always changing. But, to start to answer the questions I like to view the categories through the lens of:

Digestability – From food to molecule

Q: How easy is it to digest?

Absorption – From gut to bloodstream

Q: How easy is it for us to transport them from the gut to the blood?

Assimilation – From blood to function

Q: How easy is it to assimilate the molecules into cells to be used for whatever purpose they have?

The entire discussion I had yesterday stemmed from her asking me why I would drink Coca-Cola if I was into nutrition. I explained the analogy and explained that Coke is a great fuel without nutrients.

In my transcription of the Book of Nutrition, there is a detailed chapter on fruit and simple sugars. Table sugar is nothing more than a simple sugar with 50% glucose and 50% fructose. The sugar in fruit eaten alongside the vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients might be different.

I am testing the hypothesis that it is not that different. All we have to be aware of when eating a lot of sugar is that we need to get nutrients from somewhere else.

In each category, there are different forms. Different forms of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, protein, and fat. Depending on the form the digestibility, absorption and assimilation changes.

Instead of writing a thesis on carbs, nutrients, protein and fat, I will leave you with a question.

What types of carbs, nutrients, protein and fat do you think have the most detailed section in each chapter?

If you want my take on the most detailed chapters read this post. 

If you have any follow-up questions or want me to send you some resources to dive into any of the chapters please send me an email to jenkinson.max@gmail.com

Thank you for reading my musing on health.

Until next Sunday, do what makes your future self proud.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.