Eating Right: What We Eat Is Who We Are

Your body is a machine made from organic materials. For the most part, everything you eat gets digested and actually becomes a part of your body. What you eat becomes your hands, brain, tears, sweat, arms, legs. All of it is made from what we feed ourselves, so it’s good for us to be eating right.

Harvard Business Review talks even further about this phenomenon in Weirdly True: We Are What We Eat. In it, author Vasundhara Sawhney writes “Our gut or gastrointestinal tract (also known as our second brain) is home to billions of bacteria. The food we eat directly affects our gut health (or the balance of good and bad bacteria) and influences the production of neurotransmitters (our body’s chemical messengers that are constantly carrying messages from the gut to the brain).

Ninety percent of serotonin receptors — our mood regulators that influence our biological and neurological processes such as aggression, anxiety, cognition, mood, and sleep — are located in the gut. So, for example, when we eat something sweet or sugary, it produces dopamine (the feel-good hormone) and serotonin (the happiness hormone). The neurotransmitters carry those chemicals to the brain, and we feel happy.”

So, not only does what we eat influence our mood and wellbeing. What we eat also becomes our physical body.

Eating Right–Begin With Water

Marin County’s reservoir in California, Kent Lake. 40,600,000 m3 of water stored here!

The first thing we need to talk about is water. Water is probably the most amazing resource on the planet. About 55% to 60% of your entire body is water. It’s a solvent, has great heat capacity, and it makes up clouds, rivers, and the ocean.

According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.

Each day, humans must consume water to survive. Of course, the amount of water required varies according to age, physical activity, and gender. Generally, an adult male needs about 3 liters (3.2 quarts) per day while an adult female needs about 2.2 liters (2.3 quarts) per day. All of the water a person needs does not have to come from drinking liquids, as some of this water is contained in the food we eat.

Fruits, for example, are really just water droplets full of body-building, city-building, life-fulfilling nutrients. That’s in-part why fruit is so healthy: bananas, oranges, peaches, pears, raspberries, blueberries, apples, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapes, and more. They all contain high amounts of water, vitamins, and resources to help build a strong, healthy body.

How Much Water Do I Need?

The life advice commonly heard is this: if you are thirsty, you are not drinking enough water. As a result, it is recommended that we are to be drinking water so regularly that we never really ever feel thirsty.

Some people measure out how much water they drink or get fancy water bottles. The best thing, in my opinion, is to always have water within arms reach. Bring water bottles to work or class, keep a filled glass on the desk when working, etc. Change your habits by changing your environment, after all.


Wait… Just Water?

You actually need water to survive, so please drink it regularly. You really should not drink any sugary beverages (soda, boba, etc) but they make tasty treats.

Plain coffee with a bit of creamer is mostly water, as is tea. Make sure you are drinking water or something mostly made from water pretty much continuously throughout the day.


Delicious, nutritious food.

Our bodies are entirely made from the food we eat. Our bodies are constantly changing, with around 50,000,000,000 (50 billion!) cells dying per day. Those cells have to be replaced, and the food we eat gets turned into those new cells.

The Experts

In order to get a varied picture of just how important diet is, I reached out to several professors in the nutrition and toxicology department here at UC Berkeley and was fortunate enough to receive a reply from Professor Amy Block Joy.

Amy Block Joy, Ph.D., Nutritional Sciences, was born in New York and educated at the University of California, Berkeley. She has worked for the University of California for more than thirty years.

Amy has published numerous papers on a wide range of topics as well as developed educational materials on publishing, public policy and education. She has presented numerous public lectures and is an associate editor for a popular California journal.

1) What are the benefits of a healthy diet?

Answer by Amy Block Joy: There are multiple benefits from consuming a healthy diet. First and foremost, good health is important in reducing the risk of a number of dietary-related chronic conditions and diseases including heart disease, many types of cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis to name a few. In addition to disease-risk reduction, good health improves one’s mood, energy level, emotional and psychological well-being, stamina, and ability to fight minor and major infections. A healthy diet can also reduce the possibility of nutritional deficiencies including anemia, weight loss or gain, vision problems, chronic fatigue, bone loss, to name a few.

Most people who are consuming a healthy diet feel better, are more confident, and alert. Studies have also demonstrated that eating a health diet leads to increases in other lifestyle practices — like exercise and other health-related choices.

2) At what point did you decide to undertake healthy eating patterns?

Answer by Amy Block Joy:  I was an undergraduate here at UC Berkeley in Biochemistry and Bacteriology. During those years, because of extreme poverty, I was unable to afford a healthy diet. I managed to survive on a diet of mostly Top Ramen, scrambled eggs, and milk. When I began my graduate work at UC Berkeley in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, I became self-conscious of what I was eating. That was when I decided to eat healthy. I vividly recall feeling so much better, having more energy, and more confidence. I believe that the “awareness” of good health is an important step in healthy eating behaviors. 

3) What advice do you have for someone who wants to improve their eating habits?

Answer by Amy Block Joy:  My first advice to someone is to do it! I also advise taking small steps at the beginning so that one isn’t overwhelmed or disappointed if they don’t see any quick improvements. There are no short-cuts to good health! Many people will read a product article and think that drinking this concoction or eating a “new” supplement will do something (eg. reduce fatigue, increase appetite, reduce weight, improve memory, etc.) Good health is a slow and steady progression. Disappointment and frustration are the result when someone tries something that makes promises that are too good to be true. The real key to good health is moderation and patience.  It can help to study good health using credible sources. Some of these credible sources include:

Recommended Read: The Power of Compounding and A Life Well Lived Is Made 10 Minutes At A Time

4) What are some common pitfalls people may encounter and how can they overcome them?

Answer by Amy Block Joy:  Common pitfalls are when individuals try to make changes too quickly and get disappointed and frustrated and then give up! Slow and steady is the way to good health. Here are a few basic ideas that I tell my students in my class: Eating Green: The science behind the grassroots food movement.

  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Drink plenty of water each day (at least 8 fluid cups).
  • Fiber, Fiber, Fiber!! Make a list of those foods that are high in fiber and build them into your diet.
  • Eat low-fat protein sources! Meat can be useful in a diet but a vegetarian diet is a good alternative.  
  • Avoid foods with high-fructose corn-syrup.
  • Read labels on foods to be sure that the main ingredients are not chemicals.
  • To avoid pesticides, eat organic. 
  • To help local farmers, eat locally produced foods. 
  • Go back to the kitchen! Folks who cook their own foods have been shown to be healthier (and save money)!
  • ENJOY YOUR FOOD! (And, I love ice cream!! It is OK to treat yourself — but do so in moderation).

Thank you, Professor!

Eating Right: Save $50 Billion a Year

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute published research in 2019 showing how due to poor dieting choices, Americans lose $50 billion per year on healthcare costs. Eating right would save the average American $150 per year in costs.

Eating right is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. The World Health Organization says that an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity are leading global risks to health.


Like most things, slow and steady is the way to go. Thank you again to Professor Amy Block Joy for her thorough and detailed contribution to this article.

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