The food we eat gives our bodies the “information” and materials they need to function properly. If we don’t get the right information, our metabolic processes suffer and our health declines. If we get too much food, or food that gives our bodies the wrong instructions, we can become overweight, undernourished, and at risk for the development of diseases and conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.
In short, what we eat is central to our health. Consider that in light of Webster’s definition of medicine: “The science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.”
Food acts as medicine–to maintain, prevent, and treat disease.
What does food do in our bodies?
The nutrients in food enable the cells in our bodies to perform their necessary functions. This quote from a popular textbook describes how the nutrients in food are essential for our physical functioning.
“Nutrients are the nourishing substances in food that are essential for the growth, development and maintenance of body functions. Essential meaning that if a nutrient is not present, aspects of function and therefore human health decline. When nutrient intake does not regularly meet the nutrient needs dictated by the cell activity, the metabolic processes slow down or even stop.” In other words, nutrients give our bodies instructions about how to function. In this sense, food can be seen as a source of “information” for the body.
Thinking about food in this way gives us a view of nutrition that goes beyond calories or grams, good foods or bad foods. This view leads us to focus on foods we should include rather than foods to exclude. Instead of viewing food as the enemy, we look to food as a way to create health and reduce disease by helping the body maintain function.
Examples of the Roles Nutrients Play
Here are some examples of nutrients essential for specific body functions. These nutrients provide “information” so the body can complete the necessary processes. (Note: This is a simplification for illustrative purposes. There are no doubt many more substances involved in all of these processes, including trace minerals and co-factors.)
- Immune function: vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, folic acid, vitamin B-6, riboflavin, magnesium, selenium, vitamin C
- Nerve impulses: sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6, folic acid, B-12, copper, vitamin C
- Tissue repair and formation: vitamin A, vitamin E, copper, riboflavin, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C
- Metabolism: potassium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin C
Note that magnesium is needed for all of the functions listed above. Let’s take a closer look at magnesium as “information.”
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral found in whole grain, wheat germ, nuts, and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds), soybeans, tofu, chocolate, dark-green vegetables, legumes, yogurt, and other dairy products. However, the amount of magnesium in any magnesium-rich food is influenced by the soil content in which the food was grown. In many commercial farms, magnesium has been depleted from the soil.