“You are what you eat” a phrase coined by the nutritionist Lindlahr in the 1940’s is a common term one hears as a reminder to be conscience of what we’re putting in our body. To truly understand the magnitude of this phrase and why it’s so important in health maintenance, prevention and vitality, let’s dive into some simplified biochemistry.

Our body and all its components (organs, skin, bones, hair nails etc.) are  made up of trillions of cells.  In order to perform their basic function, cells depend on a consistent supply energy. Cellular energy is called ATP (“adenosine triphosphate”), and at a basic level, almost every function in our body (reproduction, immunity, metabolism etc.) relies on its production.



Cellular energy (“ATP”) is made in the inside the cell. The most efficient way of producing ATP is with the help of specific part (“organelle”) in our cells, known as mitochondria. Mitochondria are like the batteries of the cell, aiding in the production of energy.

The building blocks of ATP are glucose, amino acids and fatty acids (also known as macromolecules). These macromolecules are broken down inside the cell and feed into the mitochondria ultimately leading to the production of ATP. Where do we get these building block from?

  • Glucose comes from carbohydrates – example sources include vegetables, legumes, fruits etc.
  • Amino acids come from proteins – example sources include eggs, chicken, fish, legumes etc.
  • Fatty acids come from fats – example sources include fish, avocados, nuts, seeds etc.

While these macromolecules are essential to the production of ATP, they need help to get the job done. These helpers are known as cofactors and coenzymes. Cofactors and coenzymes are vitamins and minerals that come from our diet. They are needed in almost all cellular tasks, including the formation of hormones, detoxification, the production of new healthy cells, immune function and many (many!) other things.  


Are you getting your building blocks?

As you can begin to imagine, ensuring we get enough macromolecules, vitamins and minerals are essential for the production of energy (ATP) at a cellular level, allowing for basic functioning. This enables optimal metabolism, immune system, detoxification and sufficient production of hormones, neurotransmitters etc.  If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, certain pathways begin to get depleted, cellular function gets compromised. As result, you may be left not feeling your best.

Figure 1. Metabolic pathways complex and require nutrients to work.

You are what you eat. Eating on quality, nutrient dense foods provides the body with sufficient building blocks to function well at a cellular level. You need to be getting enough good quality protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to meet your cellular demands. Focus on whole foods with enough vegetables each day, as they are jam packed with the resources your body needs. 

Processed and refined food strip out the many of the essential nutrients needed to sustain cellular function, and over time has been associated with the development of chronic diseases. These foods (cookies, bread, white pastas etc.) contain “simple” carbohydrates and very little other nutrients. This means you’ll get the spike (and subsequent crash) in blood sugar, but next to no useful resources to support your cellular function. Overtime, the depletion of these resources may result in nutrient deficiencies and numerous symptoms including fatigue, weight gain, brain fog. aches and pains.


Finals thoughts

This blog is focusing on one specific cellular pathway; the formation of cellular energy. Keep in mind our bodies are performing hundreds of different pathways (Figure 1). Each of these pathways require sufficient building blocks, vitamins and minerals to allow for optimal function. When you feel fatigued, fall sick more frequently, have trouble sleeping, suffer from hormone irregularities, are any other health concerns, the first thing you should ask yourself is whether you are getting enough nutrients to allow your body to perform its basic functions? You are what you eat. The human body is robust, give it the tools it needs and often its finds its way back to balance.

– Dr. Ashley Damm, ND



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