You Are What You Eat: How Dinner Impacts Your Destiny

The Link Between Nutrition and Cellular Health

By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

It’s easy to associate the food you eat with external, appearance-driven endpoints like body weight, but it’s important to understand how the food you eat affects you on the inside, too. Michael Ormsbee, Ph.D., explains how your internal functioning directly influences how you feel, how you look, and your overall health, which includes a healthy body composition.

Young adults preparing healthy dinner meal together
You are what you eat since food impacts your health at the cellular level, from your tissues to your organs. Photo by Solis Images / Shutterstock

The Inside Matters

While the phrase “you are what you eat” is probably a bit oversimplified, it is, in large part, true. Our bodies are to a significant extent composed of the foods that we eat.

What you eat will ultimately make up portions of your cells, skin, hair, blood transportation systems, muscles, fat, and more. These nutrients are not just being transported throughout our digestive systems and blood; they are also an ingrained part of every cell tissue that makes us who we are and what we do. 

Early nutrition recommendations focused strictly on the function of the human body. The main question for scientists and nutritionists was, “Which nutrients, and in what amounts, are needed to keep the human body functioning to protect it from any obvious disease?” 

Nutrition recommendations were basically made on a trial-and-error basis. While trial and error still has a place in nutrition, nutrition science has evolved to be more than simply adjusting the amounts of nutrients we need to prevent disease. Nutrition science is now driven by a belief that eating should be about living the very best that you can—living optimally, not just avoiding illness.

Researchers have discovered that not only do the nutrients from food affect how we function, but they also affect the body at the cellular level, how every single process inside our cells functions. In order to understand this, and how each of us is made up of the same nutrients that are in the foods we choose to eat, we must begin with the basics. This takes us all the way down to the individual, microscopic cell.

Cellular Nutrition

The cell is the smallest structural and functional unit of any organism; it is the thing of which every living being is made. Our cells vary immensely in size, function, and chemical makeup. 

Each cell in our body must move, grow, consume food, excrete waste products, react to its environment, and reproduce. Cells in the human body are constantly communicating in order to make the entire organism function. They communicate in response to your environment, what you touch, and how you move.

Cells bond together to make tissues, tissues make up our organs, our organs make up our organ system, and our organ systems combine to make the entire organism, which in this case is your body. If your cells are not healthy, they will not work properly, and if the cells don’t work properly, then neither will the tissues. 

The systems will begin to fail. You can see how this can easily snowball out of control. 

Eventually, you will most likely experience increased fatigue, decreased physical capacity, improper nutrient use, and nutrient partitioning, which ultimately lead to a poor body composition as well as some serious health consequences. 

Importance of Cellular Health

By keeping your cells healthy and fed with the proper nutrients, you are keeping your whole self healthy.

Consider this: The average adult body is made up of about 30 trillion cells. When old cells become damaged, new ones are made to replace them, and the nutrients we get from our food are used to make these new cells. 

This process is the main reason why nutrition plays such a major role in cellular health and, therefore, in our optimal functioning. Also, certain nutrients, like the food we eat, can protect our cells from damage and provide cells with the fuel needed to produce energy for our bodies.

Just think about your cells and their need to be replaced constantly. Then think about the type of food you choose to eat. Are you choosing foods that would help make the healthiest cells possible? Help make the healthiest body composition? The best environment to be active and stay active? 

Consider this on your next trip to the grocery store.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.
Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.