Being the foodie that I am, I've brushed on the topic of food several times here on FTDM:
- The Morning After.
- It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for lamprey)
- Molecule of the Month: Something Salty.
I'm certainly not alone on our collaborative team when it comes to writing about our scientific relationship with food. This post in particular dives a little deeper into our molecular understanding of the items we come in contact with so frequently!
Common knowledge tells us that we need three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What these meals entail are displayed in the USDA's latest food pyramid portrayal (now a plate).
We listen to these instructions without much afterthought as to why we need the meals we do. The answer, as always, lies in Biochemistry. One of the first concepts you learn about as a Biochemist is something referred to as "the molecules of life". These molecules aren't some hokey catch phrase, they're critical to our sustenance. They're categorized into four groups:
- Nucleic acids
As you may have guessed at this point, they make up food! Here's the breakdown:
- Carbohydrates: grains, legumes, rice
- Protein: meats, meat by-products, soy, beans, nuts
- Lipids: Oils, meats, avocados, coconuts
- Nucleic acids: (same as protein)
We need these molecules because they comprise the components necessary to carry out the basic rituals of the cells that make us. Each category is needed for basic metabolic mechanisms. These molecules give us (and our cells) the energy needed to go about our day.
Now that we have an understanding as to what our food is made out of and why we need the molecules that make it, let's take a closer look at specific food types. When I say "food types", I'm referring to the colloquial classifications that we use. For example, breakfast foods are mostly sugary while dinner foods are generally savory. So why do we have these associations with different food types for different parts of the day? Perhaps you've also noticed that you have cravings for certain food types over others, depending on the time of day and even the day of the month?
Again, the answer can be found in Biochemistry! As I've referenced in a previous post, when we crave something, this is because our body is telling us that we require a specific vitamin, amino acid, or otherwise, in that food source.
It's really as simple as that. In summary, we aren't quite what we eat. Rather, we eat what we need! If our body is lacking something in particular, it will tell our brain what we need to eat in order to fulfill that desire. It's actually quite amazing, all things considered!