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You Are What You Eat


You have heard the old story, “You are what you eat”. Never has this been more true, in this modern age of pharmaceutical medicine.

When I stop eating carbohydrates and gluten-containing products, I lose weight. When I get lazy and start eating them again, I gain the weight right back.

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, in Physiologie du Gout (Physiology of Taste)in 1826: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”

In 1863 in an essay titled Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism, Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach wrote: “Man is what he eats.” It’s a lovely word play in German, the word for “is” being “ist” and the word for “eat” being “ißt” which is also written “isst”.

Hippocrates recommended: “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine your food.”

So we, in the 21st century, are not the first to discover that what we eat has an enormous effect on our state of health.

Kimchi making festival- Seoul

And yet there are nay-sayers. Alan Levinovitz wrote a book called The Gluten Lie and other myths The Gluten Lieabout what you eat. His credentials are a PhD in religion and literature from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His book is described by a reviewer with a degree in Applied Kinesiology as “an incendiary work of science journalism debunking the myths that dominate the American diet and showing readers how to stop feeling guilty and start loving their food again.”[1]

Anyone who has ever known addiction will hear the echo in those words. An alcoholic drinks because he is an alcoholic, not because alcohol is good for him, or helps him relax. A gluten addict eats gluten because it is an addictive substance, not because it makes him feel good. If our population were healthy, why would we be so concerned about not eating gluten? If gluten makes our bellies bloat and our intestines cramp up and our brains fog, why in the world would we not avoid eating it?

That is, of course, not to say that everyone should avoid gluten. Many people do just fine with it. But those who become symptomatic when they eat it are not sick in the head, or religiously fanatic. They have an intolerance that manifests sometimes in the bodies and sometimes in their thinking processes.

Other people, as Levinovitz points out, have indeed turned “gluten-free” into a fanatic obsession almost religious in its fervor. “If it’s bad for me, it must be bad for everyone.” As a reviewer of the book for the Skeptical Inquirer points out: “When [people] change their diet, they tend to eat healthier because they cook at home and eat less junk food.” She unfortunately then goes on to say: “They feel better for psychological reasons and placebo effects, confirmation bias kicks in, and they spread the word with testimonials.”[2] She apparently truly does not realize that better food leads to less illness, less dysfunction and better health. And the reviewer is a retired Family Practice doctor! No wonder so many patients are seeing alternative care practitioners.

Enough, already. If I choose not to eat gluten, that’s my business. If you choose to eat it, that’s yours. If you have a lot of GI issues and still you choose to eat gluten, I can advise you to go without it for a while and see if you feel better. But I certainly cannot force you to go gluten free. We each have our own choices to make.

Now, getting back to the reason that I wrote this post in the first place…

We have been proponents of probiotic supplementation for many years. We know that when people take probiotics and eat fermented foods, they very often feel much better.

People have eaten yogurt since at least the time of Abraham. According to Persian tradition, Abraham owed his long life and procreative abilities to the ingestion of yogurt.[3]

One article published in 2006 says: “there is now strong evidence for their use in treating and preventing some human diseases”.[4] There is also evidence that different strains of probiotics have different effects on the immune system.[5] Different species help to regulate pro- and anti-inflammatory proteins (cytokines) and Natural Killer cell balance and numbers.

A website from the University of California at Berkeley talks about the business of probiotics, Berkeley Wellnessprojected global sales at $42 billion by 2016. The website discussed some of the evidence for the beneficial effects of probiotics, and also mentions the effect of different strains on different functions.

Their conclusion: “Bottom line: Probiotics are a promising field of research and may one day be used to treat or help prevent many disorders. But there’s not enough solid evidence to recommend their widespread use.”

What an unfortunate conclusion. The literature is full of articles about the benefits of particular strains of intestinal bacteria.

One species of Lactobacillus plantarum enhances the anticancer effect of Kimchi on colorectal cancer in mice.[6] Another species of Lactobacillus plantarum A7 protects against chemotherapy-induced toxicities to the DNA.[7]

One supplement company even has a strain of probiotics formulated specifically to treat gum disease, S salivarius DDS-18 (also known as DSM 14685).[8]

If probiotics are potentially beneficial, and not harmful, what is the rationale for not recommending their use, in this age when over 50% of our population is overweight or downright obese,[9] and one in six children are diagnosed with a mental illness?[10],[11]

We recommend probiotics and fermented foods to all our patients, as part of their healthy food intake program. We don’t call it a “diet” because that means you can go off it. We call it a “lifestyle choice” because that means they are choosing to get and stay healthy.

What are good natural sources of probiotics, if you choose not to take supplements?

Excellent sources: Fermented foods, including yogurt (if you tolerate dairy products), coconut Sauerkrautyogurt, sauerkraut (from the dairy case or homemade, not canned because the heat kills the probiotics), Kimchee (if you like very spicy), Natto (if you don’t like spicy so much), any naturally fermented vegetables.

Good (or at least potentially good) sources: commercially prepared probiotics (assuming that they are GMP certified[12]). Source is important. Some veterinary and human probiotic products have been found to mis-state their contents on the labels.[13],[14] Buy from reputable companies, buy products that have the GMP or NSF registration on their labels.

Poor sources: anything canned, commercially pickled vegetables (they are tasty, but not fermented, they are treated with vinegar and alum to keep them crisp). Do not expect to be getting your probiotics from anything canned or cooked.

[3] Van de Water J, Keen CL, Gershwin ME. The influence of chronic yogurt consumption on immunity. J Nutr. 1999 Jul;129(7 Suppl):1492S-5S.

[4] - Boyle RJ1, Robins-Browne RM, Tang ML. Probiotic use in clinical practice: what are the risks? Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;83(6):1256-64.

[5] Dong H, Rowland I, Yaqoob P. Comparative effects of six probiotic strains on immune function in vitro. Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108(3):459-70. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511005824.

[6] Lee HA, Kim H, Lee KW, Park KY. Dietary Nanosized Lactobacillus plantarum Enhances the Anticancer Effect of Kimchi on Azoxymethane and Dextran Sulfate Sodium-Induced Colon Cancer in C57BL/6J Mice. J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol. 2016;35(2):147-59. doi: 10.1615/JEnvironPatholToxicolOncol.2016015633.

[7] Sepahi S, Jafarian-Dehkordi A, Mirlohi M, Shirani K, Etebari M. Protective role of Lactobacillus plantarum A7 against irinotecan-induced genotoxicity. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2016 May-Jun;6(3):329-35.