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  • Writer's pictureDr. Megan Choy

Why Do We Eat?

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

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A long time ago, when humans still had to hunt and gather for their food, I would say humans ate for survival, it was a simple need for calories and nutrients. Today, while it is technically true that we eat for survival, it’s more complicated than that. Today I say we eat for calories and nutrients, but we also eat for enjoyment.

Calories are how your body gets energy from food. Specific parts of the food are converted to ATP, which is the energy source of every function of every cell in the body. Unlike for our ancestors, calories are readily available to most of us today. As a result, it is rarely a challenge to get enough calories, but rather many people are getting too many calories while not getting enough nutrients.

To talk about nutrients, we have to break things down into a few categories. There are macronutrients and micronutrients. The macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbohydrates and fats are pretty much just calories. Protein is different. Protein can be used as calories in the body, but protein also get used to build muscles, organs, hormones and antibodies. So a certain amount of the protein you eat has other important uses besides calories.

Your micronutrients are the Vitamins — A, C, D, E, K and all the different B vitamins. Micronutrients are also the minerals like calcium, magnesium, iodine, potassium, iron, zinc. These are nutrients that the body needs. Mostly they are used to drive different chemical reactions in the body, reactions that are an integral part of life. In most cases, the body cannot synthesize micronutrients on its own, but relies on regular consumption of them.

Finally, and this is important, we eat for enjoyment. That includes enjoyment of the tastes and flavors of different foods. It includes the feeling of satiety. And it includes for the community aspect of meals with family and friends.

While I could make a case that only calories and nutrients MUST be met to be healthy, I actually feel that all three aspects must be considered. Yes, we need to optimize our caloric intake to be healthy — getting neither too few nor too many calories. And of course, we need protein and micronutrients for our bodies to function. But I think we also need the enjoyment and satisfaction that come from a good meal, and at least on occasion we need the connection that comes from sharing that meal with other people.

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