Menu

Shakespearean Wisdom

Just as the right mixture of fuel and air is needed for proper reciprocating engine performance, the right mixture of food is required for ideal human performance. Our appetite is driven by messages delivered by nerve and hormone signals, telling us we are hungry, together with a complex set of beliefs that drive behaviors. But personal tastes, bred by habits and ingrained beliefs, can lead to ingesting the wrong fuel, and as the POH for humans is constantly being re-written, we have to repeatedly determine what is the right mixture?

Above a doorway at the 600-year-old Lygon Arms Hotel in Broadway, England, the following inscription can be clearly seen: “Now good digestion wait on appetite and health on both.” A quote from Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 4), a modern translation would state that in order to be able to digest one’s food, a good appetite is needed, and both appetite and efficient digestion are necessary for good health. Just as the right mixture of fuel and air is needed for proper reciprocating engine performance, the right mixture of food is required for ideal human performance. Our appetite is driven by messages delivered by nerve and hormone signals telling us we are hungry, together with a complex set of beliefs that drive behaviors. But personal tastes, bred by habits and ingrained beliefs, can lead to ingesting the wrong fuel, and as the POH for humans is constantly being rewritten, we have to repeatedly determine what is the right mixture?

First, let’s deal with the personal taste issue. I recently had breakfast with a friend and ordered a spinach and feta cheese omelet. My pal grimaced at the mention of the green stuff and told me he could not eat it because it made his teeth “feel funny.” This is not an atypical sensation, caused by oxalic acid leaching out of the leaf, coating the teeth and creating a gritty or furry sensation. Other vegetables such as kale, beetroot, and rhubarb do this, and sometimes even chocolate. An early, unpleasant experience with spinach – or any other healthy food – conditions people to avoid that item, whereas believing the humble spinach leaf can cause bulging biceps might inspire one to wolf it down. Eating habits forged in childhood stay with us for life, so ensuring that we teach our children well is key; an expression in pediatrics is that most issues with babies feeding is more about battles than bottles. So, first give some thought about foods you don’t “like” and question where that belief came from – it may be the result of a bad experience that is preventing you from enjoying a food that could also be good for you.

The reason people consume unhealthy foods again and again is straightforward; they are made to appeal and to be addictive. The “mouth feel” of fatty foods, married to sugar and saltiness, is a surefire way to drive desire to eat. And eat. And eat. Think French fries from a fast food place; addictive, right? And really bad for you. If you want to see this writ large, watch Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, Supersize Me, where, under medical supervision, Mr. Spurlock eats a diet of fast food for several weeks with serious negative effects documented. So maybe think about what is in your food! One way to avoid these traps is to commit to eating less packaged, prepared, or fast food and, just as squirrels store food for the winter, build up a collection of snacking foods that will not lead to an early demise. In a prior article I recommended foods to take on board your aircraft to snack on such as almonds, celery, and peanut butter (assuming you are not allergic to nuts!). Some people say one burns more calories eating celery than are in the stalk, but that is probably a stretch! However, celery apparently has other benefits, besides being a low-calorie snack food – it may have the capacity to increase attraction to the opposite sex, so get crunching!

I have also written in the past about fad diets and how the sensible approach, in my opinion, is to do everything in moderation – including moderation – and increase exercise levels. However, the ketogenic diet is getting a lot of attention lately so merits a mention. This approach forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates and is achieved by cutting down on carbs, along with eating adequate protein and more healthy fat. While this may work to improve health and reduce weight, I have heard many claims for the diet including that it stops one snoring, although this is probably a result of weight loss. If your new year’s resolution includes losing weight, please consult your doctor to ascertain what approach is right for you.

One would have to be living in a bubble to be unaware of the microbiome, the community of bugs that live on and inside our body. There has been increasing awareness that these organisms may play a much more significant role in human health and disease. However, the interaction between us and the bugs inside is rather more complex than pilot and passenger. In the aviation world the passenger’s role is clearly defined; sit still, buckle up, and don’t not touch the controls! Given how complicated our biology is, it would be an error to reduce it to a marketing slogan, but sadly that horse has already left the barn. Just google “microbiome” and you will see a plethora of products promising to improve your microbiome. What does that even mean? Just as with anything you put in your body, do your research – some of these products have no proven benefit.

Just as the “food pyramid” has matured and changed over time with increasing knowledge, we are closer to understanding the complex interchange between diet, our body, and the bacteria in rows 1 through 20, including the exit rows! Making assumptions based on little scientific evidence is almost certainly without value and might even prove harmful. So, base your eating decisions on what is known and what pleases you. Hippocrates had it right: “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”

A very happy and healthy 2019 to all our members – eat well and fly well! 

Jonathan Sackier

Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

Related Articles

CLICK IMAGE FOR A LARGER VIEW

Join AOPA and protect your certificates with Pilot Protection Services Legal and Medical Coverage