Nutrition is a key factor in allowing us to live a long, healthy life, but how exactly does nutrition impact our health?
Proper nourishment starts with the right kinds of foods for your body. Healthy food choices that fit what you need mean they provide the right level of calories for your activity level, vitamins and minerals to help your body function at its best, and do not cause any digestive issues, allergies, or inflammation.
Good nutrition has many incredible benefits:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Boosting immunity
- Improving mental health
- Lowering the risk of chronic health problems (such as diabetes and heart disease)
- Lengthening lifespan
But oftentimes, understanding nutrition and nutrition science can be difficult and even confusing. One day a food is “bad” for you, the next day it’s “good.” Shifting your understanding of nutrition from simply good and bad to whether it supports your unique overall health is how you can begin to harness the power of nutrition, feel empowered to make informed decisions, and actually enjoy yourself along the way!
What is Nutrition?
Nutrition is the process by which our bodies use the nutrients from the foods we eat to function properly. Nutrients are compounds found in foods that supply energy for growth, repair, and many other internal processes. From hormonal balance to digestion to the strength of our hair, skin, and nails, and everything in between, nutrients play a key role in supporting our health.
Macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, fats and micronutrients like calcium, iron, and minerals, all contribute to a healthy body in different ways. For instance, getting enough sodium can help to prevent high blood pressure. Iron, as another example, helps with energy, muscle, and brain function – to name a few.
How Nutrition Affects Physical Health
Just like making healthy food and lifestyle choices can be healing, making unhealthy food and lifestyle choices - especially over a long period of time - can wreak havoc on your well-being.
When it comes to the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle, the positive outcomes are many! Consuming a variety of whole foods has been shown to prevent chronic disease, stave off infection, and support your immune system.
Specifically regarding your immune system, to help your body fight off pathogens, you can eat these immune boosters: apples to regulate your system, onions to help detox your body, garlic to help fight infections, naturally fermented products for better digestion, and water to support every process these foods support.
On the other hand, when you eat a diet that lacks the quality or diversity of nutrients your body needs, it can cause serious health problems including heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, cancer, and more.
How Nutrition Affects Mental Health
Nutrition has an immense impact on our mental health and brain function. In fact, poor nutrition is directly linked to diagnoses of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and depression.
Doctors have been paying attention to the connection between diet and mental health for years.
The good news is many nutrients – such as omega-3s, B vitamins, and Magnesium can all support mental health. Each of these nutrients contributes to healthier gut bacteria, which in turn produces the proper amount of “feel good” hormones like serotonin.
Omega-3 fatty acids are easy for the body to absorb. Their anti-inflammatory properties have many benefits for our mental health by helping to alleviate depression and some mood disorders. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon and cod, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed.
There are several types of B vitamins, and studies have shown how deficiencies in B vitamins are linked to mental health conditions. Adding supplementation of deficient nutrients can minimize symptoms of anxiety, feelings of anger, and assist in antidepressant response. Or, you can increase your consumption of vitamin B with whole foods such as eggs, legumes, seafood, poultry, legumes, seeds, and leafy greens.
Last but not least, magnesium is responsible for cell formation in the body and plays a critical role in mood, brain function, and the nervous system. This study shows how a deficiency in magnesium can disturb gut health, thus causing problems like increasing the risk of depressive symptoms. You’ll always want to have ready Magnesium-rich goods such as oats, pumpkin seeds, and spinach.
Key Nutrients for Optimal Health
The nutrients your body needs for optimal health are:
Vitamins are micronutrients, and they affect our immune system, preventing cancer, strengthening teeth and bones, aiding brain and nervous system function. Vitamins can be found in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Minerals help the body maintain healthy skin, nails, bones, teeth, blood, and your immune system. Minerals can be found in lean cuts of red meat, seafood, dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. In moderation, salt can also be a source of some trace minerals you need!
Proteins allow the body to carry out its functions, like managing hormone levels or the development of muscle, skin, bones, and hair. Foods that contain protein are lean cuts of meat, seafood, beans, legumes, eggs, dairy products, soy, and some grains. It is also worth looking into protein powders that can give you the protein you need.
Fats support the body in many ways: blood health, preventing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, balancing blood sugar levels, brain function, and absorption of other nutrients. Fats are found in nuts, fish, and seeds.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. While a lot of false messaging out there will tell you that “carbs are bad,” eating complex carbohydrates helps keep the immune system, nervous system, and brain health. Complex carbohydrates are found in quinoa, brown rice, vegetables, oatmeal, and fruit.
With such a variety of key nutrients, it becomes possible to optimize your health while also enjoying the different foods.
Making Healthy Dietary Choices
At the end of the day, eating a balanced diet will likely give you all the nutrients your body needs.
Some tips for making healthy choices include:
- Planning meals and grocery runs in advance. This allows you to focus on shopping for nutrient-dense foods.
- Shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store is a good rule of thumb to find whole, nutrient dense foods. Highly processed foods are typically found within the isles of the grocery store.
- Following the 80/20 rule: consuming nutrient-dense foods as 80% of your diet and “fun” foods for the remaining 20%.
- Reducing consumption of highly processed foods, like sugary drinks, soda, fast food, candies, chips, baked goods, and some sauces and dressings.
- Cooking and baking at home. This allows you to know what your food is made of.
- Reducing processed sugar intake and making swaps for healthier natural sweeteners like honey, dates, fruit puree (such as applesauce), and natural maple syrup.
- Having a nutrition buddy. Encourage your family and friends to implement healthy nutrition in their allows makes it easier for you to be consistent with long-term health goals, together.
Power Your Health with Nutrition!
The connection between nutrition and your health is powerful. As a start, learning about how to eat properly will improve not only your wellness, but your overall lifestyle as well. You can get started by understanding more about how your nutrition relates to your current well-being, the right kind of nutrition for your body and mind, key nutrients to add to your meals, and making dietary decisions that are simple yet healthy.
Take your interest in nutritious lifestyle practices to the next level by enrolling in courses on nutrition such as The Health Coach Training Program™, Nutrition for Life, or Whole Person Health. Discover why nutrition opens up many doors for you to explore how to personalize your approach to your entire well-being.
You have the ability to make positive changes to your diet for optimal health. Start with one step at a time and notice that how you look and feel will begin to change! Nutrition is essential to becoming your very best self, inside and out.