In our culture of dieting, we tend to think of nutrition in fairly narrow terms. In many cases, nutrition has been relegated to how much food will help or hurt you in a quest to gain or lose weight. However, we know that nutrition is much more than a weight loss journey, though that can be a part of the equation.
Food is such a critical part of how our bodies function each and every day. It's how our bodies receive information on how to operate properly. The right nutrients equal balance, optimal health, and reduced risk of disease. Poor nutrition leads to weight gain, increased risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
So how does the food we eat really impact health? Here's what you need to know.
6 Ways What You Eat Impacts Health
1) Diet contributes to cancer risk.
Studies have linked diet to cancer risk. In general, science points to the fact that in general, less than 30% of one's lifetime cancer risk comes from uncontrollable factors. The rest of your risk comes from things you can control, including your diet. What you eat can either help or hurt your risk of developing different types of cancer.
So what helps? Antioxidants are valuable as they because they neutralize free radicals in the body, which cause cell damage. Great sources of antioxidants include blueberries, green tea, and dark leafy greens. A high intake of calcium has also been linked to reduced cancer risk.
What hurts? Processed foods, red meats, and food with a high Glycemic Index (GI). High-GI carbs turn to sugar quickly in the blood and have been linked to high increases in cancer risks.
2) Salty food raises blood pressure.
I think almost all of us know that salty foods will raise your blood pressure. High sodium content in your diet, over time, can lead to heart disease and stroke, not to mention kidney stones. Most Americans have a problem with the overconsumption of sodium thanks to fast foods, snack foods, lunch meats, chicken, pizza, and bread, not to mention the presence of a salt shaker on our tables that leads to added sodium.
3) Fiber reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Fiber-rich diets are not only beneficial for weight maintenance, but they've been shown to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. Fiber has specifically been shown to aid in the prevention of colorectal cancer. Besides fiber's benefits in preventing cancer, it can also lower your chances of heart disease. Whole grains lower your blood cholesterol levels. Dietary fiber is also known to lower other risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, such as improving insulin resistance.
4) Diet impacts brain health.
I think we all can recognize that food affects our mood. I know that when I eat poorly, it affects me mentally. It's not just because I feel bad or guilty, either. The brain is an organ just like any other. It is affected by your nutritional habits just like your heart, your liver, your bones, and your kidneys. Every part of you is affected by diet! Studies show that mood and mental health can be impacted by the quality of your diet.
Mood disorders, such as depression, are more likely to emerge when a diet is high in refined sugars. The inclusion of probiotics, on the other hand, is known to greatly improve anxiety levels, how one responds to stress, and overall outlook on life.
5) The right foods sustain your energy levels.
As an endurance runner, I am especially concerned with food and nutrition as it relates to energy. Good nutrition is good energy. Poor nutrition leaves us lethargic and sluggish. What we eat can also affect our quality of sleep, which in turn impacts our energy levels and health. A balanced diet that focuses on fresh, high-quality foods, whole grains and fiber, leafy green vegetables and, if eating meat, lean meats, and healthy fats, are going to provide you with more energy than a diet that involves sugars and processed foods.
6) Vitamins and minerals promote bone health.
As we age, bone strength deteriorates. From our teeth to our tibias, a focus on nutrition that strengthens bone density is key to avoiding injury as we age and a need for expensive hip and knee replacements in our sunset years. Arthritis and osteoporosis too can be painful, not to mention dental issues. Vitamin D and calcium are critical in maintaining bone tissue. Getting the right nutrients reduces your risk for bone and joint-related diseases.
Ultimately, no matter what your fitness or weight loss goals are, remember that nutrition supports your body as a whole. Organ function, mood, and long-term health are all impacted.
What you put on your plate matters. Have you noticed yourself feeling different based on what's in your diet? Tell me about it in the comments.