Healthy Nutrition is Part of Good Healthcare
Melissa Fox, MHA, FACMPE, FACHE
As the saying goes, “You are what you eat”. Nutrition is fuel for your body and mind, and it’s about much more than addressing your hunger. What you eat can make you more or less vulnerable to health conditions throughout your life, and focusing on nutrition doesn’t mean you have to give up all your favorites or follow extreme diets. Nutrition is all about being conscious about nutrition and making choices that meet your needs.
Food also impacts our emotions, habits, and social situations. We often gravitate toward our favorite foods without considering their impact on our health. Our habits become comfortable, and it’s easy to become mindless about what we put into our bodies.
Here, we’ll review the impact of an unbalanced diet and how nutritious food supports your health. We’ll close with ways to blend good nutrition with your personal health habits.
Impact of an unbalanced diet
Your body needs more than just calories to survive. It requires a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates along with vitamins and minerals. When you can’t get the nutrients you need, your mind and body suffer.
Malnutrition is a condition where a person is missing key nutrients in their diet. A deficiency in just one nutrient may be enough to cause health problems. Malnutrition can be caused by a lack of food in general or limited food choices. Illness and digestive problems can also lead to a poorly balanced diet.
Some malnutrition is temporary and reversible, but issues like poor living conditions, war, or poverty can lead to long-term malnutrition. When it persists, malnutrition can lead to chronic disease and stunted growth.
The Western diet is linked with long-term conditions like obesity, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease. The typical Western diet is high in foods that are processed, fried, starchy, and sugary. Fast food and oversized portions are hallmarks of this diet. There’s less room for whole foods like vegetables, fresh lean meat, and healthy fats.
Nutrition and inflammation
Poor nutrition is also connected with chronic inflammation. Research has linked it with autoimmune disorders and diseases of the circulatory system. Inflammation also plays a role in mental health issues. It affects conditions like depression and cognitive impairment.
Good nutrition supports better overall health
The food choices you make today shape your health for tomorrow. Over time, following a healthy diet lowers your risk of physical illness and supports mental well-being. These benefits come from being mindful of your eating habits and choosing nutritious foods.
Chronic diseases affect millions of people each year, leading to 70% of all deaths in the United States. Many of these issues can be managed or prevented with a nutritious diet. This means choosing lean meats, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. The typical American diet is often short on these foods, so eating healthier takes some planning, but the effort is well worth it. A more nutritious diet can help you avoid chronic illness and stay active throughout your life.
A healthy diet is linked with better mental wellness and lowered risk of depression. Whole foods like vegetables and fresh lean meats give your body the nutrients it needs to function well. Here are some specific ways your diet affects your mental wellness.
- Reduced inflammation – Research has shown that a nutritious diet can reduce inflammation. Some research has linked lower levels of inflammation with less risk of developing depression.
- Less cell damage – Free radicals are the leftovers from biological processes. When they build up in your body, they can cause cell damage. Antioxidants are chemicals found in many fruits and vegetables. They can limit the harm from free radicals.
- Brain plasticity – Your brain responds to change by growing new pathways. This process occurs throughout your life when you learn something new or heal from injury. The chemicals that support brain plasticity are more plentiful when a person follows a healthy diet.
How to include good nutrition into your daily routine
So is it possible to enjoy foods you love while making healthier choices? Yes, definitely. You don’t have to totally give up your favorite dessert or make a big change overnight. Here are some ways to start making change.
Take your time and start with a few easy changes
Start slow and pick some easy changes. You’ll stick with your new choices more easily when you allow yourself some adjustment time.
- Cut desserts and sugary drinks by half.
- Switch from canola oil to avocado or olive oil.
- Reduce your portions of starchy or sugary foods at each meal.
- Increase your portion of whole fruits or vegetables at each meal.
- Aim for lean meat like unbreaded chicken or fish at least once or twice a week.
Add plenty of flavor
Many people think nutritious food is boring. But by adding extra flavor, you can keep food interesting without sacrificing nutrition.
- Marinate meat before you cook it on the grill or in a skillet.
- Sprinkle herbs, spices, or even bits of strong cheese on your food.
- Make your own sauces with nutritious ingredients.
Keep a positive mindset about diet changes
Your mindset is crucial when it comes to dietary change. If you think of this adjustment as a sacrifice or a loss, you may struggle to stick with new choices. Keep some of your favorites on the list and choose the comfort foods that matter most to you.
Instead of cutting them out altogether, view them as treats to enjoy now and then over time. Leave the door open to develop some new favorites as you explore more nutritious options. Your palate will adjust as you add and reduce foods to your diet.
Nutrition Matters for Lifelong Health
Healthcare is about more than just going to the doctor when something goes wrong. It’s your overall approach to taking care of yourself across your lifespan. Good nutrition helps you prevent disease, stay energized each day, and live fully. But it also has deep connections with your mental wellness. Nutrition affects your whole self, and mindfulness can empower you to stay healthier for a lifetime.