What Are the Health Benefits of Eating Right?

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Benefits of Healthy Eating

The old adage "You are what you eat" holds some weight, because balanced nutrition does help define your physical health. In fact, a proper nutritional strategy even has an astounding effect on mental health, specifically anxiety. Harvard Medical School reports that 18 percent of the population in the United States suffers from some form of anxiety disorder. It may take more than just good eating habits to reign in the fear, but it is certainly a key factor in an overall plan to manage it.

A focus on healthy eating does more than control your moods, though. Proper nutrition is relevant in the fight against most chronic diseases, including:

  • Diabetes.
  • Hypertension.
  • Heart disease.
  • Osteoarthritis.

Our culture's relationship with food is certainly at the heart of the escalating obesity trend, as well. So what should you do? Education is a priceless weapon when it comes to most health-related concepts, and this is true with nutrition, too. Finding out the hows and whys of healthily eating is a game changer for those looking to improve both their physical and emotional health.

The story of macronutrients

Any discussion of nutrition has to begin here. Washington State University defines macronutrients as must-have nutrients that the body needs in large amounts. They include three groups:

  • Carbohydrates.
  • Proteins.
  • Fats.

Carbohydrates serve as fuel, and it's recommended that they make up about 60 percent of a healthy diet. Protein is building material for the body, and you need an average of .45 to .68 grams per pound of body weight. Fat, as you might suspect, is about insulation. It works to protect your delicate organs from trauma. Not all fat is equal, though. Fill about 20 to 35 percent of your diet with healthy fat choices such as olive oil.

A health-conscious diet also consists of micronutrients or essential vitamins and nutrients. Micronutrients offer a variety of benefits, but one of the most critical is their antioxidant function. Oxidative stress is the source of many disease processes and conditions, including aging. Antioxidants such as vitamin C target oxidative stress to keep it from causing damage.

What constitutes a healthy diet?

There are a lot of fad diets out there that promise weight loss, but many of them are not based on good nutritional values. Diets that completely cut out carbohydrates, for example, drain energy levels, making them unsustainable. A truly healthy diet includes the right blend of macronutrients along with a good dose of beneficial micronutrients.

A fit diet should consist of a variety of food choices, including:

  • Fruits.
  • Vegetables.
  • Whole grains.
  • Low-fat dairy.
  • Lean protein.

The right diet plan should also take into consideration your individual health risks. For example, a person with high cholesterol might follow a different path than someone with diabetes.

The vegan lifestyle

One practical choice that people are choosing these days is the vegan lifestyle, in other words, a diet completely devoid of animal products. It is a challenge to sustain, but not a bad choice, especially for those looking to lose weight and eat less fat. Even just deciding to cut out meat or eat less animal protein is a step in the right direction. Plant protein from nuts, seeds and legumes can effectively fill that void. When you do eat meat, stick to lean choices and keep the portions small.

A better option might be the "flexitarian" lifestyle – in other words, mostly vegetarian with the occasional animal protein thrown in for good measure. It is a practical choice for lowering calories and fat while increasing the micronutrients that help fight disease and keep you strong.

The mental health benefits of healthy eating

Dietary changes improve mental health, as well, especially for those suffering from anxiety issues. Not only do certain kinds of foods stimulate anxiety, there are foods out there that help quell it. There is also a direct connection between mood and your gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to the feeling of wellness and happiness. The majority of the receptors for this very special biochemical are found in the gastrointestinal tract.

What constitutes an anxiety-relieving diet, though? First, look to eliminate triggers such as alcohol and caffeine.

Next, add some better choices to your diet to help quell anxiety, such as:

  • Magnesium, found in leafy greens, legumes, nuts and whole grains.
  • Omega 3-fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon and tuna.
  • B-vitamin foods such as avocados or almonds.
  • Zinc from cashew, beef and egg yolks.

Focusing on foods rich in antioxidants will not only help prevent disease but reduce anxiety levels, too, according to one study.

Overall, you'll find that paying attention to what you eat comes with both physical and mental health benefits. The truth is you just feel better when you are not loaded down with a lot of empty calories and high-fat foods. Combined with regular exercise, a healthy diet strategy is your best defense against disease. 

If you're interested in learning more about nutrition and it's affects on the body, consider The China Study, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health available on Audible from Amazon.

By PhD T. Colin Campbell, MD Thomas M. Campbell II