Good nutrition - the difference between surviving and thriving
Our bodies are incredibly complex and amazing organisms that need lots of different nutrients to thrive. We could live eating only fast food, processed food, and junk food but sooner or later the inadequate fuel we’re putting in our ‘engines’ will cause a breakdown. One of the main causes of chronic disease is poor nutrition.
Not feeding our bodies the proper nutrients can cause:
Bleeding, horribly irritated gums
A smelly breath (our mouths are one of the first places signs of poor nutrition can show up and no-one wants stinky breath!)
Constipation, diarrhoea, excessive or foul-smelling farts
Feeling knackered, or having hardly any energy
Mental health issues like depression, irritability, low mood, and anxiety
Dry, brittle hair that’s prone to breaking
Changes to our skin and nails
Memory loss and declined brain function
Impaired immune response
Easy bruising and slow healing
This list might sound scary but making small changes can have a hugely beneficial impact on our health. Let’s dive deeper into just some of the wondrous ways good nutrition can make a difference.
Good nutrition supports us in lots of ways:
Strong immune system Daily, we are exposed to potentially harmful germs of all kinds. Our immune system is an incredible network of intricate stages and pathways designed to protect us from nasty viruses, parasites, and harmful bacteria. From the enzymes in our tears and sweat that help create antibacterial compounds to our stomach acid that destroys pathogens, nutrition plays a huge role in supporting our immune systems and enabling our bodies to be better prepared for possible illness or infections. Nutrients like vitamins A, C, D, E and iron, selenium, and zinc, amongst others, can contribute to a powerful, thriving, and healthy immune system. Vegetables, fruit, fish, eggs, beans, and other foods can support our immune systems to be shining beacons of health. Improved cognition AKA brainpower! Healthy foods feed our minds, helping us to remember information, concentrate, learn new things, and perceive the world around us. Amino acids in proteins, such as meat and tofu support our bodies in producing neurotransmitters (brain signalling chemicals) and Omega 3 Fatty Acids, found in nuts, fish, and seafood are used to create the membranes and walls of our brain cells. These are just some of the nutrients we need to keep our noggins in tip-top condition. As we age, brain health can become a concern. We are just starting to understand the role of nutrition in cognitive health, but research has shown that a healthy diet can help prevent mental decline and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Food and mood - supporting our mental health There’s a reason why when our mood is low we might be tempted by “comfort foods” that are high in carbohydrates, sugar, or fat. They give us an instant energy boost when we’re feeling tired and can make us feel better, but it’s only a temporary fix. It’s a little bit like chicken and egg, using food in this way can lead to anxiety, irritability, and hunger but when we’re feeling low it can be easier reaching for foods that are convenient rather than nutritious ones. Extensive studies tell us that healthier diets can protect against depression. A 2017 study found that a Mediterranean-style diet (a diet high in fresh vegetables, fruits, pulses, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil) supplemented with fish oil led to a reduction in depression among participants, which was impressively sustained six months after the intervention.  Better digestive health One explanation for how our food can positively affect our mental wellbeing is the impact of nutrition on our guts – which is home to an internal metropolis of trillions of microscopic organisms. In an area of intense and active research, scientists are finding that the bacteria in our gut can play a key role in how well our immune system functions and whether we experience low mood or not. Diet determines the diversity, abundance, and functionality of our gut bacteria. ‘Roughage’ or dietary fibre found in foods such as oat bran, lentils, vegetables, chia, and flaxseeds can support our digestive health and bulk up our poo, preventing problems like constipation and diarrhoea. Read Fibre, Poo, and Living Longer. And we’ve saved the best till last… Living longer Diseases aren’t always preventable or always caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, however, we can potentially reduce our risk of many deadly diseases by making changes to our diet. Research suggests that we don’t need to drastically overhaul our entire diet to benefit. The good news is that adding in any amount of healthy foods can help us to live longer! A final thought: Most of us know we should eat less fried food, less sugar, and more vegetables and fruits but when it comes to proper nutrition many of us don’t understand the full picture. Read Healthy Eating Habits for more information on what good nutrition looks like and what small steps we can take today to start using food as a way to feel better, think clearer, and potentially live longer.
References: 1. A Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression: A randomised controlled trial (2017). Nutritional Neuroscience, pp.1-14.