With preventable diseases on the rise — not to mention the troubling emergence of antibiotic resistant superbugs — it’s time society as a whole took a closer look at how the food we eat affects our health. The nutrients in food provide the means for the cells in our bodies to perform their vital functions. To put it simply, food can be viewed as a source of “information” for the body. If our bodies don't get useful information, our metabolic processes suffer and our health deteriorates.
If we analyze food in this fashion, we can recognize nutrition as being more than just calories or grams, good foods or bad foods. It allows us to focus on the foods we should incorporate into our diet, rather than the foods to exclude. Food is not the enemy, and we shouldn’t view it as such. Instead we should look to food as being the means to boost our health, avoid disease, and help our bodies maintain function.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
Focus on Vitamins and Healthy Fats
If you’re looking for foods to fuel your brain, look no further than those loaded with vitamins and antioxidants.
- Routine consumption of small amounts of vitamin E can help to prevent age-related memory loss. Vitamin E can be found in: almonds, asparagus, brown rice, eggs, flaxseed, leafy green vegetables, olives, walnuts, and whole grains.
- Specific B vitamins — B6, B12 and folic acid — can reduce homocysteine levels in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are linked with an increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer's disease. B-rich foods include: chicken, eggs, fish, and leafy greens.
- Zinc plays a crucial role in regulating how neurons communicate with one another, which affects how memories are formed and how we learn. Pumpkin seeds are a fantastic source of zinc, but you can also find it in garbanzo beans, mushrooms, and spinach.
Essential fatty acids are important for brain function, the heart, joints, and overall health. Low docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease and memory loss, whereas adequate levels of both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA aids us in managing stress and manufactures serotonin. Unfortunately, essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body, which means we must get them through the foods we eat.
The best source of omega-3 fats is oily fish, where it comes in the form of both EPA and DHA. Oily fish is especially beneficials as it contains the active form of these fats, which enables the body to use it easily. Herring, kippers, mackerel, pilchards salmon, sardines, and trout are all fantastic sources of essential fatty acids. Good plant sources include flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, soya beans, and walnuts.
Taste the Rainbow
Did you know that the color of a food can signify the benefit it provides to your body? It sounds crazy, but it’s true! Certain chemicals give plants their color, smell, and flavor — and those chemicals serve to better our health in many different ways. Let’s take a closer look at this tasty rainbow:
A large number of red fruits and vegetables are absolutely brimming with powerful antioxidants, such as anthocyanins and lycopene. It’s been suggested that these antioxidants can do everything from fight heart disease and prostate cancer to decrease the risk for stroke and macular degeneration.
Red Produce to Enjoy: Beets, cherries, cranberries, grapes, grapefruit, pomegranates, radishes, raspberries, red apples, red bell peppers, red cabbage, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, and watermelon.
Orange & Yellow
Orange and yellow produce is often packed with a multitude of nutrients — vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin A, potassium, zeaxanthin, flavonoids, and lycopene. These wonderful nutrients not only help to decrease your risk of cancer and heart disease, they’re also good for your eyes and skin!
Orange and Yellow Produce to Enjoy: Apricots, butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, lemon, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papayas, pears, peaches, persimmons, pineapple, pumpkin, rutabaga, sweet corn, yellow peppers, yellow summer squash, and yellow tomatoes.
Green fruits and vegetables are an excellent sources of vitamin K, folic acid, and potassium. These nutrients can help prevent birth defects, aid in blood clot formation, lower blood pressure, and decrease the risk for colon and bladder cancers.
Green Produce to Enjoy: Arugula, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, collard greens, green beans, honeydew, kale, kiwi, leafy greens, okra, peas, and zucchini.
Blue & Purple
Blue and purple produce have many different nutrients including, lutein, zeaxanthin, resveratrol, and Vitamin C. Blueberries and other deeply colored berries deliver anthocyanins, a group of plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. All together, these fabulous fruits and veggies fight inflammation, lower LDL cholesterol, and boosts the immune system.
Blue and Purple Produce to Enjoy: Blackberries, black currants, blueberries, concord grapes, currants, eggplant, prunes, purple purple cabbage, figs, and raisins.
Pick Whole Foods for Whole Health
Whole foods are foods eaten in their natural state rather than what might remain after refinement and processing. For example, it's the difference between an apple and apple juice. When you eat whole foods, you're getting them intact, with all of the nutrients still present. These vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fibers work to keep your immune system strong and protect you from disease.
During the manufacturing of processed foods, many healthy nutrients are removed. Then, during the enrichment process, nutrients are reintroduced in the form of supplements. Unfortunately, even with these supplements, the final product is likely to be less nutritious than the whole food you started with.
In our culture of convenience, cutting out all processed foods is no easy feat. The good news is that you don't have to. Your goal instead should be to decrease the number of processed foods you eat and increase the proportion of whole foods. When you’re snacking or preparing meals, reach for nutrient-rich, colorful, whole foods as often as you possibly can. Your body will thank you for it.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter@LizVGreene.