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Health & Wellness

How Focusing on the Foods You Eat Can Improve Your Health

We spend so much of our lives in a rush these days, it can be easy to fall into the habit of drinking caffeinated beverages to stay up later, and eating fast food because it's more convenient than cooking at home. We'll cover up tiredness with makeup, and cope with stress using our favorite vice - whether that's chocolate, alcohol, nicotine, or something else entirely. This works, for a while. Eventually, though, such a lifestyle will catch up with us. If we want to keep a busy lifestyle for a long time then we need to focus on looking after ourselves, and that means getting regular exercise and eating right.

woman pouring a smoothie


Your Diet Matters


We are lucky to live in a time when food is abundant. Sadly, the type of food that is widely available now is not particularly nutritious. According to recent research done by the US government, around three-quarters of American citizens have a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables 1 , and too high in sugars and salts. To help combat this, the government has published a lot of free of charge information about what people should be eating based on their age, gender, and general health. 2

Building Lifelong Habits


A lot of people, especially those who struggle with their weight, are resistant to the idea of 'going on a diet' because the phrase is such a loaded one. It makes people think of restrictive, boring eating regimens, being hungry all the time and suffering until you reach a certain weight, at which point you go back to your old habits, potentially regain the weight that you have lost, and start the process all over again.

Really, healthy eating isn't about going on a diet, it's about making changes that will last you for a lifetime. It's far more productive to think about improving what you eat to improve your complexion, give yourself better skin and hair, have better energy levels, and get fewer colds than it is to just focus on the scale. A healthy diet can improve your health in numerous ways.

measuring tape wrapped around fork


Diets and Disease


Research has found that there are numerous health conditions that can be made worse through poor nutrition, or even caused by it, and that good nutrition can help to fight off certain diseases too. Heart disease, strokes, and Type 2 diabetes are all closely related to diet. 3 There are some chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis, which can be affected by long-term dietary choices as well. 4

What Makes a Healthy Diet


A healthy diet is one that includes a wide range of foods to ensure that you get all the macro- and micro-nutrients that you need. This means:

- Meat, dairy, or pulses for proteins

- Healthy fats from fish or plant sources

- Complex carbohydrates from whole grains

- Fruit and vegetables for micronutrients

- Fiber from vegetables, fruits, and grains

Some governments publish rough guidelines for the amount of calories that people should consume. For example, the UK government recommends that adult women consume around 2,000 calories, and adult men should consume around 2,500 calories per day. 5 These guidelines are just approximations though, and it is entirely possible that a short, sedentary person would need far less, while a tall athlete would need more food each day.

If you follow a diet that is in line with government recommendations, then you should find that you feel full on less food and that you don't have to worry so much about eating "too much" or "enough".

Complex carbohydrates and fibrous foods fill you up quite quickly and keep you full for longer. Fruits are sweet and flavorful, but should not spike your blood sugar in the same way that candy does. It is thought that this is something to do with the glycemic index of fruits, and the way that the sugars break down in the body, prompting the insulin, leptin and grehlin responses at a different rate compared to cane sugars. 6

protein

Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. While meats and fish are the most convenient sources of protein, vegetarians can get a lot from dairy products, and vegans can get protein from plants, although they need to be mindful of their diet to ensure that they are getting all of the amino acids that they need to replace an equivalent plant protein source. A fully plant-based diet can be healthy, but only if the person following it is well educated in nutrition. 7

Water is also essential for human health. Most of us get a decent amount of water from food, but it can still be a good idea to drink water separately. Replacing soda, alcohol or creamy coffees with water could help to reduce your sugar intake, and help you to stay properly hydrated.

Food Makes You Feel Good


If you have gotten into the habit of eating junk food then you may not really be aware of how food makes you feel, and you may think that the way you are feeling now is "normal". If you're thinking of going on a health kick, try keeping a food diary for a while using an app such as Cronometer or MyFitnessPal. Keep track of how much you eat, and what you eat, and track your mood, how well you sleep, and how well you can concentrate too.

Many people find that cutting out sugars and fatty foods helps them to concentrate better and gives them more energy. Indeed, that's why people believe in 'detoxes' so much. There is a clear improvement in how people feel within a few days after starting such a regimen. Tracking how you feel after making changes to your day to day diet may feel silly at first, but it will help you to learn how your body responds to certain things. Some people thrive on a low carb diet. Some people find that eating sugar makes their energy crash in the afternoon. Some people need to eat complex carbs. Some people do better at sport if they eat a little extra protein each night. A big part of staying healthy is learning what makes you feel best.

Photo credits: Maridav/shutterstock.com, Melica/shutterstock.com, RimmaBondarenko/shutterstock.com

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