Well-meaning adults and parents will often cite the common saying, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away," but, why exactly is that and why should it even matter? To answer these questions: it's all about nutrition. Defined by the dictionary as "the process by which a living organism assimilates food and uses it for growth and for replacement of tissues," nutrition and what we put in our body makes up nearly the entirety of our well-being in the grand scheme of life.
However, many people don't know the right steps to creating a balanced diet or how what you put in your body truly impacts your life. If you fit into this category of people, don't worry, because this article will discuss the downsides of improper nutrition, how a proper diet is beneficial, and where to get started!
Effects of an Unhealthy Diet
Let's begin with the negative effects of disregarding proper nutrition. Keep in mind that all of these repercussions are completely preventable, however, our short-term desire for unhealthy foods (regardless of how good they may taste) is what keeps us hooked without wanting to improve our nutritional well-being.
Risk of Chronic Disease Development
The risk of developing health conditions and diseases increases drastically when eating an unhealthy diet from a young age. These diseases include cancer, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and diminished bone strength, as stated by health.gov. In fact, did you know that nearly one-half of all American adults have at least one avoidable chronic disease? Adding on, over the past 25 years, obesity rates in children and adults have constantly climbed upwards, indicating the devaluation of a healthy diet in daily life.
Reduced Brain Function
To truly see why it is never too early to start caring about what you put in your body, look no further than the effects of an improper diet on newborn babies and pregnant mothers. As reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, major iron deficiencies in the diets of expecting mothers and children two years of age or younger can both negatively affect the child. Behavioral and mental growth can be delayed if nutrients and minerals like iron as well as iodine levels are not as high as they should be. Eating iron-dense foods is common in the diet of a nutritionally responsible person, but not everyone can be deemed worthy of this title.
More Stress and Tiredness
The worst short-term feeling I experienced was when I was overcome with anxiety and the lack of motivation to work. However, I quickly put an end to these feelings by deciding that starting with a couple days at a time, I would eat all the healthy foods I loved to eat. To my surprise, this small fix made a huge difference and resulted in more motivation and willpower to achieve my goals. I now continue these healthy eating habits long-term and stress has had no place in my mind for the longest of times! Scientifically speaking, boosting your intake of omega-3 fats (found in fish), iron (spinach and red meat), and protein (lean meat and nuts) are a few ways in which the body can overcome fatigue throughout the day, as stated in an article by Comfort Keepers.
Benefits of Proper Nutrition
There are a multitude of reasons as to why proper nutrition is important and should matter to you, however the overarching message is this: nutrition is one of the most important aspects of life to maintain proper health and growth. In fact, a proper diet, consistent physical activity, and sufficient sleep have been noted as the three most crucial healthy habits to sustaining a balanced lifestyle, according to Mountain View Hospital. Along with a reduced disease development risk, less stress, and improved brain function, as discussed above, here are additional benefits of following a healthy diet.
Effects of Eating Healthy from a Young Age
So, why is it never too early to care about nutrition? Well, neurological patterns are locked into place in the brains of children as they grow. If healthy eating and a balanced diet are consistent in their daily routine, they will transfer over into their adult lives. Thus, the neurological pattern of eating nutritious meals will become a staple in a child's mindset over the years. Additionally, the body undergoes the most rapid growth during adolescent years, so providing the body with the most beneficial nutrients will serve as a long-term positive effect.
Better Cognitive Function
Specifically pertaining to the "most important meal of the day," eating a healthy breakfast every morning is proven to improve cognitive function throughout the day. Included in this is an improved memory and self-esteem, according to the CDC. What better way to kickstart your day than with a healthy meal to keep your energy up and fill you with liveliness?
Greater Muscle Growth
Anyone that has proper gym training experience can tell you that working out is only a half of the equation when it comes to building muscle. The other half is a nutrient-dense diet consisting of a nourishing amount of protein, carbs, and essential fats.
As stated by Verywell Fit, an adequate daily protein intake provides the body with the right amount of amino acids to build muscle tissue. A wealthy amount of carbohydrates provides the body energy to refuel with glycogen and is key for reducing post-workout exhaustion. Lastly, healthy fats give the body most of its energy while at rest, boost vitamin metabolism, and sustain high testosterone levels; thus, all three are essential for muscle growth.
A Lively Attitude!
As previously mentioned, self-esteem can be bolstered by a nutritious diet, but the mood-related benefits don't stop there. In fact, Verywell Fit describes a 2016 study that found that foods with high glycemic loads, such as sodas, cakes, and sweets induced symptoms of depression and exhaustion much more than foods with low glycemic loads, such as vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. From this study, we can see that an unhealthy diet truly has the chance of intensifying depressive symptoms. To do your best to counteract this, incorporate a well-balanced diet for a a step in the right direction.
How to Get Started
After seeing all the positives and negatives of maintaining a nutritious diet, it is easy to psych yourself out and worry about exactly how much protein you should eat in a day or precisely how much unhealthy fat to cut down from your diet. When starting off, counting macros should not be the goal. Rather, aim to simply reduce the bad and increase the good. Here's a step-by-step layout of how to get started on your nutrition journey:
- When filling your plate, make sure to have an adequate amount of fruits and veggies, filling up about half the plate.
- Add a portion of lean protein to fill up a quarter of your plate, such as lean chicken, pork, and beef. If vegetarian, try eggs, tofu, beans and nuts. Quinoa and lentils are great vegan options as well.
- The last quarter of the plate should consist of grains. Whole-grain and whole-wheat foods are key since they have more nutritional benefits such as additional fiber. These can be whole-grain breads, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta, for example.
- If you choose to have dairy, incorporate a glass of fat-free milk or low-fat milk into some of your meals to provide a quality amount of calcium for the body. Fat-free and low-fat milk also do not contain as many calories as whole milk. Adequate vegan alternatives include almond milk and soy milk.
- Do not stick to the same unhealthy fats that you would normally add to a meal. Oftentimes, these fats, including heavy gravies and too much butter, can drastically increase your calorie intake and of course, overall fat intake.
- Eat what you like to eat! Picking up new vegetables that don't appeal to you will only lead to hating the process of building a healthy diet. Instead, explore different options of healthy meals that sound fun to make and keep an open mind as you pick up your nutritious foods. As you explore the gateways of healthy options, you will naturally find fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins that you'll be sure to love.
The Final Take
Ultimately, a nutritious diet can go a long way in increasing health, well-being, and overall enjoyment of life. When starting off, it is not necessary to calorie count, but rather to just add healthier options and remove junk foods from meals; calorie counting can be brought into the equation depending on specific goals like weight loss or weight gaining (use this MyPlate Calorie Calculator for reference).
With a balanced and nutrient-dense diet, it is safe to say that you are on the right track to sustaining a healthy livelihood. Pairing this up with daily exercise and proper sleep will truly maximize a great physical and mental condition!