You truly are what you eat. What you consume affects your physical and mental health, sleep quality, energy level, brain function, and sex drive.
Maintaining a healthy diet is all about proper nutrition and hydration. Today’s world doesn’t make it easy, though. It’s chock full of processed foods and sugars, caffeine, and junk food with zero nutritional value. Those foods make it tough to stick to a healthy diet.
Luckily, the world also abounds with easily accessible information about what we consume. It’s up to you to take advantage of that information and use what you learn to make smart choices. Understanding these five lesser-known things about diet and nutrition can guide you to a healthier life.
1. Diet Is a Secret Weapon
It has become routine for doctors to prescribe medications to treat symptoms of disease and disorders. High cholesterol? Here’s a statin. Psychosis? Take an antipsychotic.
Of course, both conditions need to be treated. However, for some people, diet could be a solution. For example, eating oatmeal every day has been shown to lower cholesterol. And food nutrients affect neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine.
Overproduction of dopamine is known to cause psychosis, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. So doctors often prescribe antipsychotics like Seroquel to help regulate it. However, for some patients, eating the right nutrients will regulate dopamine production, and food doesn’t have Seroquel’s unpleasant side effects.
The right diet can even help you when you’re switching or decreasing your meds. An influx of the right nutrients may lessen the side effects of withdrawal common with tapering off such a strong drug (of course, you should never stop taking a prescription drug without your doctor’s guidance).
The secret weapon for weaning yourself from prescription medications could be what you eat. In fact, your diet might prevent you from needing those meds in the first place.
2. Diet Regulates Body Temperature
Your body temperature is controlled by the hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system. On average, that temperature will be in the 97 to 99 degree range. However, there are things that will raise or lower body temperature.
Infections, thyroid disorders, antibiotics, hot and humid weather, exercise, and even wearing tight clothes can raise your temperature. So can eating hot, spicy, and oily food or drinking caffeine and alcohol. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol altogether can be a good first step to a better diet.
Adding water back into your diet will enable your body to turn down the heat. Drinking and eating foods that contain more water will help. Watermelon, strawberries, cucumbers, lettuce, broths, skim milk, zucchini, celery, yogurt, and more are all great examples of hydrating foods.
On the other hand, foods that raise your body temperature aren’t always bad. Foods that take longer to digest raise body temperature. These are foods that are high in healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, all of which take longer to metabolize. Bananas, oats, sweet potatoes, and ginger tea might help keep you warm in the winter.
Whether you need to heat up or cool down, what you consume can help you reach the right temp.
3. Diet Is Essential to a Healthy Gut
Your gut is where your body breaks down food and sends its nutrients into the bloodstream. A healthy gut is full of healthy bacteria and immune cells. It uses nerves and hormones to communicate with your brain.
Digestive problems such as heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain are indicators of an unhealthy gut. And an unhealthy gut can’t do its job. That causes not only physical discomfort, but it upsets the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables and choosing chicken and fish over red meat will help keep your gut working properly. So do probiotics — those live, edible bacteria found in yogurt, kimchi, and supplements.
Like most supplements, probiotics in pills and powders aren’t regulated by the FDA. It’s difficult to know how “live” those bacteria are when they hit your stomach. It’s usually better to get nutrients from food rather than supplements. Plus, eating that yogurt will provide helpful minerals.
There is some research that indicates a link between gut health and mood. It stands to reason that if your gut produces neurotransmitters, a healthy digestive system could lead to a healthy mind.
That apple a day, full of fiber, may indeed keep the doctor away. Add a probiotic serving of Greek yogurt as well, and your body and mind will benefit.
4. Diet Misinformation Is Rife
Beware marketing that spreads health-related misconceptions about what you consume. Things are not always what you’ve been led to believe.
Just because a cereal contains whole grain doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Take Fruit Loops cereal, which purports to contain whole grains and fiber. A serving’s two grams of fiber provides 8% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of that essential carbohydrate. That hardly seems worth the 12 grams of processed sugar (24% of the RDA!) that accompanies it.
Low-fat foods are not always healthy, either. After all, they have to replace the lost flavor with something. That something is often added sugar, salt, and high fructose corn syrup. Because of that, “low fat” often doesn’t equal “low calorie.”
Organic and gluten-free foods also aren’t necessarily better for you. No gluten may mean no fiber. So unless your body can’t process gluten, you’re probably better off with the real thing.
On the other hand, some foods have gotten a bad rap. For example, eggs were long shunned because of their cholesterol content, but it turns out they’re a dietary powerhouse. They are low in calories and fat, and they contain protein, vitamins, minerals, and iron. Not only are they brain food, but they’re good for eye health, too. Eggs help fend off macular degeneration.
So don’t fall for the hype. There are nutritional labeling requirements for packaged and fast food. Reading those labels makes it easy to figure out what’s good and what’s bad about what you eat.
5. Diet Is Dynamic
Diet is complicated, and it’s a moving target. Every person’s body processes what they eat and drink differently. One person’s bone-strengthening glass of milk may be another person’s abdominal nightmare.
Furthermore, you may need to adjust your diet over time as your body ages. For example, you could have difficulty processing fiber as you get older. If so, you’ll need to make some changes.
Thankfully, you won’t have to recreate your diet from scratch. It will still be healthy to eat that apple every day. You just might need to peel it first. Or maybe you should steam that broccoli rather than eating it raw.
What is common among every human is the need for food and water. You can’t live without them. But you also can’t live with them if you’re not consuming what your body needs.
If you are what you eat, you’d better choose your food wisely. You only get one body. Make it a healthy one.