Why is the type of food we eat so important?
Nutrients from our food form the foundation of the structure and function of every cell in our bodies. It’s responsible for our immune systems, muscles, bones, skin, hair, and digestive systems. It’s often helpful to think of the human body as a vehicle: if we consistently fill it with the wrong type of fuel, it won’t work as well as it should. And while the occasional treat is fine, it’s important to be mindful of what we put into our bodies, from everyday snacks and meals to caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
What small lifestyle changes can I make to improve my physical and mental health?
If you’re not used to following a particularly healthy diet and want to change, it can seem daunting at first. But these improvements can come in the form of subtle alterations in the way you eat, drink, and move around. Here are seven simple things you can do to live a healthier life:
- Eat regularly! We’ve all heard the word “hangry”, coined from the words “hungry” and “angry” put together. Not only does skipping meals cause fatigue and irritation, but it also makes you far more likely to binge on huge amounts of unhealthy food when you do eventually eat.
- Try to eat some protein in every meal: it contains amino acids that create those feel-good neurotransmitters that may run low when you're depressed. (Tryptophan is a particularly important one as your body needs it to make serotonin, a feel-good hormone.)
- Drink enough water. You’d be surprised by how big a role dehydration plays in lack of concentration and focus during the day.
- Eat gut-healthy foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, almonds, kefir, and olive oil.
- Aim to walk 10,000 steps every day.
- If you’re prone to anxiety or jitters, limit your caffeine intake, particularly after 3pm.
- Share meals with others when you can. By eating in groups, we can create a sense of stability, regularity, and rhythm. There are several psychological benefits of eating in groups, from building trust and sharing responsibility to providing a safe space to share feelings and express emotions.
Food can be medicine or a hindrance to your health, so avoid added sugar, processed meats, and animal fats. Here in the U.S, there’s a tendency to opt for the biggest portion in favor of quantity, but it’s much healthier to focus on quality foods. Ultimately, your physical and mental health is an investment, so if you find yourself putting more effort into your meals to ensure they’re nutritionally dense, it will be well worth it in the long run!
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.