Overview: How Your Diet Affects Your Health
The idea that what we eat has a significant impact on our health has been around ever since Ancient Greece, when Hippocrates, widely viewed as the father of medicine, uttered the notorious “Let thy food be thy medicine.” Over the 19th and the 20th centuries, several practitioners continued his saying through variations of “We are what we eat,” but it wasn’t until the previous few decades that we were able to verify such statements in a scientific framework.
Today, we have not only Hippocrates, but also the tools and research of modern science to support the fact that in order to stay healthy, we must eat healthy diets. We also know that, conversely, consuming unhealthy foods can lead to a plethora of unwanted conditions, including a number of cardiovascular diseases, type 2-diabetes, obesity, hormonal imbalances, stroke, arthritis, as well as certain types of cancer.
To understand why this is the case, we must consider the basic function of food for our bodies. Indeed, food contains nutrients that allow the various cells of the body to perform all of their vital functions. Without these nutrients, necessary functions cannot be carried out, which, in turn, leads to a decline in health.
What’s worse, when nutrients are replaced by harmful substances, commonly found in the typical Western diet, further damage ensues. Too much food, too little food or simply the wrong kind of food can all have hazardous effects on human health.
5 Simple Steps to a Healthier Diet
1. Be wary of GMO foods
Although scientists are currently divided between pro-GMO and anti-GMO positions, it is noteworthy that so far, there are no long-term studies certifying that GMOs can be safely consumed. In addition, three major issues regarding genetically modified organisms are worth careful consideration.
First, almost all GMOs are herbicide-tolerant, which has drastically increased the amount of herbicides and pesticides used in their cultivation. Some of these substances, including Roundup (Glyphosate), are known to be toxic and may be found as residue in GMO foods. Roundup has also been linked to low testosterone levels in men along with infertility.
Secondly, it is currently being investigated whether GMOs have lower nutritional values than their organic counterparts.
And thirdly, it has been shown that GMOs have played a significant part in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, therefore having the potential to transfer this resistance to animals, as well as to humans.
Overall, even though GMOs are still under debate, eating organic, natural foods remains the safest way to go about it, at least for the time being.
Related Article: 19 Breakthrough ways proven to increase testosterone
2. Choose whole foods over processed foods
Briefly put, whole foods are as close to their natural state as possible, while processed foods have been altered in some way, either for safety or convenience.
A fresh tomato, for example, is a whole food item, while any kind of breakfast cereal has likely been processed.
While processing might be necessary with some foods (such as milk, which must be pasteurized to remove bacteria), it is the addition of ingredients like salt, sugar or trans and saturated fats, designed to make products more tasty, that is actually harmful for the consumer. On the other hand, whole foods are rich in nutrients, fibre, antioxidant phytochemicals and good fats, which means that a whole foods, predominantly plant-based diet can greatly improve overall health and even reverse some diseases.
3. Mind the package
Oftentimes, the way we store food can also have a major impact on our health. A number of fast food products, for instance, are served in wrappers or containers coated with a chemical substance that is grease-repellent and that may also include fluorinated compounds, with hazardous effects on health and especially on foetus and child development. Furthermore, a great deal of food products and even most water is being sold in a plastic package or container.
Although there are a few varieties of plastic available, almost all of them consist of substances that behave as endocrine disruptors. Most notably, these harmful substances such as Bisphenol A (BPA), which mimic the activity of estradiol, the primary female sex hormone, and therefore lead to hormonal imbalances in both men and women.
Related Article: What is BPA, and what are the concerns about BPA?
4. Cook in a healthier way
The way you cook and the utensils you use are just as important as what you choose to eat. Frying food, for instance, has been notoriously demonstrated to increase the risk of type 2-diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer, not only because the food tends to absorb the oil and its unhealthy fats, but also because carcinogen substances are formed in the process of frying.
Another popular cooking method with dubious effects on health is microwaving, which might cause toxic substances from unsuitable containers to leak into food. Alternatively, steaming and stir-frying are great ways to preserve nutrients in cooked food without noxious side-effects, while eating certain produce raw also has its benefits.
5. Practice mindful eating
Mindfulness was originally a Buddhist, religious concept, but in the late 20th century, it was imported in Western countries and studied in a scientific context.
Mindful eating involves using mindfulness in order to attain a state of full awareness regarding eating experiences, physical hunger cues and cravings. Amongst other things, it requires you to eat slowly, without being distracted, to pay attention to your hunger cues so that you only eat when you are actually hungry and you stop eating when you are full, to use all of your senses when enjoying food so that you may achieve a state of satiety sooner, as well as to carefully notice the effects of food on your mood and physique. Such healthy eating habits have been scientifically demonstrated to lead to healthier diets, ease weight loss, reduce emotional and external eating and help ameliorate binge eating.
In essence, all of the steps described above may be viewed as elements of a mindful diet, since they imply both an awareness of the importance of one’s diet and its effects on the body and certain changes towards a healthier eating plan. Ultimately, such changes may be used to counter several individual health conditions, but also as a means to achieve a better overall mood and physical health.
Paul Jenkins started his career studying MSc applied chemistry before becoming a sports nutritionist who currently has almost 20 years experience in sports nutrition and is the founder of DNA Lean.
- A report on the relationship between diet, physical activity and health: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmhealth/845/845.pdf
- On the harmful effects of GMOs: http://enhs.umn.edu/current/5103/gm/harmful.html
- On major pesticides and their effects on human health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24719846/
- A report on the benefits on a whole food, plant-based diet: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662288/
- On fluorinated compounds in fast-food wrappings and containers: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.estlett.6b00435, https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfc/health_effects_pfcs.html
- The harmful effects of plastic derived substances on human health: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055387
- A report suggesting that home cooking may be the first step towards a healthier diet: http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/news-room/News-Releases/2014/Study-Suggests-Home-Cooking-Main-Ingredient-in-Healthier-Diet.html
- On microwaving food: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/microwaving-food-in-plastic-dangerous-or-not
- On the health hazards associated with fried-food consumption: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/eating-fried-foods-tied-to-increased-risk-of-diabetes-and-heart-disease/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3756514/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4632424/
- Practicing mindfulness in eating and its health benefits: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21977314/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636206
- An overview on mindful eating: https://www.jimhopper.com/pdfs/bishop2004.pdf
- Glyphosate/Roundup & Human Male Infertility