Healthy Eating Really Helps
You know this: You’ve got to eat well to function well. Each of us have different needs when it comes to food. But there are some universal truths.
Among other benefits, good food can:
- boost your energy
- lower the risk of developing certain diseases
- provide fuel to your brain
- counteract the impact of stress on your body
- affect mood-related body chemicals
Ironically, in times of stress just when good nutrition can be so useful to us, many of us tend to eat poorly. According to a recent survey nearly half of Americans overeat or eat unhealthy food to cope with stress. In fact, it’s not just that we’re seeking creamy comfort—our stress hormones actually give us the munchies.
Simple Ingredients to Healthy Eating
Don’t skip meals. Regular meals provide your brain and body with a steady supply of fuel. It also prevents your blood sugar from dropping, which can cause nervousness, irritability and other problems.
Snack well. Sustain your energy by packing healthy snacks like nuts, whole or dried fruit, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and cut up vegetables in your bag or backpack. Make your friends gasp when you pull out a baggie of washed lettuce and start munching.
Balance variety. Your brain needs a healthy supply of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, or it can’t perform functions that affect your mood and thinking.
Plan ahead. Don’t wait until you’re hungry to think of what to eat. You will have less self-control to resist the vending machines. Be flexible in your food choices and learn to use what you have available to you. Your fridge may be a vast landscape of options if you think a bit and dig a little deeper.
Don’t over-diet. Eat to be healthy and fit—not to fit into a certain pair of jeans. Strict food rules usually backfire, and excessive dieting can be dangerous. If you or someone you know seems at risk of an eating disorder, professional counseling can help.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which builds the food pyramid, says a healthy diet:
- emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
- is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars
Some foods just pack on pounds and bring no nutrition to the table. Others can deflate your mood or wreck your sleep. Still, you probably don’t have to give up all your goodies. Take a look at a few cautions:
- Be carb smart. Carbohydrates can boost the body chemical serotonin, creating a relaxed feeling. But sweets and other refined carbs can cause your blood sugar to rise and drop, ultimately resulting in a loss of energy. To stay steady, pick carbs that enter your blood slowly and evenly, like whole-grain breads, fruits and veggies.
- Reduce saturated fat and cholesterol. Your brain needs a strong blood supply to function well. Saturated fats and cholesterol can narrow your blood vessels, so watch out for too much red meat, egg yolks, butter and whole milk. Look for healthy fats like the ones found in fish, avocados, olive oil and nuts.
- Avoid alcohol. If you’re stressed out, alcohol may seem to offer relief. However, it actually adds stress to your body and cause problems like disturbed sleep and poor judgment.
- Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, so it can make you nervous and restless. A cup of coffee can also wreck your sleep—even if you drink it hours before bed. Caffeine also may worsen depression. If you’ve been imbibing a lot, cut back slowly or you’ll risk withdrawal.
- Avoid energy drinks and bars. These things are designed for extreme situations, not every day use. They are packed full of calories and stimulants. You can find all you need in healthy foods, and save money.
Diet and Depression
Some evidence links depression and nutrition, though some of the research is still under debate. Nutrients that may play a role in combating depression include:
- Vitamin B-12 and folate. Good sources of B-12 are fish like salmon and trout and fortified breakfast cereals. Folate is found in dark leafy vegetables, almonds, dairy and fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish like salmon, catfish and trout. Other sources include ground flaxseeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs.
If you’re feeling depressed, diet alone is likely not the answer. Consider contacting a mental health professional.