If you’re ever wondering how much effort you should put into eating healthy, consider these two, fundamental facts. First, your body is your home – the most important one you’ll ever live in. It deserves to be taken care of. Second, if you want to optimize your physical health, mental health, quality of life, and longevity, nothing replaces the power of food.
Death By Diet
The “Global Burden of Disease Study” is the most comprehensive, worldwide, observational, epidemiological study to-date. It looks at what causes us to lose years of our life, either because we die prematurely, or because we live a less than full life, due to the burden of living with an illness or disease. Many years of life are lost, for example, due to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and dementia. The most important conclusion of this study, however, is this: diet, overwhelmingly, is the most important risk factor for illness in the world. Nothing affects our health and well-being more.
Prevention Is Possible
As much as 90% of heart disease and type 2 diabetes is preventable by eating wisely, not smoking, and staying active. That’s a huge percentage! As for cancer, the most important, known way to avoid it, other than not smoking, is to maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of at least 13 types of cancer. Name almost any disease – dementia, arthritis, macular degeneration, liver disease, kidney disease, COPD, inflammatory bowel disease, and more – and in every case, nutrition plays a prominent role in the prevention and/or management of that disease.
Some Foods Are Worth Cheering About
Eating a diet rich in plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains is essential for optimal health. Limiting your intake of red meat, processed meats, and many highly palatable, ultra-processed foods is equally important. To put the power of food into perspective, here’s a smattering of research highlights:
- Research involving almost 3,000 community-dwelling, older adults from Spain, Italy and France, found that those who consumed at least five servings daily of fruits and vegetables were almost 70% less likely to become frail with age.
- Rush University Medical Center researchers tracked the diets and cognitive abilities of more than 950 older adults for an average of five years. Those who consumed one to two servings of dark leafy greens daily had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger, as compared to those who consumed none.
- Researchers from the University of Georgia tested 24 common herbs and spices for their antioxidant content and ability to inhibit tissue damage and inflammation. Diane Hartle, a co-author of the study, concluded the following, “If you set up a good herb and spice cabinet and season your food liberally, you could double or even triple the medicinal value of your meal without increasing the caloric content.”
- Our microbiome is involved in most, if not all, aspects of human health and disease. The most powerful way to shape our microbiome, and the bacteria that live there, is food choice. University of Pittsburgh researchers took African Americans who typically eat an unhealthy, low-fibre, Western diet and Rural Africans who typically eat a healthier, high-fibre, African diet and had them swap eating plans. After just two weeks of the food exchange, researchers saw remarkable changes in the type of bacteria living in the colon of study participants. The risk of colon cancer went up significantly in those switched to the unhealthy, low-fibre diet, and down in those switched to the healthier, high-fibre fare. A healthy diet, makes a healthy gut, which makes a healthy life.
- Nut eaters are significantly less likely to die of any cause, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. According to Harvard research, one of the ways nuts protect health is by reducing inflammation in the body. Substituting 3 servings of nuts/week for 3 servings of red meat, processed meat, eggs, or refined grains/week, is linked to significantly lower inflammation. Nuts are so tasty and convenient too.
- The Blue Zones study looked at communities, around the world, with surprisingly high numbers of people living to 100 years of age or older. What do they have in common? A cornerstone of most centenarian diets are beans, including soybeans, black beans, fava beans, and lentils. In addition, meat is eaten rarely (about once a week) and in small portions (about the size of a deck of cards.) More beans please!
Eating Healthy & Feeling Good
An increasing body of research shows that food choice not only affects your physical health, but powerfully affects your mental health. If you want to feel good, you need to eat well.
- In a study from the University of Warwick, involving over 12,000 adults, switching from a diet low in fruits and vegetables, to a diet containing 8 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, was linked to a huge boost in happiness – the equivalent of what an unemployed person feels like when they find a job. Wow. Even the researchers were surprised at the incredible “feel good” power of fruits and vegetables.
- Based on a study involving almost 70,000 females from the Women’s Health Initiative, when you eat a diet rich in added sugars and refined grains, you significantly increase your risk of depression. Eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lowers your risk. Eat healthy, get happy!
If you want to live a healthy, happy, vibrant, and long life… healthy eating is a critical, non-negotiable, part of the equation. Never underestimate the power of eating wisely and well. Every healthy bite you take is worth the effort.