How Food Helps You Live Better
The human body is a machine that never gets a break. Even when you are sleeping, your brain and organs are working to keep you healthy. The old comparison of your body being like a car may by now seem cliched, but it remains as true as ever: if you don't fuel it properly, it's going to break down. And for humans more than cars, it is important to fill up with super-plus, rather than regular unleaded; when we break down, sometimes recovery takes a whole lot more than a simple tune-up.
But how does food help?
Fueling the Machine
Your body is a fascinating machine, with thousands of parts working every moment of everyday, from the tiniest cell to your beating heart. Food is the body's only source of fuel; we do not absorb our energy from the sun the way plants do, nor can we plug into an electrical outlet for a quick recharge. In order for your brain, vital organs and muscles to function properly, they must have the energy to do so. A balanced intake of calories from complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats provides an abundance of this energy, keeping you full of vim and vigor.
- Maintaining a Healthy Immune System
A well-balanced diet keeps you healthy in two ways: by maintaining a healthy immune system and by helping you effectively fight disease.
Your body houses a resident army of cells that have one purpose: to keep you healthy. Bacteria and viruses are found everywhere in everyday life: on door handles, in food, in the air, on your skin; you get the point. When these illness causing germs enter the body, they can attack healthy cells and tissue and make you sick. Your immune system is there to prevent these germs from ever gaining a foothold, killing those that are strong enough to cause illness before trouble even starts.
Excessive amounts of fat, processed sugar and alcohol can weaken your body's immune system drastically. Too much of any of these substances can inhibit the body's production of white blood cells, the immune cells responsible for locating and attacking germs. Fat in particular achieves this; sugar cuts white blood cell effectiveness by almost one third. Alcohol, which is a toxin itself, can lead to nutritional deficiencies, and also keeps white blood cells from multiplying. A majority of people consume too much of all three, making themselves especially susceptible to disease.
Comparatively, a healthy diet improves immune effectiveness and produces more white blood cells.
- Fighting and Preventing Disease
A healthy diet is one of the strongest weapons you can give your body, and there are several foods that are particularly good to have in your arsenal.
Fruits and vegetables offer vitamins like A, C, and E, which are potent disease fighters. Vitamin C promotes white blood cell production and increases levels of interferon, an antibody that protects your body from viruses by coating cells, making them harder to penetrate and infect. Vitamin E stimulates the production of natural killer cells, which patrol the body killing germs and cancer cells. Vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene (found in carrots and orange/yellow produce), stimulates immune cells that specifically target cancer and also helps produce more natural killer cells.
In addition, nutrients like zinc and selenium, which are also powerful disease and cancer fighters, can be obtained through a healthy diet that includes plenty of lean meat, fish, whole grains and legumes.
- Reversing Damage Done
Free radicals are harmful, unstable compounds found in the atmosphere and toxic substances (cigarette smoke, for example). Free radicals damage healthy cells, and can lead to cancer, illness, and premature aging. Luckily, free radicals can be stabilized and rendered harmless by antioxidants, compounds found in certain foods. Vitamin C and E are amongst these antioxidants, as are carotenoids like beta carotene. Flavenoids, found in teas, chocolate, citrus, berries, wine, and whole wheat, also act as antioxidants, killing carcinogens (cancer causing agents) and protecting cells.
A diet rich in these nutrients is associated with lower occurrences of cancers and disease. As an added bonus, topical antioxidants applied to the skin have been shown to prevent wrinkles and reduce the physical signs of aging.
- Making you Happy
A healthy diet has been shown to play a large part in a person's overall happiness. It is obviously easier to smile when you're feeling good, but studies are finding what you eat may play a large part than we thought. Diets deficient in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, flaxseeds, and nuts) have recently been linked to depression and anxiety (as well as heart disease and high blood pressure). New research has shown that individuals being treated for depression and anxiety disorders showed marked signs of improvement after taking Omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Eat Well, Live Well
Indeed, science is proving that what we eat has a remarkable effect on our overall quality of life. A balanced diet with an emphasis on lean proteins, fish, healthy oils, whole grains, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables may not be a magic pill, but it is a good foundation for a long, healthy and happy life.