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From Body to Brain – 5 Ways Food Improves Your Overall Health

You have probably heard time and time again that you need to eat more fruits and vegetables, more wholegrains and less processed food. But, do you really know why?

A lot of focus is placed on the need to eat healthy in order to lose weight, and with good reason. However, there are many other benefits to eating healthy, other than weight loss that you may not know much about. Food contains nutrients! These include the major macronutrients protein, fat and carbohydrate (including dietary fibre) and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. All macronutrients provide energy, measured as kilojoules.

Let us step you through some of the interesting reasons why it’s worth knowing more about food!

1. Food gives you energy to get through the day

Nutrients called carbohydrates are found in foods like wholegrain breads and cereals, potato, rice and some dairy. Carbohydrate is the main fuel your body uses to keep the muscle and brain working. Carbohydrates are important because if you do not provide your body with fuel you run out of energy and then cannot do all of your favourite activities in the day. This means you would have no energy to go for a walk or run, do the grocery shopping, cook meals or take your kids or pet to the park. Fibre is a very complex form of carbohydrate and it helps to prevent constipation and diverticulitis and lowers your risk of bowel cancer.

2. Food helps us to repair muscle and build DNA

Protein is another nutrient that is important for the body and it can be found in foods like meat and poultry, eggs, legumes and nuts and seeds. Protein helps to build and repair muscles and body organs and tissues, like skin, hair and nails. Enzymes that control the major metabolic processes related to digestion, breathing and fighting infection, are also made from protein. Without protein, our bodies wouldn’t be able to repair our muscles after exercise or build DNA which is our genetic material we pass on to our children and repairing it is a vital process for sustaining life.

3. Food can help your body insulate itself and improve your health

Your body needs some stored fat in order to provide insulation and to protect your vital organs. Fat tissue is also a storehouse for fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat contains fatty acids, some of which are essential. Fatty acids protect every body cell and help regulate processes like blood clotting and immune function. Specific fatty acids called mono- and polyunsaturated fats can lower your risk for heart disease when they replace saturated fats in your diet. Monounsaturated fats can be found in foods like avocado, olive oil and almonds and polyunsaturated fats can be found in salmon, walnuts and sunflower seeds. Increasing these type of fats and replacing foods such as processed meats, including salami, pastries, take out and highly processed foods can help improve your blood cholesterol levels by decreasing the LDL (bad) cholesterol) and increasing the HDL (good) cholesterol.

4. Food can help you feel better, as well as make you appear ‘more attractive’

Vitamins and minerals are nutrients needed in small amounts across a range of metabolic processes that work to keep the body healthy, from breathing to produce red blood cells, to repairing itself, burning up energy and fighting infection. When these processes work well, you feel better in yourself.

Food, especially brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and red capsicum, contain nutrients called carotenoids. Research shows that carotenoids can change the shade of your skin colour and give it a healthy glow. Even better, is that research has shown that consuming the recommended amounts of brightly coloured vegetables and fruit enhances your skin colour to a point that others notice and think you look more attractive.

5. Food helps your brain

There a number of nutrients that may be able to improve brain function, which includes memory and attention. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in walnuts, canola and oily fish like salmon may help with preserving or enhancing brain function. Recent research is looking at whether curcumin, found in the curry spice turmeric, and selenium, found in fish and nuts also help promote brain health.

If you are interested in learning how healthy eating can help you in your life, The Science of Weight Loss: Dispelling Diet Myths, covers a range of food and nutrition topics including:

  • Key weight management concepts such as measuring body composition, metabolic rate, calories and kilojoules, energy density and portion size
  • How to use dietary assessment tools and calculate energy requirements
  • Nutritional composition of different foods
  • How to identify features of fad diets and healthy diets
  • Key behaviours for successful long term maintenance of lost weight

Clare Collins is a Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics in the School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health and Medicine at the University of Newcastle.