We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat,” but how many of us understand just what this means for our overall health?
For years, the Standard American Diet, often referred as the SAD diet, has
come to include more highly processed food. The impact of this type of diet is
that it is low in antioxidants, fiber and other essential nutrients, but high
in sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, high fat dairy products and red meats. The
office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has determined that most
people in the U.S. consume too much sugar, salt, saturated fats and trans fats.
Too much of these foods can result in:
• Spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to increased fatigue and food
cravings and adversely
impact sleep and other bodily functions.
• An imbalance in the gut microbiome, which may result in a decreased
absorption of nutrients
and an elevated risk of digestive conditions, such as diverticular disease.
• Obesity, which can lead to developing other related health conditions.
• Increased inflammation, resulting in lower control of infection, higher cancer rates and higher
risk of allergic reaction and autoinflammatory disease.
• Risk of lower capacity for memory and learning, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
• Increase in depression and anxiety
• Fluid retention and improper functioning of blood vessels with too much
salt, resulting in an
increase in blood pressure and associated health conditions.
But can changing our nutrition after a lifetime of unhealthy eating make a difference? Yes! It is never too late to make improvements to support healthy aging. In addition, nutrient needs as we age are also affected by chronic health conditions, use of multiple medicines and changes in body composition. As a result, eating a healthy diet and making every bite count is particularly important.
It is important to remember that food is fuel. Food supplies the nutrients needed to maintain our brains, muscles, bones, nerves, skin, circulation and immune system.
There are some simple steps to improve nutrition. Adding these nutrient dense foods into your diet is a great start:
• Bright and dark colored fruits and vegetables tend to have a higher
antioxidant content, like
blueberries, blackberries, red onion and red cabbage
• Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, trout, anchovies and sardines are a
source of protein and
omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent heart disease. For seniors, eating
enough protein helps
prevent the loss of lean muscle mass.• Spinach, arugula and kale are sources of vitamin A, C and calcium, and phytochemicals that fight inflammation and protect cells.
• Hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans contain protein and monosaturated
fats, which can
reduce the risk of heart disease.
• Whole grains for fiber, B vitamins and minerals, also lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease and diabetes. The ability to absorb vitamin B12 can decrease with age and certain medicines, so older adults should talk with their healthcare provider to make sure they are getting enough.
• Yogurt provides calcium, protein and probiotics to protect the body from harmful bacteria.
• Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and collard greens offer fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals, which may help prevent some cancers.
• Beans, soybeans and peas provide fiber, folate and protein and help reduce
the risk of heart
In addition, the sensation of thirst declines with age, so it is important to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated. Water is best to prevent dehydration and helps with digestion. Unsweetened fruit juices and low-fat milk or fortified soy beverages can also help with hydration and nutrient needs.
The previously mentioned foods play a significant role in helping us naturally detoxify from potentially harmful agents entering our body, feeding our body, cells and our microbiome. They help improve our mood and mental health, metabolism and weight management, as well as help control inflammation regulation in our overall body, among other things.
While people seem to search for a “magic pill” to ensure good health, the
answer is better nutrition.Healthy eating is simply related to better health
through stronger immune systems, lower risk of non- communicable disease and
About the Author
Paulina Gonzalez Rul MS, LDN, CNS, an accomplished dietitian nutritionist at Healthcare Network. To learn more about Healthcare Network visit HealthcareSWFL.org.