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Food for thought: We really are what we eat, so choose wisely

Eating healthy can be the best way to help our bodies function properly
Healthy eating has a huge impact on overall health and well-being. (Photo credit: Government of Canada)

By Elvenia Gray-Sandiford

This information should not be substituted for medical advice without your doctor’s approval. For specific health problems, consult your physician for guidance.

It’s always been said that “We are what we eat,” but how true is that statement? Well, it literally is true, and is backed by modern science. Though our individual bodies tend to absorb nutrients differently, food is a major part of how our whole body functions. Nutrients from the foods we eat affect how we go, grow, or glow.

We are every so often confused by the relentlessly conflicting captions and sound bites proclaiming the fads of the day. What was “in” yesterday is “out” today. Is coconut oil in today or is it olive oil? Are we again eating a whole egg, or are we not eating the yolk? Are organic foods really more nutritious than conventionally-grown food? Where on the binary scale is the Canadian Food Guide? Are we ever going to be able to partake of almost every food without worry or guilt?

There will likely always be conflicting claims about what is good or not good for you and the reasons why. However, nutritionists and physicians agree that choosing the right food is often the best way to prevent diseases.

More than ever, people are realizing that what they eat makes a difference not only in the way they look and feel but also in the length and quality of their lives. Eating healthy food need not be complicated or dull. It can be a pleasurable experience, made even more so by knowledge and understanding. Eating the right food helps your body, by strengthening it and helping you deal with stress and fight illness.

Food can also have a major and beneficial impact on your moods and mental health. Eating healthy nourishes your mind and leaves you in a better mood. We have two kinds of food: processed foods and whole foods (natural). Whole foods come from nature and are recognizable; they do not contain preservatives, or artificial colouring or additives. Whole foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that nourish our bodies. Vegetables, grains, and nuts, are all examples of whole foods.

Processed foods are made in factories. Chemicals are used to preserve them, and colourants are added to make them look better. Processed foods have lots of ingredients that we often don’t recognize, and do not necessarily contain the minerals, nutrients, and vitamins that nourish our bodies.

Food fuels, repairs, heals, and rebuilds the trillions of cells in our bodies. Cells take in nutrients from food, convert those nutrients into energy, and make the different areas of our body function well. Recent medical research confirms that one-third to one-half of the health problems of people over the age of 50 are related to diet. Research also shows us that good nutrition can prevent, or at least slow down, incapacitating illnesses such as osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease.

Eating healthy not only boosts our energy and gives us strength, it also nourishes our body, from our skin and hair to our muscles, bones, and digestive and immune systems. But as we get older, our body composition changes. Our body’s energy levels are lower, while at the same time the demand for some nutrients increases.

Because metabolism slows down, our muscle mass decreases. We also find our sense of taste, smell, and appetite diminishes. In addition, certain problems with our mouths cause some of us to have trouble chewing, which in turn causes us to suffer from heartburn, constipation, and other issues related to digestion. These issues can cause food to be significantly less appealing, which can contribute to poor nutrition.

So let’s be mindful and intentional about what we eat. Remember, food can harm, and food can heal. By not maintaining a healthy and regular diet, you’re putting yourself at risk for a wide range of functional and inflammatory illnesses, diseases, sicknesses, and disorders.

The way we eat not only affects our physical health, but also the way we think, feel, and experience life. Food is building material for the body, and we should feel active, happy, and alive after eating.

1. Eat meals high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and eat only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.

2. Avoid processed and refined foods, and sugars as much as possible.

3. Plan meals for regular times during the day rather than snacking.

4. Select foods that provide contrast in colour, texture, and flavor.

5. Avoid adding salt to improve flavour; instead, use herbs and spices to compensate for a diminished sense of taste.

6. Strive to make meals pleasurable even if you eat alone. Set the table or prepare an attractive tray, or turn on your favourite music to improve your mood.

7. Eat slowly; try chewing your food 32 times to give your brain 20 minutes to register that you are eating. This prevents over-eating.

8. Preparation is a key to eating healthy. By planning your meals in advance, you have the ingredients you need on hand, making it easier to concentrate on preparing healthy meals.

9. Read food labels; watch for refined or processed carbohydrates. They come in two main types: as sugars and as refined grains which have the fibrous and nutritious parts removed. They have been stripped of almost all nutritional value.

10. Make sure you drink six to eight glasses of water, juice, or other non-alcoholic fluid a day. Older people often experience decreased thirst, or they reduce fluid intake because of bladder control problems. This can contribute to constipation and kidney problems.

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