“It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver” is a statement made by the infamous social activist and writer Mahatma Gandhi.
Since ancient times humanity has been driven by one goal: finding sources of nutrition to survive, grow and thrive. All around the world food has the power to unite families, create traditions and take us on a culinary journey like no other. Nutrition is a constant accompanying us every day from the moment we wake up to the time we lay our heads down.
Food is a general, broad term used to describe everything edible that provides nourishment and all critical components needed to survive.
As humankind has evolved tremendously through time, so has the way we grow, produce, cook and eat our meals. For centuries our families have gathered to enjoy and prepare dishes together. Everyday meals, birthday celebrations, religious holidays, work events and even funerals have always been accompanied by food. And why is that? How are we benefiting from a meal besides its nutritional values?
The answer is much more straightforward than you think. Food has been the staple of a family, the creator of traditions, the reason we discover new flavors and recipes and are even able to connect with other parts of the world through food. Eating a meal can bring back memories (that ratatouille moment we are so familiar with), ease pain, comfort the body and the soul.
Ultimately what we decide to put in our mouths will influence how we feel, perform and look. We must decide on how we are going to nurture ourselves based on personal goals and needs. One goal that should be a common denominator for every person is living long, healthy, and non-debilitating lives. A life where we are not surrounded by obesity and disease.
Why do we often go against what seems to be the only path we should be taking, and deliberately abuse our bodies? One of the reasons is that healthy and nutritious food has gotten such a bad rep through the decades and was replaced with the bigger, cheaper, faster and silent killer- far too well known, fast and processed food. Food that is good for us has often been labeled as hard to obtain, expensive, time-consuming and of course, not as tasty as the aforementioned overly processed foods (wonder why they are called “junk foods”?).
Eating well doesn’t have to be a struggle. It means listening to that little voice in our heads that can easily recognize what foods are good, fresh, colorful with a known source. And not pre-packed, processed, supersized and deep-fried in potentially cancerous, heart attack and diabetes causing fats.
We could go on and on about the reasons one should limit (yes, limit, not eliminate these foods-we are only human after all) the consumption of such items, but we’re here to talk more about including foods that do not come served with a side of guilt and regret.
Eating healthy might look different for each individual and consist of including, excluding or limiting certain foods from the diet. It might mean a vegan or vegetarian diet, for another, it could mean limiting sugars, refined carbs and take-outs.
Healthy and wholesome eating does not necessarily imply chowing down broccoli and dry, boiled chicken breast at all meals. It doesn’t mean starving yourself and not enjoying the bounty of beautiful and delicious foods that mother nature provides for us. Being mindful about our diet is a choice we make that will not only impact us short term, but if embraced as a lifestyle, will result in long-term health benefits.
Preventing cardiovascular diseases and stroke is probably the number one benefit of leading a healthy lifestyle. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, up to 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke cases can be prevented by making lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity levels and eating healthfully.
Foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and “good fats” are known to significantly decrease the risk of getting a heart attack, clogged arteries, and high blood pressure. Including these fats in the diet derived from nuts and seeds and omega 3’s and 6’s and non-trans fat oils can increase the HDL (high-density lipoprotein, aka the good cholesterol). Therefore, decreasing the bad one and lowering heart attack risk, stroke, and various cardiovascular conditions.
We live in a society where hypertension is prevalent and a big part of our population is on blood pressure and cholesterol medications. Why not try and better your health naturally through delicious, fresh and vibrant foods and not with medications that come with a laundry list of undesirable side effects?
Embracing a healthy lifestyle and eating healthy foods can help manage diabetes. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. The International Diabetes Federation has predicted that the number of people with diabetes worldwide will increase by 50%, from 366 million in 2011, by 2030. Non-processed foods with a lower glycemic index and not loaded with refined sugars can help manage diabetes and keep blood sugar levels under control.
Cancer, which seems to be getting comfortable in our bodies these days and causing devastating harm to young and older individuals, is, believe it or not, just a genetic abnormality and is often caused by our own life choices and diet. Smoking, eating processed foods, animal products loaded with chemicals and pesticides, and trans fats are the culprit in several forms of cancers that prevail in our on-demand, fast food-loving society. Obesity significantly increases the risk of breast, prostate, colon, endometrial, kidney, and many more. As said by the American Cancer Society.
Let’s challenge ourselves to lose some extra pounds, increase our physical activity, make healthy food choices, avoid or limit alcohol, and look for ways to make our communities healthier places to live, work, and play.” Who wouldn’t like to
participate in life and not just sit and watch from the sidelines because of limited abilities?
Mental health is associated with eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise. Foods that are colorful and rich in antioxidants can boost mood. Emerging evidence suggests a close relationship between diet and attitude. Eating certain foods can help with sleep, metabolism and increase endorphins, thus leaving us feeling happier and healthier overall.
On the contrary, diets rich in refined sugars are associated with depression and fatigue. Our brains are always “On”, working even while we are asleep and therefore requiring nutrition to operate. How our minds perform and their structure is related to what we feed them with, ultimately affecting our wellbeing.
Strong bones and teeth are necessary to enjoy various and fun activities, eat delicious food, prevent injury, and do specific jobs requiring physical strength. Many healthy foods are a great source of calcium and vitamin D. A diet with adequate calcium and magnesium is necessary for strong bones and teeth. Keeping the bones healthy is vital in preventing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis later in life. Broccoli, cauliflower, legumes and tofu are all great sources of calcium. Magnesium is abundant in many foods, and the best sources are leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. An apple a day keeps the doctor and the dentist away.
Other benefits of leading a healthy, clean eating lifestyle are improved sleep, gut health and better mood. Those who have children and plan on having kids benefit from teaching little ones about nutrition and leaving behind a healthier generation that is self-aware and responsible for their health.
Knowing that you have caused a positive change and prevented to the best of your abilities, the inheritance of debilitating diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and obesity is good enough reason by itself. Let’s not be afraid to explore new recipes, shop for fresh foods and vegetables, or even grow them when possible and cook together. Let’s gather with loved ones around the kitchen table and enjoy healthy dishes together, go on walks together, play with our children and grandchildren and live a happier, healthier life. Why? Because you only have one body!