The age old expression, “You are what you eat,” is of course only partially true. Food is part of what makes and shapes us, but there is a lot more to the creative project of a human being than just what foods we ingest. However the central importance of diet and nutrition is recognized by traditions both ancient and modern, and is also widely established by scientific research. In this article we’ll look at some of how food affects our physical, mental and emotional health, and offer some guidelines on how to establish and maintain a balanced relationship with diet and nutrition.
The links between diet and mental/emotional health is well established in the scientific world. So much so that for some years a new field known as Nutritional Psychiatry has been rapidly expanding. This field focuses on the way nutrients affect the brain, and recently has been making discoveries of how the brain is affected by the health of the “nervous system of the stomach and intestines.”
The Basics of Good Nutrition
Each of us is different, and of course what determines good nutrition and eating habits varies from person to person. However just as we all need air to breath and water to drink, there are some nutritional fundamentals that apply to us all.
When food is closer to it’s fresh and natural state, it contains all the more nutrients and energy. Depending on how you look at it, this includes: vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, flavonoids, fibres, oils, proteins, carbohydrates, calories, and others. When you eat whole foods, you take in all these elements, and in balanced, synergistic proportions.
As much as possible, it’s best to eat good quality whole, unprocessed foods. This means fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, quality meats and fish if you eat those, natural unprocessed fats such as nuts and seeds, avocados and olives, and a range of herbs and spices and other condiments. From this collection all variety of the foods of the world can be prepared. The closer to the natural state, the more goodness of nutrients and energy contained in the food. The more of these you take in, the more you are giving your body and brain the fuel it needs to function well, and with ease.
A balanced meal contains portions of the major categories of foods. Meals should contain fruits and/or vegetables, some form of starch, fat, and protein. Food should be prepared with care, and made to be tasty and satisfying. It’s also good to change up the foods you eat, to include as much variety from day to day and week to week as you can. When you sit down to eat, take your time and try and have some appreciation for the good fortune of having healthy food.
The Grain Controversy
There is a school of thought that say grains are bad. Indeed for some people too much grain does cause issues. However this author holds that grains are important staples, and for a majority of people they are critically important sources of nutrients. When people have issues with grains, it’s typically more of a temporary phenomenon due to their system being compromised from eating large quantities of processed white bread and other processed foods over a long period of time, rather than a fundamental issue with grain.
The Hazards of Industrially Processed Packaged Foods
The food industry creates all variety of packaged foods for the market place. But there is research showing that processed foods can harm both physical mental health. Generally speaking, the further away from it’s original state, the less value a food has. But that’s not all. If it were just a matter of “empty calories,” the situation would not be such a problem. But because they are so far from the natural state, the body doesn’t recognize processed food, it doesn’t know how to process and make use of it. This creates chaos and compromise on a variety of levels, adding further stress to our system, to our body, our brain, and our emotions. But that’s not the worst of it. The variety and the volume of chemicals in processed foods just add injury to insult. These include artificial colours, stabilizers, emulsifiers, bleaches, softeners, preservatives, odour dampeners, artificial flavours, and others, all of which wreak further havoc in our system.
Substances to Avoid or Cut Back On
White sugar is proven to be harmful on a wide range of levels, including physical, mental and emotional health. If you eat sugar, decide to stop, and take action.
Numerous studies show that alcohol consumption causes anxiety. Depending on how high your anxiety levels, cutting down or eliminating alcohol could be very helpful in reducing anxiety in your life.
In a range of studies Caffeine has been shown to increase anxiety.
Eating well is foundational to physical health. And physical health directly influences our mental and emotional health. The correlation is not one to one, as it’s possible to be in poor physical health and still have an awake and uplifted state of mind. However, in the longer term, and as we age, physical health is more and more important in maintaining good mental and emotional health, and the correlation grows stronger over time. So take care to eat well, now and in the future, and enjoy the many benefits to physical, mental, and emotional well-being.