“You are what you eat” is a famous saying with a weighty truth. And in today’s world, the results of our nutrition choices are painfully obvious.
Obesity, inflammation, and accelerated aging can be tied to many factors, but a big one is due to the foods we eat. Local supermarkets are packed with aisles of frozen, canned, boxed, and fresh variations of all kinds of things to munch on. But not all foods are created equal.
In fact, many of the foods in the average American diet are saturated with preservatives, additives, and chemicals. These things aren’t natural, and they’re affecting our bodies in very negative ways.
We weren’t built for the 21st century, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics decided it was time to shine a light on the subject of nutrition.
Nutrition was a word that first appeared around 1551. It originates from the Latin word nutrire, meaning “to nourish” (1). Since then, it’s developed into the science of how our bodies utilize food. Not only that, it studies how nourishment can affect personal, population, and even planetary health.
Nutrition has also become a field of study. Many people who choose to pursue a career in nutrition often need a bachelor’s degree, in addition to specialized courses. Depending on the state, you may need a license (2).
So why is nutrition something so important, there is a need for national awareness of it?
Why Nutrition is Important
For people, nutrition is critical for proper growth and development. Research shows that people who receive adequate nutrition have stronger immune systems, learn better, have lower risks of developing disease, and can even break family cycles of poverty (4).
Whether you’re breastfeeding your infant, training for a marathon, or simply trying to improve your life, focusing on nutrition can make all the difference.
And it’s not just about calories anymore. While it is helpful to keep track of calories if your goal is to lose weight, giving your body the nutrients it needs can actually yield better results in the long run.
Your body is designed to function in specific ways. And without the right kinds of nutrients (as well as the right amounts), you won’t be able to operate most effectively.
It’s said you can look at something without actually seeing anything. The same can be said about the foods we eat.
You may have grown up seeing pictures of a colorful food pyramid, or charts with different varieties on them. It’s easy to look at it without thinking much about the “why” behind it. But what you eat now will affect you both now, and later. Research also shows that eating foods higher in nutritional value can not only benefit your body, it can even protect your emotions and mental well-being (3).
Aspects of Nutrition
The foods you eat are either packing or lacking nutritional value. You’ve probably heard that vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are nutritious, but how?
When it comes to food, there are 7 elements or classes of nutrients that are needed to maintain good health and support optimal function (5). These elements are:
It’s important to consume each of these elements daily in order to reap the full benefits.
You may or may not remember, but nutrition labels on the back of your food wasn’t always a thing. Regulations began in 1993 requiring food companies to include nutritional labels on food packages (6).
One of the goals behind this was so consumers could make more informed choices based on their needs and desires. Food labels will typically include serving size, calories per serving, and nutritional information based on the 7 key elements.
“Variety is the spice of life” or so the saying goes. The same rules apply to good nutrition.
Now that you know the 7 nutrient classes, you might be wondering what falls into those classes. When it comes to nutritional foods, you have lots to choose from.
Some of the best in each category include (7):
- Fruits: Berries, citrus, melons and stone fruit are known for their vitamin c and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Vegetables: Cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, onions and garlic carry vitamin a, fiber, and are packed with antioxidants.
- Nuts/Seeds/Grains/Legumes: Almonds, pistachios, quinoa, and flax seeds have protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber to help keep you regular.
- Mushrooms: Some species of this fungi can be high in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.
- Seafood: Low in saturated fats and high in vitamins B, A, and omega-3 fatty acids, foods like fish and some shellfish are great nutritional food options.
- Dairy: Foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt can be a source of calcium, protein, and some fats.
- Meats: Animals sources like beef, chicken, lamb, or others can provide minerals like zinc, protein, and iron.
Bringing It All Together
So what can you do to make nutrition a priority in your life? This year, the Eat Right Foundation is celebrating National Nutrition Month by offering 4 key messages (8):
- Eat a variety of healthy foods from all groups, including cultural favorites.
- Schedule an appointment with a RDN (registered dietician nutritionist) to determine a personalized plan for your unique health needs.
- Make a list of healthy recipes for the week, and shop accordingly.
- Experiment with new flavors as you enjoy healthy meals with friends and family.
For additional resources, you can also visit MyPlate.gov (9) for tips on what healthy food portions look like. It also has tools that can help you map out a winning strategy when it comes to adding more nutritional food into your life.
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References & Disclaimer
✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author