We all know of the power that food has to give us life and energy, to make us feel better and to fortify us for the battles we have to fight. We also know that food can make a difference in our everyday health; we know the impact that a diet of mostly junk can have and we know of the benefit that we will see when we instead choose to eat healthily. None of this comes as a surprise to any of us, but it is fair to say that a lot of our knowledge when it comes to the benefits of food is somewhat … general.
The truth of the matter is that it’s not simply a case of “good food = good health”. If we want to see the best results, from head to toe, then we can look at which foods have which impacts and can work to fit all the best ones into our general diet. That’s what we’re going to do here – looking from head to toe, we can come up with the things you need to be eating to ensure you will be feeling your best every day.
So, starting at the top, we’ll see what’s best for both your mental health and for physical issues that can affect you higher up. We’ll then work downwards and see what you need to eat for the best results and to deal with specific problem areas. Let us begin…
Eating right for your brain and your mind
First, a disclaimer: you are not going to cure depression with diet, and it’s unrealistic to expect such a thing. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety run a lot deeper than that, so dealing with them is going to take more than a dietary change. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a lot you can eat which will boost your mental energy and make it easier to do all the other things you need to do in order to feel better.
If the feeling of “brain fog” is familiar to you, then it’s worth embarking on what dieticians know as the “Mediterranean diet”. This involves eating lots of fruit and vegetables and particularly legumes such as garbanzo beans, lentils and kidney beans. Switching out red meat, and replacing it with salmon and tuna steaks, will allow you a high quantity of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are highly beneficial for mental health.
Staying with the head area, if you are prone to headaches (and especially migraines), there are some foods that can trigger an attack which you might want to stay away from. These include processed meat and excessive amounts of chocolate. You will also experience improvement in this area if you add oily foods, such as avocado and almond, to your diet.
Keeping your heart happy and healthy
The brain is the body’s most important organ, but only just ahead of the heart; you need both working in tip-top condition for a healthy life. The heart is a surprisingly robust and consistent part of the body and can cope with a lot, but it shouldn’t have to – and you can help it out by giving it the foods it needs to run smoothly.
The heart benefits in a major way from the consumption of soluble fiber, which can be found in large quantities in whole grains such as breakfast oats. One or two bowls is a healthy amount of oatmeal to eat as part of your breakfast, and the benefits are greater still if you add berries to the mix. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are all antioxidant-rich and do a great job at zapping the free radical cells that can cause damage in every area of the body. As a combo, this meal will lower cholesterol and diminish oxidative stress, and your heart will thank you.
As for what you should drink, you can never go wrong with water – that goes for any area of the body – and limited amounts of coffee. Too much caffeine is bad for the heart, but a couple of cups of Joe a day will do you no harm, and will do you much more good than canned energy drinks. Another good option is beetroot juice; it may be an acquired taste, but it’s one worth acquiring.
Your digestive system is vitally important
Just as the heart and the brain support each other, both of them will be in a better place to function well if your body is correctly processing all the things you are eating. Of course, you can help it out in this endeavour by eating things that are easy to digest. Complex foods place a strain on the digestive system and can cause broader issues; among those issues are sluggishness, headaches and flatulence. The foods to avoid here include heavily processed meats (such as hot dog franks and lunch meat), and baked beans.
Your digestive system, much like the rest of your body, appreciates the high nutrient profile and easy digestibility of leafy green vegetables such as salad leaves, spinach and cabbage. It will also benefit from the addition of ginger root – raw or powdered – to your meals, and it’s worth bringing kefir into your diet too. Unlike standard yogurt, kefir is fermented and this means it is tolerable even if you are lactose intolerant.
Fermented foods in general are beneficial for your digestive system. Korean superfood kimchi is rich in probiotics and widely recommended for gut health, and so is kombucha. The much-memed fermented tea drink is not everyone’s cup of .. well, fermented tea to begin with, but with a range of different flavors now available on the market it’s becoming a firm favorite and a substitute for soda in many households.
Knees – and all joints – need a little help
As we get older, our bodies are inevitably going to be prone to a little wear and tear. For many people, the first place we notice this development is in the knees. Crouching, stretching and sudden turning can be tough, and even painful, and it can happen all of a sudden. Sometimes this is down to arthritis, or some more or less serious form of joint inflammation – but the good news is that you can regain some joint flexibility with the right dietary choices.
Again, oils are a vital part of the process – extra virgin olive oil is good, cheap, and versatile. Avocado oil is also worth a try, as its high smoke point means it’s excellent for use in high-temperature cooking. This makes it a great choice for stir-fries (which often just so happen to be packed with the green veg and other beneficial ingredients that help all around your body). Lentils and other legumes are also worth experimenting with, and take care to season your dishes with Indian spices such as turmeric (excellent for joint pain) and garlic – which fights inflammation.
Speaking of fighting inflammation, there are also noted benefits to be had by eating dark chocolate – ideally, anything with a higher than 70% cocoa content will be beneficial in fighting the inflammatory reactions which can be problematic all around the body. It’s not exactly the same type of chocolate we all fall in love with as kids, but there is actually more flavor to savor, and the end results are well worth the perseverance.
Your skin is a true head-to-toe matter
The largest organ in the human body is the epidermis, and it has a big job to do. It is in many cases our body’s first line of defence against illness and infection, and if you experience problems with your skin, it won’t be too long before you know all about them. Scientifically, there is less knowledge and less research about the impact of diet on healthy skin than there is regarding the rest of the body, but there are certain things we do know for sure.
Carb-heavy foods are not good for the epidermis; along with highly-refined sugars they can cause premature ageing of the skin. That sounds bad from a cosmetic point of view, but it’s worse than that – too many of these foods can cause premature thinning and increase the likelihood of outbreaks of such conditions as psoriasis and eczema.
You should, instead, focus on a generally healthy diet. Drink plenty of water, eat leafy greens and oily fish, stay away from too much caffeine and if you’re going to eat snacks, try to keep it to nuts and dark chocolate. That’s the really good news in all of this. The foods that will help you with issues related to the heart or the joints are also good for the skin and the brain. Eat a healthy and balanced diet, stay hydrated and ensure you’re varying your menu and you’ll see benefits far and wide. None of this means you can’t have the occasional treat and break the rules here and there – everything, including moderation, should be taken in moderation – but by focusing your diet on the above foundations, you’ll see better results and see them sooner, too.
This is a contributed post