We often hear about the benefits of nutrition as it relates to physical appearance or meeting specific health goals—but what about the relationship between nutrition and brain health, mental health, emotional balance, and more? Considering what you eat and how it can affect all areas of your life can make a big difference in your holistic health.
Is Healthy Eating Self Care?
While face masks and pedicures offer fun times, expand your definition of self care beyond what we put on our bodies to include what we put in them. It only makes sense that what we use to fuel our bodies would have a major effect on our health, our energy levels, our ability to fight disease and illness, and how we show up in our daily lives.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore; it simply takes some exploration to find nutritious foods that you find enjoyable to eat. You can even take it a step further and develop a mindful eating practice, in which you bring aspects of meditation to your meals and take time to listen to your body’s response.
Types of Nutrition and Nutrients
Though there are two types of nutrition—autotrophic and heterotrophic—what most people mean when they talk about nutrition are the types of nutrients that you can consume. Read on to learn more about all of these categories!
Autotrophic nutrition refers to the way in which plants and bacteria are able to produce their own food via photosynthesis, a process that uses solar energy to turn something like water into food.
On the other hand, heterotrophic nutrition refers to everything else—in other words, anything that can’t use photosynthesis to produce its own food, placing humans very squarely in this category as heterotrophs.
In order for our bodies to run properly, we need large amounts of macronutrients. Carbohydrates (sugar, fiber, and starch), fats, and proteins (which are made of amino acids) are all examples of macronutrients and all help give us energy.
As you might expect from the name, micronutrients are needed in smaller doses than macronutrients. They’re still essential in a healthy diet, but not as much of them are needed for sustained health. Examples of micronutrients are potassium, calcium, and magnesium, all of which you can get through food or supplements.
Vitamins and Antioxidants
The last category of nutrients we’ll cover includes vitamins, which we also need in small amounts, and antioxidants. Examples of vitamins are the B-complex vitamins and Vitamin D. Antioxidants refer to anything that helps the body get rid of, or fight, free radical damage, which makes them great to include in your regular diet.
Want Tangible Tips for Achieving Good Nutrition?
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Nutrition and Stress: What’s the Connection?
Have you ever consumed too much caffeine after lunch and then tossed and turned all night as a result? If so, you know firsthand that stress and eating have a reciprocal relationship; one directly affects the other, and vice versa.
When you’re stressed, this can affect your nutritional choices. Most of us turn to comfort foods—like baked goods, fried foods, or salty snacks—when we’re feeling burnt out or overwhelmed. However, making conscious decisions about what to eat can actually help relieve or assuage your stress. Read evidence of the connection between stress and food: eating plenty of fresh, whole foods is associated with lower anxiety, depression, and associated conditions.
Emotional eating refers to any dietary choices made at least in part because of an emotional state. Though this is usually understood to be interchangeable with stress eating, emotional eating can involve any feeling. If you celebrate wins, achievements, or feeling good with junk or comfort food, that’s also a form of emotional eating with potentially undesirable consequences.
Mindfulness can be helpful with both stress and eating from an emotional place. If you feel a strong urge to reach for a food that you know may not be the healthiest choice, tune in to what’s going on with your feelings. Is there a healthier choice you can make, or a different way you can cope with that feeling?
Nutrition and Mental Health: Listen to Your Gut
We mentioned there’s research supporting the fact that a healthy diet can lead to lower levels of anxiety and depression. According to Harvard Medical School, what you eat directly influences your brain and mood—pretty powerful stuff! Specifically, studies have shown that following eating routines like the Mediterranean diet (which is full of Omega-3s, nuts, and the like) can lead to that reduction in mental health conditions.
Choosing foods that give you the most bang for your bite (see what we did there?) can have a huge positive impact on your life. Conversely, consuming a lot of not-so-great things like refined sugar can cause inflammation and negatively affect your brain and body processes.
Again, it’s important to tune in to your body and pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. You may be surprised to find that your favorite treat causes you to crash a couple of hours later, or that a green juice in the morning perks you up faster than your sugary coffee drink of choice.
Food for Brain Power
So then, if nutrition and brain health are linked, and the foods we choose have a direct impact on all areas of our health—including mental and emotional—what types of foods should we incorporate into our daily diet?
Essentially, steer clear of refined and processed foods and gravitate more toward whole foods. You also may want to spend some time learning how to read food labels. Some people recommend shopping the perimeter of your grocery store to get an idea for what this looks like in practice, as most of the processed stuff is located within the inner aisles.
Below are some of our favorite healthy picks. Look up recipes that include one or more of them so you can get some ideas for how to start experimenting with them.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Berries and dark, leafy greens are both full of antioxidants. And there are so many different types you can choose from. You can even grow your own greens! Try throwing different fruits or a handful of spinach into your morning smoothie, or swap your favorite baked goods for some fresh-cut fruit and yogurt.
Probiotics or Fermented Foods
Speaking of yogurt, you can get prebiotics and probiotics directly from food sources like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt. You might even try growing your own kombucha at home!
Salmon and Other Oily Fish
Fish like salmon, anchovies, and Atlantic mackerel are a great source of Omega-3s, which may play a key role in generating serotonin, also known as the “feel-good chemical.” If you are a fish-eater, opt for wild-caught varieties and try to incorporate them into your diet once or twice a week.
Nuts and Beans
Again, so many options to choose from here! Whip up a bean salad, make a trail mix with different kinds of nuts, or sprinkle a handful of roasted chickpeas on your salad or soup. Like oily fish, nuts are high in Omega-3s, while beans are high in fiber.
This one may not seem as fun as the others, but we can’t let you go without recommending you stay hydrated! Guidelines differ on how much water you should be drinking, but one rule of thumb we like to follow is 11.5 cups for women and 15.5 cups for men. This may sound like a lot, but it includes all the water you consume. Everything from fruits, veggies, and other foods count, so don’t feel overwhelmed.
Make Smart Nutritional Choices to Take Care of Yourself
It’s crucial to choose foods that nourish you from the inside out in order to truly take care of yourself. Being thoughtful about what you eat can help you handle and regulate stress, process your emotions, maintain your mental health, keep your energy levels up, and feel good in your body.
Want More Self Care Tips?
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