How Nutritional Awareness Can Impact Your Overall Health

Our ancestors didn’t need to read labels to understand what was in their food or know why they should or shouldn’t eat it. They just grabbed the nearest plant or animal and scarfed it down to quiet their bodies’ hunger signals. Sure, when nature didn’t give them access to the right macronutrient balance, the consequences might be severe malnutrition or starvation. But at least they didn’t usually live long enough to worry about diabetes, high blood pressure, or fatty liver disease.

OK, so maybe things are a little better now, but sometimes the variety of options can be overwhelming. Half the time, you don’t really know what you’re eating or what it could be doing to your brain and body. You’re surrounded by foods with new kinds of fats, sugars, and chemicals, all packaged to appeal to your baser calorie-craving instincts. How do you choose the right foods not just to stay within a certain weight range, but to live life with energy and vitality?

Nutritional awareness is the concept of truly understanding what you’re eating and what impact it really has on your health. It starts with balancing your macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) in a way that keeps you both fueled and satisfied. From there, you can learn to develop a more nuanced understanding of diet, and what specific changes could most benefit your body. Here are some ways better awareness of your eating habits can help you get healthier.

Balancing Your Diet

Most people don’t have a great sense of what or how much they’re actually eating, tending to misremember and under-report their food intake. When they do make a point of recording what they eat, they’re often focused on simple calorie-counting. Not only can this “dietary amnesia” hinder weight loss efforts; it can also complicate overall health. You can’t keep an eye on your blood sugar if you conveniently forget each time you stick your hand in the office candy bowl.

That’s where nutritional awareness comes in: With the right combination of technology and data, you can get a better grasp on your intake. Choose the best macro tracking app you can find and actually write down what you eat, so you’re less likely to misreport later. From there, a truly accurate profile of your eating habits can help you analyze your dietary choices and make better, healthier ones going forward.

Preventing Disease

Once you’ve got the numbers in front of you, you can start to think about managing your particular health needs. Maybe you need to be eating more protein so you stay satiated throughout the day and don’t overeat. Maybe you need to consume less sodium to keep your blood pressure down and curb your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Maybe you’re low on a critical micronutrient like iron, iodine, or vitamin B12.

Whatever your particular risk factors, tracking your macro and micronutrients can help you avoid a long list of illnesses. Staying nutrition-aware and tracking macros and calories can help prevent high cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes, and a host of other associated conditions. Getting minimum levels of important micronutrients can stave off anemia, a goiter, osteoporosis, and even certain types of cancer. In general, a proper diet can ward off all sorts of health issues.

Strengthening Your Immune System

One of the ways that diet improves overall health and prevents disease is by strengthening the immune system. Scientists are still working on a better understanding of how this works, but it has to do with your gut microbiome. Basically, the foods you eat determine what microbes grow in your gut. Those microbes can, in turn, stimulate your immune cells to respond faster to illness or injury (while not attacking your own healthy tissue).

Researchers think that, to manage gut health, you should eat a mostly plant-based diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Probiotic and prebiotic foods also seem to play an important role in regulating gut health immune response. Probiotic foods consist of fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi. Prebiotics are found in whole foods like bananas, garlic, and dandelion greens. Becoming more nutrition-aware and tracking your intake of these foods can help you regulate your gut health.

Managing Your Mental Health

Nutritional awareness doesn’t just impact how your body stays strong and fights illness, but also how you think and feel. The right diet can prevent symptoms of anxiety and depression, while the wrong one can destabilize your mood and even impair brain function and focus. As usual, ultra-processed foods, lots of sugar, unhealthy fats, and other Western diet staples are to blame. Meanwhile, eating a traditional diet with lots of plant-based foods can help manage symptoms.

Some articles link certain specific foods, like salmon, walnuts, and leafy greens, to mental health and cognitive function. Some have even been linked, in various studies, to specific neurological and mental health outcomes. But when it comes to food and mental well-being, tracking specific nutrients or superfoods isn’t necessarily a winning strategy. Instead, it’s best to focus on consuming a well-rounded, balanced diet with a variety of different brain-healthy foods.

Knowledge is (Staying) Power

The more you know about what you’re eating, and why, the easier it is to make better choices. Studies consistently show that people who track what they eat do better at losing weight and managing chronic conditions. That said, too much information can quickly get overwhelming., and the real key to managing overall health through eating habits is consistency. Focus less on making the best nutritional choices for your health, and more on easy changes you can stick to.

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