There's more to food than just dieting
Food is much too often associated with weight gain or loss. From the calorie-counters to the most gluttonous of eaters, oftentimes the first things someone thinks when they put a piece of food in their mouth are, "How many calories are in this?" and "What's this going to do with my waistline?"
Sure, we're seeing plenty of other ways that food is associated with our body these days — whether that's keeping our immune systems strong, fighting cancer, or even battling a hangover, just to name a few. But despite all of the recent studies and reports that have been released about foods' positive effects on the body, too many people still think of a "diet" only as a way of controlling one's weight.
At least that's what New York City nutritionist Samantha Lynch tells us.
25 Ways To Improve Your Health with Food
Food is much too often associated with weight gain or loss. But despite all of the recent studies and reports that have been released about foods' positive effects on the body, too many people still think of a "diet" only as a way of controlling one's weight.
At least that's what New York City nutritionist Samantha Lynch tells us.
Think of how tired you are after a horrible night's sleep — your body's vital organs and systems feel the same way, which is why Lynch defines sleep as one of the most important pillars of health. In order to support a healthy and strong body, you need to be well rested, and there are plenty of foods that can help you. One of the most important aspects of sleep is a hormone known as melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep patterns. Foods such as tart cherries, bananas, and chickpeas, as well as fish such as salmon, halibut, and tuna, are great sources for melatonin because they boast vitamin B6, which helps produce the hormone.
Sleep: Calcium and Magnesium
Giving a baby a bottle of milk before bed is not just a placebo effect — studies have shown that a calcium deficiency makes it difficult to fall asleep, so dairy such as yogurt, cheese, and other calcium sources like dark green leafy vegetables, are great ways to improve your sleep patterns. Magnesium is another mineral that is a great tool for helping you fall asleep. Foods such as whole grains and bananas contain a lot of magnesium and are therefore important for maintaining a well-rested lifestyle, too.
It's not news to most that the amino acid known as tryptophan makes us sleepy, but it might be news to you that your Thanksgiving turkey isn't the only effective sleep-inducer on the plate — those rolls and stuffing will do the trick as well. High-glycemic carbs, such as bagels, white bread, and short-grain rice, contain insulin that increases the ratio of tryptophan levels relative to other amino acids, making them great aids for falling asleep.
Metabolism: Lean Proteins and Calcium
While Lynch likes to turn the attention away from weight loss, she still believes that metabolism is an important pillar of health. Not only does a healthy metabolism help you burn fat, but it gets healthy foods into your system faster, improving your overall health, too. Some of the best foods for your metabolism are lean proteins, such as chicken and turkey breasts, egg whites, and seafood, because they have the greatest metabolic boost and their digestion stimulates cellular activity that leads to burning excess fats. In addition, they also help you build muscle mass, and the more muscle you have, the stronger your metabolism is, Lynch says. Along with lean proteins, a healthy intake of calcium is essential for regulating hormonal activity in the body that is associated with your metabolism. Calcium sources such as low-fat dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and almonds accelerate weight loss by helping break down fat found in fat cells.
Fruits such as apples, berries, melons, and mangos are other ways to boost your metabolism, as they contains high levels of vitamins C, E, and B12, as well as potassium and phosphorous. These properties help your metabolism operate efficiently. Apples and berries also contain a polysaccharide known as pectin, which is found in the cellular walls and helps prevent fat absorption in the cells.
Metabolism: High-Glycemic Carbohydrates
Also great aids for sleep, high-glycemic carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads, brown rice, beans, and oatmeal, are known as "thermogenic food," because they have powerful fat-burning properties. They're also known as complex high-fiber carbohydrates that create a steady release of insulin into the bloodstream, which helps maintain a healthy metabolism.
Metabolism: Non-Starchy Vegetables
Vegetables that are less known for starchy qualities, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and broccoli also contain thermogenic properties and also have little impact on your insulin levels, helping boost and regulate your metabolism.
Metabolism: Spices, Garlic, and Vinegar
A few surprising foods that help boost your metabolism are spices, garlic, and vinegar. While they have no long-term effects, spices' heat qualities make them great thermogenic foods to consume. They're not only heating up your taste buds, but they temporarily fire up your metabolic rates, too. As you can see, heat is a key factor for boosting metabolism, whether it's the chemical structure of the food, such as complex carbs, or the actual taste, like with spices. Heating up your body temperature helps your metabolism, too, and it's been shown that garlic is a great way to do this in order to stimulate your body's fat-burning mechanisms. As an added bonus, garlic also boosts your immune system. Vinegar supports your metabolism because it contains an acid that slows down the digestion of starch and therefore keeps your insulin levels balanced. Lynch says it is a great food for diabetics because it lowers the blood sugar by 30 percent when consumed with a meal.
Metabolism: Fatty Acids
Foods that contain essential fatty acids, or omega 3s, such as tuna, lean white fish, salmon, and olive oil, help lower the levels of a fat hormone known as leptin. Lower levels of leptin increase the number of calories that are burnt and prevent them from being stored as fat.
Our third pillar, skin, is a key part of your health because not only does it mean an attractive outward appearance, but as your body's largest organ, it's key to maintain as it absorbs many natural minerals that the body needs. Antioxidants such as berries, red kidney beans, and artichokes are the first step to supporting your skin, says Lynch, and will keep your skin healthy and clear.
Skin: Vitamins C and E
A daily intake of a couple of vitamins can greatly impact your skin’s health. Vitamin C is a key part of keeping your skin healthy because it aids in the production of collagen, a protein that helps keep your skin strong and firm by prompting the growth of cells and blood vessels. Consuming foods such as oranges, strawberries, avocados, and peppers boosts your levels of vitamin C. Vitamin E is another mineral essential to skin health because it helps keep skin clear, firm, and moisturized. Foods such as peanut butter, avocados, and flaxseeds are great sources of vitamin E, and they are also known for their detoxifying qualities, as well, which help aid in skin health.
Skin: Flavonoids and Lycopene
Fruits, wine, and chocolate can be key to great skin, too, and it's all thanks to flavonoids and lycopene. Flavonoids are another type of antioxidants that help support your skin because they maintain the amount of sun exposure your skin gets. Foods such as berries, apples, red wine, and dark chocolate are high in flavonoids and therefore are key in protecting your skin from sun damage. Flavonoids also improve skin's elasticity, hydration, and complexion. Lycopene is a phytochemical found in foods such as watermelon and tomatoes, and is another important agent that prevents the skin from sun damage. Loading up on foods rich in lycopene can help promote healthy skin because they'll aid in monitoring the levels of vitamin D your skin intakes, while protecting it from sunburn and aging.
Healthy Gut: Probiotics and Prebiotics
With all of these foods you're consuming for your health, it's important to maintain a healthy gut so that they're digested properly and can do their jobs. Probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, are key for a well-functioning gut because they contain organisms that help strengthen the intestines. Along with probiotics, it's important to consume soluble fibers known as prebiotics, too. Foods classified as prebiotics, such as asparagus, garlic, and honey, contain a polysaccharide known as inulin, which is key in supporting your gut.
Joints: Omega 3s, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E
One of the body's most vital functions, movement, is heavily supported by our joints, which is why they are another pillar of health. Omega 3-rich foods such as salmon, tuna, and walnuts are great ways to prevent stiffness and inflammation in joints, keeping them healthy and strong. As a large source of antioxidants, vitamin C is essential for joint health because it helps support and strengthen the muscular tissue that make up our joints. Vitamin E is another mineral that is important for joint health, because it helps fight the aging process of joints and major joint-related illnesses such as arthritis and cystic fibrosis. Foods that are high in vitamin E include mustard greens, sunflower seeds, and spinach.
Joints: Foods to Avoid
Libido: Raw Oysters
What's a strong and healthy body without a functioning libido? Lynch believes this is a key pillar of health, as it plays a role in both your physical and emotional well-being. If you've ever wondered why oysters are such a well-known aphrodisiac, it's because they're high in zinc, which raises men's sperm and testosterone production. They also contain a large amount of dopamine, which is a hormone that increases the libido.
Libido: Bananas and Celery
You may be surprised to hear that two foods that are probably already a part of your diet can have a huge impact on your libido. Bananas are a libido-boosting foodbecause they contain an enzyme known as bromelain, which is known to boost the libido as well as reverse impotence in men. They’re also a great source of potassium and B vitamins, which support the body's energy levels and can help aid the libido, as well. Celery is another food that supports the libido, and it's because of a hormone it contains called androsterone. This odorless hormone is released through male perspiration and has been found to increase women's sex drive.
Libido: Avocado and Garlic
Ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs called the avocado tree a "ahuacatl," which means "testicle tree." This was no coincidence, as the avocado contains many properties that lead to a healthy and thriving libido. The folic acid found in avocados is known to metabolize protein, thus giving you more energy. It also helps support two key elements that play a role in a healthy libido for both men and women. The vitamin B6 found in avocados helps increase male hormone production, and its high levels of potassium help support women's thyroid glands. Another common food found in our diets, garlic, is an aid to your libido, as well. By increasing healthy blood circulation, it also helps to promote a healthy sex drive.
Detox: Kale and Ginger
Detoxing is another key part of maintaining your health, as it helps fight colds and infections, as well as supports weight loss. Kale is a great food for detoxing as it boosts alkalinity and calms inflammation, making it a great food for releasing excess weight and keeping you fit to fight off symptoms of a cold. Consuming ginger is also a great, all-encompassing way to detox. It not only revs up your metabolism, but it supports your digestion and circulation systems as well, keeping you strong against viruses and infections.
Detox: Celery and Cucumbers
Detox: Pineapple and Parsley
While not often seen served together, pineapple and parsley are two more great foods for detoxing. Pineapple is high in digestive enzymes and bromelain, natural anti-inflammatories, which make it a great food to consume when looking to rid the body of toxins. Another detox-supporting food, parsley, is a great aid when fighting a cold. It not only clears congestion that is associated with common colds but it also supports liver, spleen, and kidney health, giving you more energy and making your immune system stronger.
Detox: Chia and Pumpkin Seeds
Increasing your seed intake can help you detox, too. Chia seeds are a great aid for detoxing because they help draw out toxins from the liver and pass them into the colon for excretion. In this same category are pumpkin seeds, which are great for fighting against illnesses, as they are valued for their anti-microbial benefits, including antifungal and antiviral properties.
Stress: Brazil Nuts and Avocados
With all other important aspects of health defined, our last and final pillar to improve with food is mental health. By keeping stress levels low, you not only support a strong frame of mind but help encourage healthy function of many of your body's vital organs. One of anxiety's biggest impacts on our body's health is the depletion of zinc, which is why consuming foods that are high in this mineral, such as Brazil nuts and oysters, is a great tool for compensating high levels of stress. Another mineral that is greatly impacted by stress is vitamin B6. While there are many foods that contain vitamin B6, avocado is known as one of the largest sources and can help keep your stress levels at bay.
Along with the many other health benefits of foods that contain omega-3s, they are also a great tool for protecting your heart from the negative effects of stress hormones, and Lynch recommends trout as one of the fatty acid's key sources when looking to support mental health in this way.
Stress: Whole Grains
Along with impacting your energy level and metabolism, your blood sugar plays a huge role in your mental health as well. High-fiber foods such as whole grains help stabilize blood sugar levels and can be key in fighting emotional highs and low.