You Are What You Eat

by Paulina Gonzalez Rul, MS, LDN, CNS,
Dietician Nutritionist for Healthcare Network

We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat,” but how many of us understand just what this means for our overall health?

For years, the Standard American Diet, often referred as the SAD diet, has come to include more highly processed food. The impact of this type of diet is that it’s low in antioxidants, fiber and other essential nutrients, but high in sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, high fat dairy products and red meats. The result: a rise in obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and various cardiovascular conditions.

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has determined that most people in the United States consume too much sugar, salt, saturated fats and trans fats. Too much of these foods can result in:

  • Spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to increased fatigue and heightened food cravings. Additionally, poor blood sugar balance is associated with hormone dysregulation, which can adversely impact sleep patterns and other body functions.
  • Dysbiosis, indicating an imbalance in the gut microbiome, may result in a decreased absorption of nutrients and various associated concerns. It is also linked to an elevated risk of digestive conditions, such as diverticular disease.
  • The association between obesity and the heightened susceptibility to developing other related health conditions.
  • Increased inflammation in the body, resulting in lower control of infection, higher cancer rates and higher risk of allergic and autoinflammatory disease.
  • Risk of lower capacity for memory and learning, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Impacts to mental health, with increase in depression and anxiety.
  • Fluid retention and improper functioning of a person’s blood vessels with too much salt, resulting in an increase in blood pressure and the likelihood of heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and heart disease.

It seems simple, right? Eat a healthy diet and be healthy. Adults who eat a healthy diet live longer and have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type2 diabetes and certain cancers. Healthy eating can help people with chronic diseases manage them and avoid complications.

It is important to remember that food is fuel. Food supplies the nutrients needed to maintain our brains, muscles, bones, nerves, skin, circulation and immune system. There are some simple steps to improve nutrition. Adding these nutrient dense foods into your diet is a great start:

  • Bright and dark colored fruits and vegetables tend to have a higher antioxidant content, such as anthocyanins in blueberries and blackberries, and quercetin in red onion and red cabbage. Other examples include vitamin C and B vitamins in red bell peppers and high contents of vitamin A, K and C in green leafy vegetables, such as kale.
  • Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, trout, anchovies and sardines are a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent heart disease.
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, arugula and kale, are a good source of vitamin A, C and calcium, as well as phytochemicals that fight inflammation and protect cells.
  • Nuts, like hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans contain monounsaturated fats, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and provide protein. Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium, an essential nutrient for thyroid health.
  • Olive oil helps reduce the risk of heart disease with vitamin E, polyphenols and monounsaturated fatty acids.
  • Whole grains for fiber, B vitamins and minerals, also lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease and diabetes.
  • Yogurt provides calcium, protein and probiotics to protect the body from harmful bacteria.
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and collard greens for fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals which may help prevent some cancers.
  • Legumes, which include beans, soybeans and peas, provide fiber, folate and protein and help reduce the risk of heart disease.

The previously mentioned foods play an important role in helping us naturally detoxify from potentially harmful agents entering our body, feeding our body, cells and our microbiome. Whole foods are the preferred source of feed for our incredibly important gut health, which is responsible forbreaking down and absorbing nutrients from the food we consume. These help strengthen our immune system, improve our mood and mental health, metabolism and weight management, as well as help control inflammation regulation in our overall body, among other things.

From the above list, it is easy to see that better nutrition will include lots of plants, which are usually minimally processed. Food processing often strips away nutrients while adding extra fats, sugars, sodium, additives and preservatives. Plants and fish also offer protein with the most health benefits.

Some people search for a “magic pill” while the answer is much easier than that. While sticking to a whole foods diet, we get the best of what nature has to offer. Variety is key, to ensure you get all the nutrients available in these foods. Aim for a variety in color in anything from fruits, vegetables, spices, beans, whole grains, etc. Include a variety of food preparations as well, since some whole foods hold their nutritional value differently according to their preparations.

Eating a varied diet of raw and cooked plant whole foods is a great addition to your healthy habits. While people seem to search for a “magic pill” to ensure good health, the answer is better nutrition. Healthy eating is simply related to better health through stronger immune systems, lower risk of non-communicable disease and longevity.

About the Author

Paulina Gonzalez Rul, MS, LDN, CNS, an accomplished dietitian nutritionist at Healthcare Network. She is committed to empowering individuals through expert
guidance on personalized nutrition for overall well-being. To learn more about Healthcare Network visit

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