“Food is medicine,” as the saying goes.
Yes, we have a place for medications in health and wellness, but what’s on your plate can have a tremendous impact on every cell of your body. Food makes nutrients available for sustaining function and wellbeing. By combining modern science and nutrition, we can directly affect many areas of our health for the better.
Let’s find out what foods can affect our health in a positive way. After all, who doesn’t want an abundance of vitality, calm, and focus?
Good news: We can add smart foods and drinks to our nutrition plans and boost our performance. It’s actually even easy to do.
Alertness and focus—in a cup.
Believe it or not, a little caffeine can help you to concentrate. It’s most often found in coffee, some teas, and energy drinks—though if you read labels, you’ll find it in less obvious foods and beverages, too (like chocolate!).
Just go easy. A little caffeine can be effective in boosting alertness in the short term, but overdoing caffeine can lead to feeling jittery, stressed, and sleep deprived. Some individuals are so sensitive to caffeine that even “decaf” (which still has some caffeine) pushes them past the line of comfort. Follow your intuition and body signals, and know when it’s best to switch to another drink to stay hydrated and calm. My personal choice: green tea with lemon. It has some caffeine as well as many additional beneficial compounds, including antioxidants.
Very sensitive, or already at your personal caffeine limit? I opt for hot water and lots of lemon. It’s another great way to feel awake and alert.
Need an afternoon sugar fix?
That’s not uncommon. But rather than vending machine or convenience store sweets, think about “nature’s candy”—that is, fruit. Besides delivering healthful fiber, vitamins, and hydration, fruit is a delicious source of a simple form of natural sugar, glucose.
Fruit is also satisfying since so many options are available to suit your taste! Berries, especially blueberries, are my number one choice, and I bring them with me to the office. Research has shown that those little blue powerhouses can offer protection from free radical damage and the effects of age-related diseases such as dementia. So next time you’re having that sweet tooth craving, reach for fruit to boost alertness and focus—naturally.
Eat to protect your long-term brain function!
Rich in omega-3 healthy fats, fish could be the best protein for overall brain health. And the positive effects of consuming fish are not just on the brain’s physiology but its function, too! Linked to lower rates of dementia and mental decline, a diet that includes fish may help to enhance memory, especially as we age. Unquestionably a smart food choice (pun intended), it doesn’t take much effort to eat the suggested amount of “brain food”: two servings weekly.
Foods that improve mood
Food is certainly linked to mood and emotion—and some important nutrients that are easily available in common foods can actually boost mood. Look for ways to include these regularly to avoid crashing:
- Selenium. You can find this in Brazil nuts (only a few!), brown rice, lean beef, sunflower seeds, and seafood. Besides helping with mood regulation, selenium also protects your body from free radicals, so eating these foods can be a good way to promote immune function as well as mental health.
- Beta carotene. This nutrient can also help with mood balance. Think “orange” to identify the colorful foods that are loaded with beta carotene. Carrots are the usual pick, but it’s also found in pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe.
- Folate. Your brain cells need this B vitamin, and it balances mood as well. Leafy greens are an excellent choice to boost folate. It’s also found in asparagus, lentils, and lima beans.
- Flavonoids. That word may not sound delicious, but what if I were to say “dark chocolate”? The flavonoids, so rich in my fave treat, add alertness and general wellbeing. A little is all it takes.
Feeling tired and sluggish?
Don’t reach for junk foods full of processed sugar and sodium. They might give you a quick energy fix, but that can backfire, leaving you even more lethargic later on. Instead, fill your meals and snacks with foods that boost your energy and vitality in a more sustainable way. Some components to look for include:
- Protein and fiber. Your body needs both these nutrients. But combine them and you stay satisfied and energized longer, actually preventing eventual sugar crashes. Try chia seeds. These tiny powerhouses of protein and fiber are easily mixed into a drink, pudding, or shake, or sprinkled on foods for a satisfying crunch.
- Vitamin B12. So many of us are deficient in this nutrient and don’t even know it, and that deficiency increases with age. That can lead to sluggishness and poor memory, among other issues. Eating meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products—for example, wild-caught salmon, sardines, lamb, and feta cheese—will provide this essential nutrient.
- Magnesium. This mineral is necessary for energy production and blood sugar control and can prevent and treat migraines, hypertension, and much more. Include pumpkin and sunflower seeds, leafy greens like spinach, almonds, yogurt, and bananas in your diet to be sure you’re getting enough.
Have you just added some of these optimal-health foods to your shopping list? (Check!) As you can see, many smart options are readily available at your market or restaurant. I hope these ideas have gotten you started thinking about how to choose foods that help you power through your day in a comfortable, stress-free, and productive way—and keep you on a smooth path toward your overall wellness goals, too!