Expecting to be healthy without considering nutrition is like driving a car and never checking the oil, coolant, brake fluid or tire pressure. You might have enough gas to make it to the North Shore, but something else is likely to leave you stranded on the side of the road.
Most of us keep our fuel tanks full of calories — maybe too full — but what are the other things to check in order to achieve your genetic potential for optimal health?
Five ways to promote long-term health:
Eating a wide variety of foods helps ensure you’ll meet all your essential nutrient needs.
Eat an assortment from each and every food group. For the body to function, it must have an adequate supply of nutrients — more than 40 specific chemicals such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids. Miss just one essential nutrient and eventually serious health problems can develop.
Too much or too little of any nutrient can be harmful. Good nutrition means eating “not too much, not too little, but just right.” You could think about nutrition as a team sport, with nutrients as team members. When all positions are filled, the team can excel. But this analogy is not perfect because in the nutrition game, if a player (nutrient) is injured or missing, the game stops. There is no way for the halfback to fill in for the quarterback.
Meeting essential nutrient needs along with calorie needs is the foundation of a healthy diet. This requires eating balanced amounts of food from all of the food groups to maintain a healthy weight. Nutrition is a science of proportions. It is not black and white or good and bad. A food is only bad if it is consumed in excess of what is good for a person.
» Physical activity:
From a nutrition perspective, physical activity is important because more activity burns more calories, allowing you to eat more. This gives you a better chance of consuming all of those 40-plus nutrients needed. One of the challenges of aging is that calorie needs decline but nutrient needs do not. So, diet quality must change, and nutritional supplements might be the only way to meet some nutrient needs.
» Your genetics:
Science is not at the point where an analysis of your DNA can tell you how to eat. But you can pay attention to the health problems most common in your relatives. If there are obvious genetic predispositions to specific diseases, become educated about prevention. It also helps to know ahead of time what to do if the problem develops in you.