Variety of vegetables and fruits that positively impact your health

How My Diet Impacts My Health

Ask The Expert

woman enjoying a healthy salad

Did you know that what we choose to eat impacts everything from our immune system to our mental well-being? Our registered dietitian explains why we truly are what we eat.

Does what we eat impact our overall health?

Absolutely. Eating too many processed, high-sugar foods can cause an imbalance in our gut microbiota and feed bad bacteria. On the flip side, certain fruits and vegetables act as a prebiotic and feed good bacteria. Our diets also have a direct impact on our digestive systems. Cruciferous vegetables are very beneficial to colon health, while processed meats like hot dogs are in our doghouse. And of course, eating the proper amount of nutritious foods makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

I am at a healthy weight. Why do I have to worry about whether the foods I'm eating are nutritious?

stepping on a scale to get weighed

Food does so much more than provide us with calories as a form of energy to fuel our daily lives. Yes, it’s an important function; however, food also provides us biologically functional nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. These nutrients provide a wide range of benefits, from helping to prevent disease to keeping our vital organs working properly.

Instead of just focusing on how many calories it has, we should consider if the food or meal is nutrient-dense (rich in beneficial nutrients) or has empty calories (provides calories without offering much value or nutrients). For example, a lollipop only provides refined carbohydrates as simple sugars, while an egg provides protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.

How does what we eat affect how we feel?

Feeling occasional discomfort after eating can happen when your diet is not balanced. It’s important to pay attention to portion sizes and to have the right balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat to keep digestion steady. What we eat goes beyond how we feel physically, though.

Our gut health even influences healthy serotonin and cortisol levels, which impacts mental well-being.

What should we eat to ensure that we are supporting a positive mood?

happy woman enjoying salmon and vegetables

A Mediterranean-style diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil has been associated with a more positive mood.

Probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus helveticus Rosell-52 ME and Bifidobacterium longum Rosell-175 ME have been shown to influence the gut-brain connection positively. That’s the biochemical signaling or communication network between your digestive tract and the nervous system, which can result in beneficial effects on our brains and behaviors.

Aside from eating healthy foods, what can we do to ensure we have the right balance of good bacteria?

A western diet high in refined carbohydrates and taking certain medications such as antibiotics can create an imbalance of bacteria in our body. In other words, it’s a disruption of our microbiome.

Besides eating probiotic-friendly foods that replenish good bacteria, we should also eat prebiotic containing foods. Prebiotics fuel the growth of the good bacteria in your gut so they can thrive. And to take it a step further, avoiding foods that fuel the development of the bad bacteria is another way to improve your digestive health. Excess processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates are examples of foods that can fuel the bad bacteria. In contrast, prebiotic fibers found in food such as bananas, grains and vegetables in the allium family like garlic and onions fuel the good bacteria.

What's the best way to deal with occasional digestive discomfort?

Digestive enzymes can help our bodies break down the foods we eat. Digestive enzyme production can decline with age. Also, making sure we have daily bowel movements can help. Prebiotics, probiotics, fiber and magnesium can help keep us regular.

Aside from diet, what lifestyle choices can we make to benefit our digestive health?

couple stretching after a workout

Exercise can support motility in the intestines. It’s also essential to get enough sleep and avoid stress; being well-rested and relaxed will help control cortisol levels and those cravings for high-sugar foods, which impact our microbiome health and blood sugar levels.

About the Author: Holli Ryan is a food & nutrition expert, registered & licensed dietitian-nutritionist, health & wellness writer, blogger, and social media specialist. She graduated from Florida International University and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In her free time she enjoys photography, travel, cooking, art, music, and nature.