Your Diet and Your Health: What Your Body Needs
"Food is essential. People take it for granted, but we need nutrients," says Anne Wolf, RD, a researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Wolf cites as one example the old days when sailors crossed the ocean for months without proper nutrition. As a result, they ended up with scurvy because of a lack of vitamin C from citrus fruits. Vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals are necessary to keep all the different parts of the body healthy and functioning — otherwise, we get sick.
Every little thing that you do happens because of the nutrients that you give your body. Says Wolf, "Food gives us the fuel to think and the energy to move our muscles. The micronutrients, the vitamins, the minerals are there so that our bodies can function. You need food not just to sustain health, but to feel better."
And the only way the body will get the many nutrients needed to stay healthy and function is by eating a wide variety of healthy foods.
Your Diet and Your Health: The Guidelines
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid and the daily food recommendations were established after extensive research and continue to be updated as more is learned about the role of nutrition in good health. Their goal is to make sure that people understand all the different nutrients their bodies need to stay healthy.
Food went from being a necessity to simply function to being the key to enabling the body to be at its functional best, says Wolf. Research shows that the right nutrition optimizes health and that getting enough of certain vitamins and minerals can also lower disease risk.
Your Diet and Your Health: Poor Diet, Poor Health
Many foods have a huge impact on heart health. Research has long shown that fruits and vegetables and a diet rich in whole grains and low in saturated fats can help protect the body from heart disease and high blood pressure, while a diet high in saturated and trans fats without enough fruits and vegetables can actually cause those diseases.
Even small diet deficiencies can have an enormously negative impact on your health. The most common health problem due to a lack of nutrients in the United States is iron deficiency, says Wolf. Menstruating women and girls need plenty of iron in their diets to replace what they lose each month during their periods. Iron is also an essential nutrient for infants, children, and growing teens.
Another example is calcium, needed to keep bones strong and healthy, says Wolf. Without it, the body can develop osteoporosis, a health condition characterized by weak and brittle bones.
Eating a well-rounded and varied diet will go a long way toward making sure you have all the nutrients you need. Remember that our body uses everything we put into it, and what we give it determines how it's used — for good health, or for bad.