Food as Fuel: Nourishing Yourself With Proper Nutrition

By Emma Haggerty

reviewed by Amadou Barrow

Ensuring we meet our nutritional needs daily can be a tough but important task. Proper nutrition can improve both our physical and mental health. A good diet is balanced, nutritious, and filled with a variety of foods. Finding the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for yourself is an individual journey that will take time, but it’s worth the rewards. So, what exactly is good nutrition and how do we meet our nutritional needs? 

 

How can proper nutrition fuel me?

Getting adequate nutrition is the best way to naturally fuel your mind and body. Studies show that our diets can have a huge effect on our physical, mental, and emotional states. There’s a link between our gut and our brain, meaning that our diets can lead to inflammation, changes in our mood, and possibly predispose us to more problems down the line. 

In fact, dietary risk factors and poor nutrition cause around 11 million deaths globally each year. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes are all linked to poor diets and bad nutrition. Bad diets are also the leading cause of cardiometabolic diseases in the United States; on average, these diseases cost $50 billion per year. Following a bad diet lacking in key nutrients will not just negatively impact your health in the short-term, but may cause irreversible damage in the long-term. 

By following a diet that fills all your nutritional gaps, you’ll prevent diseases and ensure your mind and body are functioning at their optimum level. Eating a healthy diet is also important to regulate body weight, as being overweight can put you at risk for long-term health problems. The good news is that maintaining a healthy diet will improve your health and lower those risks.

What does good nutrition look like?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, setting a healthy nutritional foundation means figuring out your caloric needs and making healthier choices throughout your life. While everyone has their own individual needs, there are a few key categories to consider when it comes to your diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables: A higher intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lowered risk of premature mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease — and could prevent about 7.8 million deaths worldwide each year. Including plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet is also linked to a better state of mental health and can help you reach your daily fiber intake. Whether you get your fruits and veggies from the supermarket or the farmer’s market, the most important thing is to gather a variety. To ensure you get enough fruits and veggies, get creative. Try different ways of cooking your favorite vegetables — roast, boil, or sauté. Add fresh fruit as a side to your breakfast, in a yogurt bowl, or as a topping for oatmeal or muesli. 
  • Grains: Consumption of whole grains is linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Reach for whole-grain or whole-wheat bread, cereals, and grains, like rice or barley. If you prefer hot breakfasts, oatmeal is a great choice.
  • Dairy: Choosing to include dairy products in your diet means you’ll likely be getting enough calcium to protect your bones. If you don’t eat dairy products, try soy or lactose-free options, and speak to your doctor about filling any potential nutritional gaps. Yogurts, milk, kefir, cheeses, and eggs all contain plenty of calcium and other nutrients. Dairy products, especially low-fat options, aren’t shown to increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Protein: Dietary protein is a key nutrient in our diet and can help to improve our overall health and prevent early mortality. You don’t need as much protein in your diet as you might think, but it’s important to get an adequate amount to support metabolic functions. Consider lowering your intake of animal proteins and red meat, and opting for other sources such as hummus, soy products, and beans or legumes.
  • Oils/Fats: Yes, we do need some fats in our diet for optimal health. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, for example, are important for cellular functions, regulate our inflammatory processes, blood pressure and clotting, and nervous system, and even have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Avocados, nuts, fatty fish, seeds, and oils such as olive, peanut, and sesame are all good sources of fats. 

 

Choosing to eat healthier foods isn’t just good for your body, it’ll improve your mood and help you feel amazing too. Limiting ‘the bad stuff’ can be difficult, but it’s important to crowd out your diet with nutritional foods, so the less nutritious foods make up a smaller portion of your diet. Current guidelines recommend limiting added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats, as well as drinking in moderation. 

 

How can I improve and meet my nutritional needs?

There are many ways to meet your nutritional needs according to your lifestyle, but it’s best to start by consulting your doctor. Other ways you can work on proper nutrition are as follows:

  • Keep a food journal: Writing down your meals and keeping track of what goes into your body can be empowering for some, but overwhelming for others. It’s a great idea if you suspect you may have a food allergy or might not be getting enough of a certain nutrient or vitamin. Your doctor may even request this, depending on your individual needs.
  • Calculate your needs: While it’s best to consult a professional first, you can calculate your recommended caloric intake per day. After you figure out your daily need, you can plan your meals in advance to ensure you’re treating your body well. 
  • Consider your lifestyle: Physically active vs. sedentary, meat-eater vs. vegan, avoiding unhealthy foods vs. enjoying everything in moderation — no matter your lifestyle and preferences, it’s important to know how your choices affect your nutrition. With many diets, you may be missing out on key nutrients or vitamins. This can usually be remedied with supplements, but you may want to consider testing for deficiencies.

 

When we eat well, we live well.

Our nutritional habits can directly impact other aspects of our physical, emotional, and social life. Finding the right balance of healthy nutrients that best fits our individual lifestyle choices and demands is the way to go, not only to be satisfied with our body but also to improve and strengthen our overall health. Good! You’re on your way to finding the nutritional balance that works best for you, according to your lifestyle. This balance may not always be easy to find or maintain, but through self-awareness, patience, and by paying attention to how your eating habits can affect other aspects of your life, you can find the motivation to stay on track!

Emma Haggerty
I’m an experienced content writer with a passion for reading, writing, and traveling. I have a background in linguistics, literature, creative writing, and anthropology.  My travels have taken me to many amazing places and brought me the best of friends, but along the way, I’ve also learned the importance of staying healthy, so I can tackle my goals anywhere I go. I’m excited to bring to you my experience and enthusiasm for a healthy lifestyle. 

Amadou Barrow

My areas of expertise center around climate change and global health; Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH); environmental and occupational health; health education and promotion; and health risk communications. I have experience as a lecturer at both university level in the area of health psychology, health education & promotion, water supply & sanitation, biostatistics, epidemiology and research methodology. I have published several scientific manuscripts in various reputable journals on maternal & child health morbidities and mortalities in LMIC settings. I am a passionate digital health enthusiast with a special focus on holistic wellbeing at all levels.

Aune, D., Giovannucci, E., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L. T., Keum, N., Norat, T., Greenwood, D. C., Riboli, E., Vatten, L. J., & Tonstad, S. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality-a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International journal of epidemiology, 46(3), 1029–1056. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyw319

Bremner, J. D., Moazzami, K., Wittbrodt, M. T., Nye, J. A., Lima, B. B., Gillespie, C. F., Rapaport, M. H., Pearce, B. D., Shah, A. J., & Vaccarino, V. (2020). Diet, Stress and Mental Health. Nutrients, 12(8), 2428. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082428

Brookie, K. L., Best, G. I., & Conner, T. S. (2018). Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 487. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00487

Cena, H., & Calder, P. C. (2020). Defining a Healthy Diet: Evidence for The Role of Contemporary Dietary Patterns in Health and Disease. Nutrients, 12(2), 334. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12020334

Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2003). Physical activity and good nutrition: essential elements to prevent chronic diseases and obesity 2003. Nutrition in clinical care : an official publication of Tufts University, 6(3), 135–138.

Djalalinia, S., Qorbani, M., Peykari, N., & Kelishadi, R. (2015). Health impacts of Obesity. Pakistan journal of medical sciences, 31(1), 239–242. https://doi.org/10.12669/pjms.311.7033

Gammone, M. A., Riccioni, G., Parrinello, G., & D’Orazio, N. (2018). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Benefits and Endpoints in Sport. Nutrients, 11(1), 46. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11010046

GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators (2019). Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet (London, England), 393(10184), 1958–1972. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30041-

Kitada, M., Ogura, Y., Monno, I., & Koya, D. (2019). The impact of dietary protein intake on longevity and metabolic health. EBioMedicine, 43, 632–640. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2019.04.005

Micha, R., Peñalvo, J. L., Cudhea, F., Imamura, F., Rehm, C. D., & Mozaffarian, D. (2017). Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States. JAMA, 317(9), 912–924. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2017.0947

Jardim, T. V., Mozaffarian, D., Abrahams-Gessel, S., Sy, S., Lee, Y., Liu, J., Huang, Y., Rehm, C., Wilde, P., Micha, R., & Gaziano, T. A. (2019). Cardiometabolic disease costs associated with suboptimal diet in the United States: A cost analysis based on a microsimulation model. PLoS medicine, 16(12), e1002981. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002981

Rozenberg, S., Body, J. J., Bruyère, O., Bergmann, P., Brandi, M. L., Cooper, C., Devogelaer, J. P., Gielen, E., Goemaere, S., Kaufman, J. M., Rizzoli, R., & Reginster, J. Y. (2016). Effects of Dairy Products Consumption on Health: Benefits and Beliefs–A Commentary from the Belgian Bone Club and the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases. Calcified tissue international, 98(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00223-015-0062-x

Skerrett, P. J., & Willett, W. C. (2010). Essentials of healthy eating: a guide. Journal of midwifery & women’s health, 55(6), 492–501. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmwh.2010.06.019

Slavin, J. L., & Lloyd, B. (2012). Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 3(4), 506–516. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.002154

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. www.DietaryGuidelines.gov.

Wu, H., Flint, A. J., Qi, Q., van Dam, R. M., Sampson, L. A., Rimm, E. B., Holmes, M. D., Willett, W. C., Hu, F. B., & Sun, Q. (2015). Association between dietary whole grain intake and risk of mortality: two large prospective studies in US men and women. JAMA internal medicine, 175(3), 373–384. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.6283

Related articles