The last few years have had a noticeably steady surge in articles, news reports, blogs and even social media accounts that focus on nutrition, across the world. Even closer home, in India, conversations seem to be slowly but certainly moving past extreme “celebrity weight-loss diets” and drastic “fat-burning tricks”, progressing towards credible discussions focusing on the nutrients that we require, the way our bodies process certain foods and the effects that they have on us.
As the power of nutrition becomes increasingly clear, so does the fact that it’s also one of the most controllable factors when it comes to our health. There’s every reason to start paying attention to the nutrients we provide our body with – especially given the following facts that are being demonstrated by studies:
Nutrition improves our state of mind.
Simply focusing on getting an adequate amount of various nutrients can help improve our state of mind, in ways ranging from feeling more energetic and active to even preventing illnesses. For instance, being deficient in certain nutrients like vitamin D and vitamin B12 could cause fatigue and daytime sleepiness, while many nutrients like vitamin C help keep up our immunity.1, 2, 3
Recent research has also been highlighting the bearing that nutrition could have on our mental health, with certain nutrients possibly triggering chemical reactions such as the production of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which could reduce the symptoms of conditions deep-rooted in anxiety and depression.4
Even our physical appearance is just an outcome of our nutrition.
Our body is an intertwined system, where even small changes can affect chains of processes, leading to systemic alterations. This becomes especially apparent when it comes to external qualities like our skin and hair.
The texture, radiance, hydration and overall appearance of our skin and hair are simply an outcome of the nutrition received by the body, given the fundamental requirement of nutrients by the deeper layers of tissue making these structures.5-7
Even the ongoing process of ageing is influenced by the food we eat. Our body’s age depends on what it endures, more than the number of birthdays that have passed. Premature ageing is a widely prevalent condition wherein the protective and damage-repairing mechanisms of the body can’t cope with the extent of daily damage it faces. Giving our body a sufficient amount of the right nutrients would not only improve our body’s ability to repair damage, but also protect itself from those stressors. For instance, the daily damage from the sun’s UV rays and pollution can ultimately lead to premature ageing, but certain antioxidants can protect us from their harmful effects.
Nutrition holds the key to weight management.
“As far as nutrition goes, most people believe it’s about low carb, low fat, and starving and depriving yourself– when in reality it’s about nourishing yourself to full happiness”, says Kripa Jalan, Specialist in Sports Nutrition and fitness blogger of Burgers to Beasts.
Weight management, in a nutshell, is exactly as Kripa put it: nourishing yourself by getting a good balance of all the nutrients you need.
When we turn to drastic measures, as opposed to following a structured, nutritious diet, we end up slowing down our BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), i.e., the rate at which we burn calories, even while we’re resting (our body is constantly powering processes like breathing, keeping our heart beating and, in general, keeping us alive and functioning).8
This is possibly why people who go on extreme diets end up gaining back the body fat that they lose – it’s quite likely that their BMR has slowed down, which means that they’re now burning fewer calories during the day. One can see how this would defeat the purpose altogether.9
Even overlooking certain nutrients can make it hard for us to manage our weight. Let’s take the example of protein. Many people who lead relatively sedentary lifestyles tend to assume that protein is mainly for those who regularly lift weights or are generally more physically active. On the contrary, protein is important for anyone, even if they don’t have a highly active lifestyle (those who have a higher level of activity would just need a larger amount of protein). The macronutrient can help increase one’s BMR, by building lean muscle (an active tissue that burns calories even during rest), and also promotes satiety, which keeps one’s appetite in check.8, 10
Nutrition offers us a preventative way out of lifestyle diseases.
‘The modern diet’ primarily consists of food that’s rich in sugar and low in nutrition, which can and does lead to a number of deficiencies. This phenomenon, called urban malnutrition, is believed to play a strong role in the increased number of lifestyle diseases that develop later in life – the point at which people suddenly begin paying attention to the food they eat, accompanied by a list of medicines prescribed by a doctor.3, 11, 12
But – prevention really is a far more rewarding route to take than cure. By beginning to focus on the foods that provide our body with the nutrients it needs, we can not only prevent disease but also enhance our body’s functioning. And although picking healthy food amongst the easily available alternatives might seem like a daunting task, anyone who’s ever tried to get healthier can tell you that it eventually becomes innate. Our bodies get used to feeling great, and we get accustomed to even looking it.
The drive for a better lifestyle kicks in.
1. McCarty DE, et al. J Clin Sleep Med 2012, 8(6): 693-697.
2. Pall ML. Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 2000, 8(2): 39-44.
3. Alexander S, et al. Inflammation & Allergy-Drug Targets 2011, 10(1): 54-63.
4. Rao TSS, et al. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 2008, 50(2): 77-82.
5. Mahmood SN, Bowe WP. J Drugs Dermatol 2014, 13(4): 428-435.
6. Ribaya-Mercado JD, et al. J Nutr 1995, 125(7): 1854-1859.
7. Rizwan M, et al. Br J Dermatol 2011, 164(1): 154-162.
8. Paddon-Jones D, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2008, 87(5): 1558s-1561s.
9. Curioni C, Lourenco P. International journal of obesity 2005, 29(10): 1168-1174.
10. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. Nutrition & Metabolism 2014, 11: 53.
11. Mehta S. Urban malnutrition’ is a major cause of concern, say health experts. The Times of India. 2013 2nd September 2013.
12. Singh J. What is killing India? live mint. 2016 9 February 2016.