March is National Nutrition Month, a time for us to reflect on eating habits and make changes to improve physical, mental, and emotional health. Most of us have goals to eat healthier and avoid sweet treats. Doing this on a consistent basis proves to have life changing rewards, of which include lowering chronic disease risk.
Your health is one of the only things that will remain with you for your entire life. Your body helps you move freely and see the world. Your mind helps you solve problems and think creatively. Improve your overall quality of life and well-being by investing in your health and well-being.
Proper nutrition is a powerful tool in achieving overall health and avoiding chronic disease. Healthy eating is known to lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other health conditions, says the National Institutes of Health. When it comes to a healthy diet, two things are required: nutrition education and access to healthy options.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention summarize the chronic diseases associated with poor nutrition and how they can harm the body and mind:
Overweight & obesity – In the United States, around 40 percent of adults are obese, which costs the health care system $147 billion each year. Low-income urban neighborhoods, rural areas, and tribal communities typically have little access to fresh, affordable produce-this may contribute the population’s spike in obesity.
Heart disease & stroke – Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, one of the leading contributors to heart disease. Nine in ten Americans are consuming too much sodium on a regular basis and 70% of their consumption is coming from packaged, processed foods. Reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day could save 280,000 to 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in health care costs over the next 10 years.
Type 2 diabetes – Americans diagnosed with diabetes more than doubled in the last 20 years. Today, 1 in 3 adults have prediabetes and 90 percent of them don’t know they have it. By making healthier food options, increasing exercise, and learning to cope with stress in a healthy way, individuals with prediabetes can reduce their risk of developing the disease by 58 percent.
Cancer – poor nutrition can increase the risk of developing some cancers. Thirteen types of cancer alone are associated with overweight and obesity. Consuming a healthy diet with a focus on plant-based foods is among the top three things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cancer, says the American Cancer Society.
Brain function – Eating quality foods full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants help the brain function and protect it from oxidative stress (free radicals that can damage cells), says Harvard Medical School. Studies have found a connection between diets high in refined carbs and impaired brain function.
While discussing the effects an unhealthy diet can have on the body and mind, it should be noted that many other factors contribute to chronic disease risk, including genetics and factors and regular exercise, explains the National Institutes of Health.
How to improve your health and encourage coworkers to do the same:
Health and wellness expert, nutritionist, and professional speaker, Lisa A. Smith recommends starting with three small steps to start living a healthier life. Although Smith is a strong advocate for a plant-based diet, these beginner steps can improve personal health and reduce risk of chronic disease without addressing meat or dairy:
1. Water – It is recommended you consume half your body weight in ounces each day. When you wake up in the morning, you are already in a state of dehydration. To fix this, Smith recommends drinking 20oz of room-temperature water within the first 20-25 minutes of waking up. (Room-temperature water aids in digestion better than cold water does.)
2. Un–process your diet – Smith urges individuals to forget calorie counting. The quality of foods we eat has the biggest impact on health and chronic disease risk. Smith urges clients to shop 80-90 percent label free. When it comes to certain processed foods like peanut butter and pasta sauce, shop for products that contain ingredients you could make in your own kitchen (no chemicals or dyes).
3. Address your sugar, salt, and oil intake – Having too much sugar, salt, or fat in your diet can raise your risk for certain diseases says National Institutes of Health. Sugar is the number one cause of memory loss says Smith. She recommends consuming foods high in antioxidants to remove free radicals in the body. Other tips include consuming at least 25g of fiber per day and swapping olive oil with vegetable broth when sautéing to reduce oil intake.
In light of National Nutrition Month, spend some time evaluating your current eating habits. By making healthier choices, and encouraging your employees and coworkers to do the same, you can make a positive impact in your organization and personal life.