It’s no secret that a healthy diet made up of nutritious whole foods can improve your health, but because what you eat affects nearly every cell in your body, eating well goes way beyond the more commonly touted benefits, like preventing weight gain and disease. Healthy eating can promote success and happiness in nearly everything you do. We asked nutrition experts to explain how eating well can have a positive impact in other aspects of life. Here’s what they had to say.
“Our digestive system, in particular, is equipped with an intricate system of nerves called the vagus nerve that directly connects it to the brain,” explained Bella Dalili, a nutritionist and health blogger with a master's degree in nutrition, dietetics and food science. “Thus, the state of your gut affects the state of your mind. Through these signals from the gut to the brain, healthy eating habits can promote better mood and general feelings of happiness." Adversely, a poor diet can negatively affect your body's pH balance, gut microbial balance and cause digestive stress, which Dalili said sends signals to the brain that can lead to feelings of anxiety and negative thoughts. "When you eat healthy, on the other hand, your body's signals to the brain provide a calmer mood and more positive thinking, which actually improves your outlook on life."
Dalili said that eating well also helps the body to maintain stable blood sugar levels, which helps us feel energized and focused. She added that low blood sugar can even cause a drop in your IQ. “The digestive system plays a key role in productivity as well,” Dalili explained. “The term ‘food coma’ applies here. When you eat poorly, it causes digestive distress. Much of the body's energy must then be used to digest the food you are eating, leaving you chronically tired.” Less nutritious foods can cause your energy levels to plunge, thus leaving you to feel less motivated and productive. “Healthy eating equals better digestion and blood sugar balance, which equals energy, motivation and productivity,” Dalili said.
As a result of feeling happier and less stressed, Dalili said healthy eating can improve our relationships with others. “We become less stressed and irritable, more positive and calm,” she said, pointing out that eating well can even improve your libido. “All of this has much to do with the fact that healthy eating habits promote hormonal balance.”
“When the mind and body is nourished through healthy eating, we are better able to handle stress,” Dalili said. “Healthy food promotes hormonal balance, which improves mood, reduces irritability and increases energy, leaving us well and capable of handling life's stresses.” On the other hand, she explained, a poor diet adversely affects our mood and hormones. “Thus, thoughts and feelings are not constructive, problems seem bigger and the ability to find solutions is compromised due to a negative focus on the problem,” she added.
David Didier, a former competitive athlete and CrossFit certified trainer, explains it like this: your body is like a diesel engine that can’t operate properly without optimal fuel. “Our bodies can’t operate at their highest level when not fueled with the proper nutrition,” he said. “When our bodies are fueled properly, they run more efficiently. This allows us to have more energy during the day, not get bogged down midday and encourages more restful sleep.” Plus, this can create a sort of snowball effect. “Once you start to eat healthy, you begin to feel better. Once you start to feel better, you are going to have more energy. When you have more energy, you are going to want to be more active,” Didier explained. And from there the cycle is more likely to continue until a healthy lifestyle feels natural and almost effortless.
“With better exercise and eating habits, you can actually change and improve the output of the cells of your own body,” said Steve Collins, an exercise and cardiac physiologist and co-founder of The Way Up, a fitness and nutrition training program. He explained it this way: when your brain functions better as a result of eating well your motivation and mood improve, which will likely help you routinely stick to a lifestyle that involves both a healthy diet and exercise. “All of that increases your personal performance at work, in your relationship and of course, the performance of your body,” Collins said.
Many studies have shown that learning skills improve as a result of nourishing our bodies with healthy foods. According to registered dietitian Elisa Zied, author of “Feed Your Family Right,” good nutrition has been associated with better grades, improved memory and alertness, and increases in the brain’s ability to process information. For example, research has long supported eating breakfast as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, and one study found that breakfast eaters were more likely to pass an exam when compared to those who didn’t eat a morning meal.
“It can improve your family dynamic to have regularly cooked meals at home,” said Georgie Fear, a registered dietitian, pro nutrition coach and author of “Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss.” Plus, research has shown that children who eat at home with their parents are more likely to develop healthier eating habits when compared to children who don’t.
“When we choose to take the time to cook or order a meal that’s high in nutrients, it shows that self-care is a priority and that we're worth taking more than five minutes to cook some instant ramen,” Fear said. “This effect can be increased by giving yourself credit for every home cooked meal or healthy choice you make. Thank yourself for the great self-care and watch your self-esteem get a gentle bump.”
“Eating fewer snack foods, processed foods and soft drinks improves overall diet quality, but also helps save a lot of money because these items can contribute a hefty amount to a person's grocery bills,” Fear said. Sure, sometimes it might seem like healthier foods have higher prices, but if you shop with a strategy, compared to eating out, investing in nutritious foods at the grocery store and preparing most meals at home can help you save some money.