The influence of diet in causing and preventing physiological and psychological disorders is well established, as is the importance of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in maintaining health.
Nutritionists go one step further by using diet and nutritional supplements to treat and prevent illness. They look for nutritional deficiencies, food allergies and intolerances, and for lifestyle and environmental factors that disturb the digestion and the full absorption of nutrients.
Food intolerances and allergies can contribute to a wide range of mental health problems, including depression, chronic fatigue, substance abuse, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Highly processed “junk” foods, deficient in essential vitamins and minerals and high in refined sugar, salt, fats, and chemical additives, negatively impact physical and psychological well-being.
In addition, even those who eat a balanced diet and have an otherwise healthy metabolism, can be adversely affected by environmental toxins. Industrialization, traffic pollution, and the use of pesticides result in food that contains excessive levels of heavy metals, namely lead, cadmium, mercury, and aluminum, all of which have been associated with neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and schizophrenia.
Scientific research has proven that good health is directly related to the quality of food eaten, and that inadequate diet negatively affects mood and even hastens aging. The source of our nutrition has become critical as crops grown in poor soil lack essential micronutrients, yet are abundant in toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, antibiotics and hormones fed to livestock find their way into our food chain. Getting what we need from our food isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Whole Foods Diet
The more we learn about nutrition, the more it seems we should eat the way people did a hundred years ago. Recent research appears to be pointing us in the direction of eating mostly “whole foods” – that is, foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. This could mean eating the following:
- Whole grains instead of refined grains whenever possible.
- Fruits, vegetables, and beans instead of supplements to provide the fiber and vitamins they contain.
- A skinless chicken breast cooked with healthful ingredients instead of chicken nuggets processed with added fats, flavorings, and preservatives.
- A baked potato with chopped green onions and light sour cream instead of a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips.
- Fresh berries with breakfast instead of raspberry toaster pastries or breakfast bars.
- A blueberry smoothie made with blueberries, yogurt, and a frozen banana instead of a blue-colored slushy or ice.
Many health experts believe that eating more whole foods is our best bet for improving health and preventing disease. Whole foods – like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes — retain their fiber as well as the whole portfolio of beneficial phytochemicals and nutrients that are often removed in processed foods. Whole foods diets are often used in treatment centers for addiction and eating disorders.