How Nutrition Impacts Health
You actually are what you eat.
The foods we cook at home, and order while we’re on the go, create an instantaneous response in our bodies.
Some foods have the power to give us a boost of energy or lighten our mood. While other foods can make us feel anxious or lull us into that mid-afternoon coma.
With our shrinking attention spans, and growing waistlines, it’s easy to ignore how food choices impact our future health.
Good nutrition, combined with physical activity, can help us reach and maintain a healthy weight. Good nutrition can also reduce our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Poor nutrition can result in obesity and the development of these chronic diseases in men and women. Children are being diagnosed with “adult” risk factors like hypertension and type 2 diabetes. In most cases, these diagnoses in children are a result of unhealthy eating habits and weight gain from a sedentary lifestyle.
The perfect storm of chronic disease
The development of one of these chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol, is serious. But what’s even more concerning is metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a set of chronic conditions that cluster together. These conditions include high blood pressure, high blood sugar and excess body fat around the waist. High cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels also contribute to metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is becoming increasingly common. According to Mayo Clinic, up to one-third of U.S. adults have it. Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to obesity, an inactive lifestyle and insulin resistance.
A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome signals an increased risk of:
Heart disease and stroke: High blood pressure and high triglycerides can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This plaque can narrow and harden the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Type 2 diabetes: Excess weight can lead to insulin resistance, which can cause blood sugar levels to rise.
Who’s at risk for metabolic syndrome?
According to Mayo Clinic, the following factors increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:
Age. Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
Ethnicity. In the United States, Hispanics, especially Hispanic women, appear to be at the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Obesity. Carrying too much weight, especially in your abdomen, increases your risk of metabolic syndrome.
Diabetes. Your risk of metabolic syndrome is higher if you had gestational diabetes during pregnancy or if you have a family history.
Other diseases. Your risk of metabolic syndrome is higher if you've ever had nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome or sleep apnea.
Your nutrition impacts your health
Traditional medical advice calls for those with metabolic syndrome to “make aggressive lifestyle changes in order to delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.”
Eating well is one of these recommended lifestyle changes.
We don’t subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. But we do know, based on the genotypes we’ve analyzed, that everyBODY benefits from certain nutrients.
The key, however, is to consume the best sources, and the right amount of each nutrient, for your genetic makeup:
Fiber helps regulate the body’s use of sugars to keep hunger and blood sugar in check. It also keeps us feeling satiated.
Fiber may reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease and constipation. It also inhibits the absorption of cholesterol. The best sources of fiber include whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans. 
Potassium is an essential mineral that is used by all tissues in the body. Considered an electrolyte, it carries a small electrical charge that activates various cell and nerve functions. Potassium helps maintain normal levels of fluid inside our cells, helps muscles contract and supports normal blood pressure.
Potassium is found in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens, beans, nuts, dairy, and starchy vegetables like winter squash are rich sources. Avocados, bananas and coconut water also contain potassium. 
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats. Our bodies don’t produce Omega-3’s so we must get them from food. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function.
Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke. They may help control lupus, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil and leafy vegetables. 
Vitamin D is a disease fighter. It is a hormone our bodies make, and a nutrient we need to consume. Worldwide, an estimated 1 billion people have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood.
Being deficient increases our risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, some cancers, bone fractures and multiple sclerosis. A deficiency can also result in infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and even the seasonal flu.
Most of us don’t take 15-minute walks in the sun each day. We have to rely on food and supplements to get our vitamin D.
Because few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D, the biggest dietary sources are fortified foods and vitamin supplements. Good sources include dairy products, oatmeal, mushrooms and eggs (all of which are fortified with vitamin D). Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, is also an excellent source. 
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Our bodies use protein to build and repair tissues and to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals.
Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Our bodies need protein but unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body does not store it. 
Because protein is abundant in foods, it is easy to replenish the body’s supply. However, not all protein “packages” are created equal. Because foods contain a lot more than protein, it’s important to pay attention to what else is coming with it.
A 4-ounce broiled sirloin steak is a great source of protein—about 33 grams worth. But it also delivers about 5 grams of saturated fat.
A 4-ounce ham steak with 22 grams of protein has only 1.6 grams of saturated fat. But it’s loaded with 1,500 milligrams worth of sodium.
A 4-ounce fillet of grilled sockeye salmon has about 30 grams of protein. It is naturally low in sodium, and contains just over 1 gram of saturated fat. Salmon and other fatty fish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
One cup of cooked lentils provides about 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber. It has virtually no saturated fat or sodium. 
Download our checklist, 5 Nutrients You Need to Know to Prevent Metabolic Syndrome to discover actionable ways to get the right nutrients.
HHS.gov: Importance of Good Nutrition
Mayo Clinic: Metabolic Syndrome
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/potassium/
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamins/vitamin-d/
webMD: The Benefits of Protein
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/