You may have heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” While nutritional science and biology isn’t that simple, there is some truth behind the relationship between what we put in our bodies and how it affects our mental and physical health.
The foods we cook at home, and order while we’re on the go, create an instantaneous response in our bodies. While some foods have the power to give us a boost of energy or lighten our mood, other foods can make us feel anxious or lull us into that mid-afternoon coma. It is helpful to consider how the foods we put in our bodies can influence us in order to take control of our current and future health.
Good nutrition combined with physical activity can help us reach and maintain a healthy weight. While there is more to life than the number on the scale, being at a healthy weight can reduce our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Embedding children with healthy habits can help prevent them 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
Although they are common, the development of one of these chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol, should not be taken lightly. Even more concerning, however, is when these diseases are stacked on top of each other.
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?
While there are some things that we cannot control, there are some factors that you can do to reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome. Take a look at the list below to see if there is anything you can modify. 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.” While that may sound scary, eating well is one of these recommended lifestyle changes that you can work on. Even small changes can go a long way over time!
Here are some ideas for where to get started for an overall healthy diet:
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 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. Vitamin D is also important for our immune system. A deficiency can also result in infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and even the seasonal flu.
While we can get some Vitamin D from the sun, many struggle with having the time to get outdoors, they live in a climate with little sunshine, or the skin is protected with clothing or sunscreen. Because of these limitations, it is a good idea to incorporate foods that are high in Vitamin D in our diets.
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.
Your DNA and Diet
Although general recommendations for a healthy diet are very useful tools, the advancements in science allow us to uncover even more information about our nutritional needs. Knowing your unique DNA code allows for personalized nutritional recommendations. With the growing knowledge of nutritional genomics, as well as the many other factors that impact our nutrition and health, personalization is a crucial component in our diets.
A personalized diet further assesses your individual needs, with the goal of optimizing your health outcomes. Research studies have shown improved health outcomes with dietary modifications based on genotype, such as improved blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and BMI. Understanding our own genetic codes may be the next level needed for prevention of diet-related chronic conditions.
The first step to understanding how your genes respond to food is taking a DNA test. GenoPalate offers a DNA testing kit as well as an option to upload DNA data if you have already done DNA testing services such as 23andMe and Ancestry. Your DNA data is translated into nutrition and food recommendations, so you can eat smarter. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to health. It’s important to know where these differences exist and where to begin making changes. Our genetics can give us clues to these differences and provide us insight on our personalized dietary needs.
1. HHS.gov: Importance of Good Nutrition
2. Mayo Clinic: Metabolic Syndrome
3. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/potassium/
5. 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/
6. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamins/vitamin-d/
7. webMD: The Benefits of Protein
8. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/