A Healthy Diet is Key To a Long and Happy Life

This article is published as part of Nutri Inspector's scholarship application by Mikayla Batkiewicz who studies at University of Central Florida.

When someone pursues a healthy diet that contains ample nutrients, their body is more energized and functions properly. A healthy diet supports a person’s overall health, their weight and prevents diseases, which is why new studies have been conducted to find foods that can boost one’s health, like grapefruits and chia seeds.

In relation to overall health, a proper diet provides nutrients that support the activities of day-to-day living, protect cells from environmental damage and repair any cellular damage that might occur. With the required amount of protein, injured tissues are rebuilt and the immune system stays healthy. Additionally, carbohydrates and fats fuel the body, while vitamins and minerals support the daily processes of the body. For example, Vitamins A, C, and E act as antioxidants to protect cells against toxins. Vitamin B helps to extract energy from the food. Phosphorus and calcium help the bones stay strong, but potassium and sodium help to transmit nerve signals. If your body is deprived of these necessary nutrients, then your body’s system will slow down, become weaker and more susceptible to disease.

Along with helping to keep a person’s body strong, a healthy diet helps to control a person’s weight. By making sure that you take in the same number of calories as you burn, your body weight will stay steady overtime. If you consume more than you burn, then you gain weight since your body converts the extra calories into fat tissues. If fat tissues accumulate, you are at risk for dangerous health problems, such as heart disease, hypertension, respiratory issues, diabetes, and cancer. Also, a proper diet and exercise helps to keep your metabolism steady, prevent depression and lessen arthritis.

One of the main risks of following an unhealthy diet is obesity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 39% of U.S. adults are obese and 17% of children are obese. It occurs when fat tissue accumulates from excess calorie intake. However, too little or too much of nutrients can cause other health issues. For example, a lack of daily calcium intake can lead to the development of osteoporosis. Also, too much saturated fat can cause cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, too few fruits and vegetables in one’s diet is associated with an increased incidence of cancer. A healthy lifestyle is key to a long life and without potential diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise plan leads to a healthy and steady weight. Incorporate a variety of food groups in order to balance out nutrients and vitamins to ensure a healthy diet. There is a diverse group of foods that can help boost your metabolism, burn fat and provide nutrients. Included in the mix are chili peppers, coconut oil, chia seeds, nuts, and grapefruit.

Chili peppers are known to cause a burning sensation in one’s mouth when eaten, but they have also been known to help break down fat in the body. Chili peppers contain a chemical called Capsaicin, which releases adrenaline when it enters the bloodstream. The breakdown of fat happens in a two step process and requires exercise. When Capsaicin enters the body, it breaks down fat, however, that fat needs to be burned off in order to have an effect. When chili peppers are not combined with exercise, the fat is left alone and no effect is created. On the other side, if chili peppers are combined with exercise, fat is burned off and there is a decrease in body fat. When Slism did a study with chili peppers, the data showed that after thirty minutes from taking in Capsaicin, the fat burning process began. Therefore, a person should exercise within thirty minutes in order to see results. Besides helping to burn more fat, Capsaicin can help to increase the amount of brown fat one person has. Brown fat works to regulate body temperature, but white fat does not. White fat makes up most of the fat in our bodies while brown fat is a very small percentage of our body fat. When chili peppers were used for animal studies, subjects demonstrated high levels of brown fat activity after exposure to Capsaicin. Besides decreasing fat amount when combined with exercise, chili peppers can create a boost in mood because of a rush of endorphins and can help relieve pain. Like other citrus fruits, chili peppers contain plenty of vitamin C and vitamin A, which are important vitamins that are needed daily. Chili peppers are a way to increase the amount of fat burned because they contain Capsaicin, and in addition to chili peppers, jalapenos, habaneros and cayenne powder contain Capsaicin.

Similar to chili peppers, coconut oil can help boost metabolism and help with weight loss when combined with exercise and dieting. Coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids rather than long chain fatty acids that other fats contain. Since coconut oil has different fatty acids than other fats, it is metabolized differently. What makes medium chain fatty acids different than long chain fatty acids is how they are digested. Medium chain fatty acids are sent directly to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used for energy right away or are turned into ketone bodies. When coconut oil was used in diets for rats, the rats that were fed the medium chain fats gained 20% less weight and 23% less body fat, according to Authority Nutrition. When compared with other foods, coconut oil is more thermogenic, which means that it is known to increase fat burning. One study found that one to two tablespoons of medium chain fats per day increase fat burning by 5%, which is about 120 calories per day, according to Authority Nutrition. Since the amount of fat burned is increased by medium chain fats, metabolism can be boosted by foods containing medium chain fats. Additionally, medium chain fatty acids, when compared to the same amount of calories from other fats, increase feelings of fullness and lead to a decrease in calorie intake. Authority Nutrition found that coconut oil can boost metabolism and reduce appetite, which can help with weight loss. A study with forty women tested the effects of coconut oil for 28 days and each participant was given either two tablespoons of coconut oil or soybean oil. The participants were told to reduce their calorie intake and walk every day. The results showed that both test groups lost around two pounds, but the coconut oil group had decreased waist circumference while the soybean oil group actually had a small increase in belly fat. Also, the coconut oil group had increased HDL cholesterol levels, however, the soybean oil group had reduced HDL and increased LDL levels.

Chia seeds have been linked to decreased appetite and weight loss because of the high amount of fiber that chia seeds have. Just two tablespoons of chia seeds have nearly ten grams of fiber, which is 40% of the recommended daily intake. Various studies have shown that eating 30 grams of fiber a day can help a person lose as much weight as if he or she followed a more complex diet. Fiber is essential to help balance insulin levels. According to the National Institutes of Health, seeds like chia seeds can be a natural blood sugar balancer. Fiber also has digestive benefits. Fiber helps to maintain bowel regularity and healthy stools. Along with diet benefits, chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of a metabolic syndrome and coronary heart disease. Chia seeds have the ability to reverse inflammation, regulate cholesterol and lower blood pressures. Research done in Massachusetts has shown that there are positive benefits of chia seeds in relation to allergies, angina, athletic performance, cancer, heart attacks, hormonal disorders, hyperlipidemia, strokes, and vasodilatation. Chia seeds contain a high amount of antioxidants that help prevent cell damage and are a good source of calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, and copper. Antioxidants help to speed up the skin’s repair systems and prevent damage, which helps to prevent aging skin. They also can prevent premature skin aging due to inflammation and free radical damage.The minerals contained in chia seeds can help prevent hypertension and maintain a healthy weight. Just two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 18% of the daily recommended intake for calcium, 35% for phosphorus, 24% for magnesium, and 50% for manganese. Since chia seeds have multiple weight loss benefits and nutrient benefits, they should be incorporated into diets in ways such as smoothies, oatmeals, salads, salad dressing, yogurt, soups, muffins, bread, pudding, or baked goods.

Even though nuts are full of fat, they are packed with antioxidants, protein, copper, fiber, magnesium, monounsaturated fats, folic acid, and vitamin E. The fats that make up nuts are heart-healthy nuts and help to reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes all while helping to control weight. Health problems caused by bad fats are usually saturated and trans fats, which are not found in most nuts. Instead, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats make up nuts and have multiple health benefits. Nuts, such as walnuts, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon too. Since 2003, the Food and Food Administration has supported scientific evidence that suggests that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts can help reduce the risk of heart disease because of the low amount of saturated fat and cholesterol. Frank Hu, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a study and concluded that one to two ounces of nuts a day can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30%. Just like chia seeds, nuts have been discovered to help lower LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL “good” cholesterol levels. Because of the health components of nuts, researchers have discovered that nuts help lower a person’s risk of getting type 2 diabetes. The Journal of the American Medical Association conducted a study that found that women who eat nuts at least five times a week had a 30% reduction in diabetes risk over women who never ate nuts. Nuts can even help with maintaining a healthy weight. Nuts are filling when eaten, which makes it likely that someone will eat less later in the day. As a result of the fewer calories being eaten in the day, weight is lost and a healthy weight can be maintained. The fat that nuts contain helps to keep people fuller longer and they are a good source of energy. One study found that men or women who ate two or more servings of nuts a week had a 31% lower risk of weight gain when compared to those who never or rarely ate nuts. Additionally, 36 studies found that nuts did not contribute to an increase in weight, body mass index or waist size. Some of the healthy options for nuts include walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts.

Grapefruit is another food that has multiple health benefits including weight loss. Since grapefruit contains an organic compound called nootkatone, which activates an enzyme called AMPK, grapefruit helps to boost metabolism and encourage weight loss. When AMPK is activated, it supports the body’s energy producing process, like glucose uptake, which helps to boost metabolism. Generally, AMPK is activated during exercise to help store sugar and fat in order to preserve energy. When the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism conducted a study with animals, it demonstrated how nootkatone affects the body long term. The study showed that nootkatone reduced high fat, weight gain, abdominal fat accumulation, the development of hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, and hyperleptinemia. This study showed how grapefruit can prevent obesity and improve overall physical performance. Additionally, animal studies have shown that grapefruit beats out anti-obesity drugs when it comes down to weight loss. When grapefruit studies were conducted using humans, it was seen that grapefruit helped with weight loss, metabolism and insulin resistance. According to the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, grapefruit can be used to reduce cellulite. The best way to reduce cellulite is through inhaling the vapor of the extract because it stimulates the nervous system by 250%. Also, grapefruit has high levels of anti-inflammatory and skin-cleansing agents. It includes the enzyme bromelain, which helps to break down cellulite. Other animal and cell studies have been carried out and the American Institute for Cancer Research said that the studies showed that grapefruit’s phytochemicals naringin and limonin have an ability to reduce the growth of colon, skin, lung, breast, and stomach cancers. Not only did the growth slow down, but the rate of cancer cell self-destruction increased. Compounds found in grapefruits decrease inflammation and increase enzymes that deactivate carcinogens. Grapefruits are also known to help one’s immune system. Along with a high amount of vitamin C, there are bioflavonoids that help give you an extra immunity boost. Vitamin C cells help to prevent the body from contracting sickness and infections. The American Heart Association conducted a study in 2012 and the study showed that eating grapefruits can be helpful in lowering the risk of a stroke. With flavonoids are consumed, they help to lower the risk of an ischemic stroke. The study had around 70,000 women and it found that women who consumed high amounts of flavonoids had a 19% lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed little flavonoids. When it comes down to skin health, grapefruit is used in cosmetic and skin-cleansing products because it contains acids that cleanse the skin. Also, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to protect the skin and is essential to the formation of collagen. Collagen helps to keep skin wrinkle-free and youthful. Pink grapefruits are rich in beta-carotene, which improves hyperpigmentation and slows down the aging of skin cells. Lycopene is also in grapefruits and is known to guard against sun induced skin damage and mutation as well as inflammation. Lastly, grapefruit contains a breakout-fighting and pore-cleansing ingredient called salicylic acid. This is a common ingredient in acne medicines because of the ability to help clean pores. Grapefruit can be eaten sliced up, in salads, smoothies, juices, and salad dressings.

Maintaining a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle is important for living a long and happy life. Recent studies have shown that there are foods that can help improve cell health, the immune system, skin, the digestive system, and metabolism. These foods include chia seeds, grapefruit, nuts, and chili peppers and can be eaten plain or they can be incorporated into meals, like salads. There are multiple benefits when it comes down to eating these “superfoods” daily and can boost a person’s appearance, mood, metabolism, and weight loss because of the active ingredients in them. Besides vitamins and minerals in these foods, there are enzymes, good fats, protein, and fiber. In order to maintain a healthy weight and avoid becoming overweight, exercise and fruits should become part of an everyday routine. When a healthy diet and lifestyle are followed, the risk of contracting an illness or disease decreases and overall health and appearance improves.

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