How Does Food Impact Health?

Food is medicine.

Yes, what you eat affects your health. Diet can help you manage and prevent chronic illness. Staying healthy prevents absenteeism and helps you feel better all year long. While food cannot replace medication entirely, a healthy diet is your best defense against chronic illness.

The importance of a Healthy Diet to Wellness

Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains helps manage:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes (blood sugar)

How does food affect health?

Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself by fighting infection, increasing blood flow, and signalling that something is wrong. It is a good thing, unless there is too much of it! Chronic inflammation has been linked to many chronic conditions including hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Making sure that your diet is filled with fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help you decrease inflammation. Additionally, these steps can help you decrease inflammation:

  1. Aim for 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables/day
    • Aim for at least half of your plate to be vegetables and remember: the deeper the color, the more it is packed ammunition to fight inflammation
    • Make sure to include:
      • Leafy greens: spinach, kale, collards, arugula, endive
      • Berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries
      • Other: bell peppers, chili peppers, grapes, tomatoes, cherries
  2. Consume about 30 grams of fiber each day
    • Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber
    • Limit refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, corn cereals, crackers, cookies and cake
    • Include brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread and other whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, bulgar, barley and rye
  3. Get plenty of healthy fats
    • Choose unsaturated fats like olive, fish, or flax oils instead of saturated or trans fats
    • Look for omega-3’s from fatty fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies
  4. Try some spices or herbs with anti-inflammatory compounds
    • Ginger, rosemary, garlic, turmeric, oregano, cumin, cayenne, cloves, nutmeg, willow bark, feverfew
    • Also try some of our no salt seasonings recipes
  5. Focus on plant-based or lean animal proteins
    • Legumes, nuts and seeds are great plant-based proteins
    • Nuts: walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, and almonds
    • Seeds: pine nuts, chia seeds. Not sure how to add chia seeds? Take a look at our blog with tips, hacks and recipes
    • Try to have one cup of pinto, black, red kidney or garbanzo beans twice/week
  6. Other considerations
    • If you have food intolerances, make sure to avoid those foods, if you are unaware of your food intolerances, you may want to have some nutrition testing done
    • Try to limit the amount of sodium you consume
    • Alcohol may increase inflammation

anti-inflammation how does food impact health

Healthy food choices for specific conditions:

Some specific diseases are particularly responsive to change in diet. Heart disease and diabetes can be well-managed with changes in diet.

Here are the highlights to manage heart diseases including hypertension and high cholesterol:

What is Hypertension?

Hypertension Food Tips and Health Hacks:

  • Sodium (salt) can increase blood pressure. Sources of salt include not only added salt at the table. There can be much more sodium in processed foods than from the salt shaker! Make sure to read nutrition labels.
  • How much sodium is in salt?
    • 1 tsp salt = 2400 mg sodium; we typically recommend 1500-2000 mg/day
  • Potassium can help mitigate the effects of salt. Use tools like MyPlate which encourages you to have half of your plate filled with fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies are good sources of potassium. Starches like whole grains, beans, and potatoes are also good sources of potassium!
  • The DASH diet can also help manage hypertension.
    • What is the DASH diet? Take a look at this link to find out more details of the DASH diet.
  • The REBEL plate is our version of MyPlate. It’s a great visual aid for creating balanced meals.

how food impacts health

 High Cholesterol Food Tips and Health Hacks:

  • Saturated fat and trans fat raises LDL cholesterol which is the “bad” cholesterol
    • Limit sources of saturated fat including:
      • fatty meats, butter, high fat dairy (cheese, yogurt, cream), fried foods, pastries
    • Trans fat
      • Hydrogenated oil is a source of trans fat and is found in certain processed foods like some peanut butters, baked goods, and shortening.
  • Fiber helps reduce LDL cholesterol
    • Include lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains to increase your fiber intake!


Diabetes Food Tips and Hacks:

  • Be mindful of carbohydrates:
    • sugar vs starches
      • Both sugar (in sweetened beverages, fruit, juice, milk) and starch can raise blood sugar. Starch is digested and converted to sugar. Look at the label for total carbohydrate, which includes both starches and sugars. 
    • Starches raise blood sugar slower than simple sugars
    • See graph of how different foods affect blood sugar

how does food impact health

  • Glycemic index and fiber
    • Low glycemic foods have a higher fiber content, are digested slower; and do not raise blood sugar as quickly

Hopefully these tips have given you inspiration on ways to modify your diet to decrease your risk of chronic diseases and or manage your inflammation, blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes

For more of our favorite blogs to help you manage or prevent heart disease and diabetes:

  • Three reasons you should eat hummus
  • Eight heart healthy snacks
  • Three ways to prevent heart disease
  • Nourishly: The best new app for diabetes management
  • Diabetes friendly recipes to satisfy your cravings
  • Diabetes friendly grocery shopping

Interested in having us speak at your next event on how food affects health?  We regularly speak at corporate events, healthcare and other community events! Contact us for more information.

To find out more about how our team of Registered Dietitians can help you, reach out to us at , call us at 301-474-2499 or fill out the contact form below.


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