Your health destiny a mysterious reality
The idea that we can control our health destinies based on how we eat, exercise and live is enticing.
But the reality is a healthy lifestyle can’t eliminate all risk of sickness, and an unhealthy lifestyle doesn’t necessarily doom us.
I’ve watched cancer patients grapple with guilt, thinking they caused their cancer because they didn’t eat “healthy enough.”
I’ve had healthy patients in larger bodies face not just weight stigma but also false assumptions they have diabetes or heart disease.
Yes, food can be good medicine, but it’s only one player. Most diseases arise because of the complex interactions between our genes, diet and environment.
It’s true that some health conditions respond so well to a change in diet that no medications are needed. However, other diseases are impacted little by nutrition — other than the fact that nutrition supports underlying general health.
We saw a stunning example of that in February when fitness trainer Bob Harper suffered a major heart attack while working out.
Harper’s mother died of a heart attack, so even his high level of physical fitness, nutritious eating and lean body didn’t stop this shocking event.
We may hear about cases such as Harper’s and decide, “Well, if all those vegetables and trips to the gym might not stop me from having a heart attack, why bother?” That’s missing the big picture.
Nutrition may not be able to cure all that ails you, but neither are your genes your destiny. Eating nutritiously and cultivating other health-promoting habits may help improve your genetic hand.
This really could prevent, or at least delay, chronic disease and help you live longer — but there are no guarantees.
Taking care of yourself with nourishing food, regular activity, adequate sleep and so on benefit you every day in smaller but meaningful ways. Even if this doesn’t add years to your life, it will probably add life to your years:
All calories are not created equal. Nutritious food gives you the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre your body needs to run well and feel well. Put quality gas in your tank.
A plant-forward diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and pulses provides your gut microbiota with the type of food it needs to thrive. While this may help prevent chronic diseases, it can also help prevent digestive distress on a daily basis.
Research has found that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables have a more pleasing skin tone and texture. The antioxidants in fruits and vegetables may also help lessen the effects of sun exposure and age.
We lose muscle as we age unless we counteract it by eating enough protein and exercising regularly. Maintaining your muscle will make it easier to move through life as you get older.
INCREASED FOOD ENJOYMENT
When you eat food that’s both nutritious and pleasing to your taste buds, you tend to be more satisfied than when you eat low-nutrient foods.
Carrie Dennett is a registered dietitian nutritionist.
For The Washington Post