Diet is the key to health. What you put into your body on a regular basis is the chief determinant of how healthy you are. In fact, it is arguable that nutrition is the most important aspect of health, even more than exercise. Whole food is what provides us with the nutrients we need to survive, including the micronutrients of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, and the macronutrients of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. When the right quantities and right types of these substances are consumed, the body operates at its fullest potential, and disease will not develop (absent extreme circumstances like radiation or asbestos consumption).
There are many specific ways that diet contributes to health. One of the most talked about aspects of health, especially in the promotion of foods, is antioxidant content. These molecules eliminate free radicals, which are molecules with an unpaired electron. Free radicals damage other molecules because of their instability, but antioxidants neutralize free radicals by either donating an electron (so there is no longer the unpaired one) or completely destroying the molecule. The efficacy of this process is unparalleled, but there is one issue. Once the antioxidant neutralizes the free radical, it no longer has the capacity to neutralize any more. Therefore, the body’s antioxidants reserves must be continually replenished in order to keep up with the managing of free radicals. The total antioxidant capacity of foods is traditionally measured with ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). While this measure is not perfect, it is reasonably accurate. High-antioxidant foods include kale, spinach, blueberries, and carrots.
Most people get the majority of their protein from meat. This is not preferred, as animal protein is acidic and the large consumption of red meat is a significant contributor to heart disease and cancer, the two top killers of Americans. Plant protein is the ideal protein, and there are many foods which contain 100% complete protein. This means that all ten essential and semi-essential amino acids are present. Protein is used for muscles, enzymes, and other tissue. The enzymes are particularly notable, as having an abundant supply of them allows critical processes to be executed and catalyzed. Getting protein from plants ensures it is utilized to the fullest.
Of course, there are a wide variety of constituents of food that are important to health, including essential fatty acids, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Variety is the key to ensuring that all of these needs are taken care of. Eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and the right grains is all you need to be healthy. There are also vegan butters and oils (like olive and coconut) which are extremely beneficial. Place the well being of your body in the foods you eat, and you will live well.