Your body wants to heal itself. In fact, it was built to. The choices you make can play a vital role in your body’s ability to fight and prevent illness.
One of the most important choices you make every day is the food you eat. You can harness the power packed into fresh fruit, veggies, and whole grains to use food as key ingredients for health—think of it as part of a recipe to help your body maintain, prevent, and treat preventable disease.
Our bodies function best when our cells have everything they need to heal and grow, including a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Many nutrients are essential for our bodies to keep running smoothly, meaning that without them cells can’t function properly. An appropriate variety of whole foods provides our bodies with the range of nutrients to thrive.
Vitamin C—found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy greens, asparagus, and strawberries—prevents cell damage, enhances immune function, promotes wound healing, and prevents recurrent infections.
Vitamin K—found in leafy greens, plant oils, and fermented foods—assists in blood clotting, strengthens bones, and helps prevent the calcification of blood vessels. For those on oral anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin), a consistent daily supply will help regulate the medication’s effect and should be managed by a physician.
Folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12—found in seafood, legumes, nuts, leafy greens, and whole grains—are vital for your central nervous system, immune system, and to help other nutrients do their jobs.
Riboflavin, or vitamin B2—found in milk, cheese, chicken, beef, fish, and eggs—helps convert food into useable energy and supports tissue repair and formation.
Magnesium—found in oats, wheat, swiss chard, cashews, and hazelnuts—supports bones and teeth, helps control blood sugar, and assists in hundreds of essential cellular reactions.
An increasing number of studies support the idea that when you eat well, you stay healthier and are more likely to control chronic diseases—and perhaps even avoid them altogether.1,2 But what does “eating well” mean in practice? The key is to eat more foods bursting with the vitamins and minerals that support your body’s ability to regulate inflammation, blood sugar, and more, like those found as part of a whole-food, mostly plant-based diet. A lot of good happens when you focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
You get more phytonutrients.
In addition to being some of the best sources for vitamins and minerals, fruits and veggies contain phytonutrients, plant-based chemicals that are considered anti-inflammatory and can repair DNA damage, aid detoxification, and enhance immunity.3,4
You feed your gut microbiome.
Whole grains help produce good bacteria in our stomachs which can aid and improve digestive function. These “good bugs” are also linked to lower risk for metabolic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.5
You crowd out less desirable foods.
When you fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, there’s simply less room for high-sodium, high-sugar foods.
Healthy eating sounds so easy, yet somehow it can be so much harder in practice. To make it easier on yourself, don’t think you have to only eat whole, plant-based foods—just eat more of them. These tips might also help:
The idea of using food as preventive medicine, a way to help the body maintain its best health and fight disease, is based on the knowledge that our bodies require a wide variety of nutrients to continue to function properly. The best and easiest way to keep optimal levels of all the vitamins and minerals we need is to eat lots of nutrient-dense fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
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1. “Vegetables and Fruits.” The Nutrition Source, March 3, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/.
2. Walter C. Willett et al., “Prevention of Chronic Disease by Means of Diet and Lifestyle Changes,” in Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries, ed. D.T. Jamison et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006): 833-850. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11795/.
3. Michael Greger, “How May Plants Protect Against Diabetes,” Nutrition Facts.org, https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-may-plants-protect-against-diabetes/.
4. Charu Gupta and Dhan Prakash, “Phytonutrients as Therapeutic Agents,” Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 11, no. 3 (September 2014): 151-169, https://doi.org/10.1515/jcim-2013-0021.
5. Malorye Branca, “Study Finds Link Between Gut Microbes and Type 2 Diabetes,” Harvard Gazette, January 11, 2021, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/01/study-finds-link-between-gut-microbes-and-obesity/.