It doesn’t matter if you want to drop a few pounds or you’re happy with your waistline as-is: Healthy eating is where it’s at. Filling up on the right foods is linked to feel- and be-better benefits, ranging from a healthier heart and brain to a lower chance of developing cancer and a higher chance of scoring that promotion. Check out Women's Health's 18 favorite reasons that — no matter your weight-loss goals — you should put healthy fork to mouth.
1. It makes you happier. While sugar- and trans fat-filled fast food and pastries can throw off your brain’s levels of mood-regulating chemicals to spur symptoms of depression, research consistently shows that health-promoting nutrients — such as creatine, an amino acid found in grass-fed beef, omega-3s from fatty fish, and vitamin D in dairy — can boost your mood and combat depression.
2. It makes you smarter. Brain foods are right. Research from the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging shows that putting away a lot of saturated and trans fats from fried and processed foods reduces your cognitive abilities — and even shrinks your brain — over the years. Meanwhile, high intakes of omega-3s from foods like fish, walnuts, and avocados translate into bigger, better functioning brains.
3. It helps you set new PRs. In case you haven’t gotten the message, we’ll say it again: Food is fuel. While research published in Sports Medicine shows that a pre-workout snack of carbs can boost your performance in both endurance and high-intensity interval workouts, every one of your dietary decisions throughout the day impact your exercise performance, according to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Consistently getting the hydration, vitamins, and minerals you need keeps your body primed and ready to work its best.
4. It scores you better sleep. While getting a good night’s sleep will help you health-ify your plate, eating right will also help you catch the Zs you really crave, according to 2013 research published in Appetite. In the study, University of Pennsylvania researchers found that people who ate the widest variety of foods as well as the most antioxidants. They also drank the most water.
5. It helps keep your ta-tas healthy. When it comes to preventing breast cancer, healthy foods are where it’s at. For instance, mushrooms help keep your estrogen levels in-check to prevent breast cancer, especially hormone-dependent tumors, according to research in Nutrition and Cancer. Bonus: They inhibit cancer cell activity to slow tumor growth.
6. It slashes stress. Foods have a huge influence on your levels of chillaxing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine as well as your levels of stress-inducing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. For instance, in one 2014 Journal of the American College of Cardiology study, people who ate flavonoid-rich dark chocolate before undergoing a mock interview came out on top with lower levels of adrenaline.
7. It fights off inflammation. Inflammation is linked to everything from stress and brain fog to diseases such as heart disease and cancer. But according to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who eat whole grains over refined ones cut their levels of C-reactive protein — a key indicator of inflammation — by 38 percent. And, FYI, that was after controlling for weight loss (because we aren’t talking about weight loss here!).
8. It boosts your immunity. If you’d rather play hooky than spend your “sick days” in bed with the sniffles, it’s time to pay attention to your plate. 2013 research in the journal Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology shows that keeping your gut bacteria happy and healthy (reach for probiotics and complex carbs!) can strengthen your immune system to reduce your likelihood of infections. And research in BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine shows that green tea can help fight off the flu this season.
9. It protects your ticker. Women nowadays are more likely to die from heart disease than from anything else. Luckily, all weight loss aside, eating right can help cut your risk. For instance, one New England Journal of Medicine study found that people who eat about a handful of nuts every day were 29 percent less likely to die from heart disease. Yaaaaas!
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