4 ways your eating habits affect your health

5 min

If you’ve grown up eating a certain way or slipped into some not-so-flash habits, you might not realise how much the food you eat affects how you feel every day. It can impact your energy levels, sleep quality, immunity, concentration levels and more. If your diet features a few too many sausage rolls, energy drinks, chocolate biccies and takeaway dinners, it might take a few changes to realise how much better you can feel. What can be harder to wrap your head around – because the consequences aren’t immediate – is how food affects your health in the long run. The majority of Australians aren’t meeting the recommended nutrition requirements, and this is one of the biggest contributors to an early death, as well as increasing your risk of developing a range of health conditions. Here are four ways your eating habits affect your health and what you can do about it.

Heart health

Heart disease is the biggest killer in Australia. It occurs when fatty deposits (plaque) build up in arteries that supply the heart with blood, narrowing them. It’s a process called atherosclerosis, and it can start when you’re young, without any obvious signs, until it’s quite advanced. The food you eat is one of the factors that increase your risk of heart disease. Other risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes are also affected by diet. The best eating habits for your heart health? A balanced diet low in unhealthy fats, salt and added sugar, and rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, legumes and healthy fats is ideal. Other beneficial habits include opting for unflavoured dairy, healthy unsaturated fats from seeds and plants (such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, sunflower, canola, safflower, peanut, soybean and sesame instead of butter and cream), reducing salt intake and avoiding packaged and processed foods. 

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Learn more about eating for a healthier heart here.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes develops when your cells don’t respond to insulin properly, and your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin for your body’s needs. This causes glucose to build up in the blood. Eating a healthy diet can prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes and reduce the disease’s other risk factors, like high blood pressure and being overweight. Overall, a balanced diet is your best bet. But some quick changes you can make? There’s good evidence that eating enough whole grains can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, so swap white bread for brown, seedy stuff and eat more unprocessed options like brown rice (with a curry), oats (in porridge) and quinoa (alongside your source of protein). Drinking one sugar-sweetened beverage a day increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 19%, so swap your servo soft drink, iced coffee or energy drink for more water. 

Mental health

There’s no singular cause of mental illness. Factors like biology (mental health is affected by your genes and related to your family history of mental illness), your current circumstances (whether that’s something like stress at work, money problems or isolation), life experiences (such as trauma, abuse or grief) and individual coping styles all contribute. Better-quality diets are linked to a reduced risk of developing depression, and unhealthy eating habits are associated with increased depression and anxiety. Changing what you put on your plate can also help manage depression after you’re diagnosed — a 12-week randomised controlled trial showed a significant improvement in depression scores and quality of life in young men who followed a Mediterranean diet. This style of eating (which is common in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain) plates up plenty of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Other things to focus on are healthy fats, using extra virgin olive oil as your main source (instead of butter or margarine), and eating plenty of avocados, walnuts and oily fish like salmon and sardines for their important omega-3 fatty acids. And swap your steak for salmon – the Mediterranean diet features very little red meat, with the main sources of animal proteins being seafood, poultry and dairy.

Bowel cancer

Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, affects the colon (large intestine) or rectum, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Certain eating habits increase your risk of developing bowel cancer, and they’re common among Australians. Eating processed meat (like salami, ham and bacon) and a high amount of red meat can increase your risk of developing the disease. It’s likely you’re overdoing it – Australians are estimated to eat an average of 565g of red meat each week, 24% higher on average than the maximum amount suggested by the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines. Take a closer look at the amount of spag bol, steak and lamb chops landing on your plate each week and aim for a maximum of 65–100g of lean options 3-4 times a week. This should clear some space for sources of fibre, which most of us are also slacking on. Fibre is critical for bowel health and is protective against bowel cancer. It’s found in whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes, so serving up salad, rice or potatoes alongside your proteins can help. It’s also important to examine your alcohol consumption – the more you drink, the higher your risk of developing cancer of the digestive system, including bowel cancer

The bottom line?

It’s not focusing on a few “superfoods” or adopting a fad diet that will help your health over your lifetime. It’s consistently eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods from each of the five food groups (in the recommended amounts) while limiting foods high in saturated fat, added salt and added sugar.

Learn More

Learn more about healthy eating here


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