Despite what those “what I eat in a day” TikTok fitness videos may have told you, nutrition is certainly not one-size-fits-all. In fact, it’s actually deeply individualized.
“Food doesn’t have moral value,” says Amber Pankonin, a registered dietitian and personal chef in Lincoln, Nebraska. There is no one perfect healthy eating plan, she says. Still, there are some general dietary guidelines you can follow.
Generally speaking, “good” nutrition means your body gets all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs to properly function, according to Tufts Medicine. Pankonin suggests focusing on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods, low-fat dairy foods, and lean protein foods. “Think about foods that make you feel your best,” she says.
Now, there are many benefits of a healthy diet and plenty of ways in which good nutrition impacts your life. In fact, what you decide to nosh on can even benefit your wallet. Read on to learn how. And if you’re suddenly feeling inspired to restock your fridge and pantry after reading, don’t forget to use your Paceline Card, a health and wellness credit card, for up to 5% cash back1 on groceries.
Reduced risk of chronic illnesses
A healthy diet can help reduce your risk of chronic illness. You want to be mindful of added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium intake, Pankonin says. Saturated fats, she explains, can raise bad cholesterol levels in the body, which may lead to cardiovascular disease. The CDC also notes that eating a healthful diet can help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Now, those conditions can come with significant financial burden: Diabetes is the most expensive chronic condition in the United States, costing $327 billion each year, of which $237 billion are spent on direct medical costs. Meanwhile, heart disease costs the United States about $219 billion each year (including health care services, medications, and premature death).
Vision and dental health
Certain nutrient-rich foods can help support eye health, according to Medical News Today. For instance, healthy food options like eggs and beef are good sources of zinc, which can help delay vision loss related to aging. And without insurance, new prescription glasses cost about $195 on average, per Vision Center.
Dental care can also be expensive (with or without insurance). Fillings can cost between $60 and $150 per tooth, and crowns generally cost about $400 per tooth. According to the American Dental Association, sugar consumption is associated with an increased risk of cavities. On the other hand, fiber-rich fruits and veggies can help keep your teeth and gums clean.
Mental health support
You know the term “food for thought”? Take it literally. According to Harvard Health, food fuels your mind and affects the structure and functioning of your brain, as well as your mood. (Pineapple, cheese, eggs, nuts, and salmon may boost your levels of serotonin, a major mood regulator, per the Cleveland Clinic.) And a study published in Psychiatry Research in 2017 found that a healthy dietary pattern—lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants along with low intake of animal foods—was associated with a decreased risk of depression.
Since doctors’ visits, therapy sessions, and medications can be expensive, taking care of your nutrition might just save you money—although it’s definitely not a cure-all when it comes to mental health and we are not saying changing your diet can substitute any of the above. According to a 2016 report from One Mind at Work, research suggests people with major depression accrue a yearly average $10,836 worth of health care costs (compared to $4,584 of expenses for those without major depression), while depression and anxiety reportedly costs the global economy $1 trillion each year.
You know those days at work when you check everything off your to-do list and still have time to spare? The fact is, the foods you eat can help you achieve more of those ultra-productive days. Fueling your body with proper nutrients can directly impact cognitive performance and productivity, according to nutritionED.org, which in turn could result in a higher earning potential.
Omega-3 fatty acids are brain health superstars. Pankonin recommends seafood, nuts, and seeds to amp up brain functioning and your overall energy. Also, she says fruits and vegetables can boost brain health due to high nutrient compounds and phytochemicals.
Here’s the deal: You’ll want to get enough sleep (seven to nine hours a night for most adults) to put your best foot forward at work and set yourself up for advancement. According to the Sleep Foundation, working while underslept can impact how well you perform. A tired mind, the foundation notes, can lead to impaired thinking, difficulty maintaining focus, and increased likelihood of making errors and omissions. (And by the way, your sleep is worth quite a bit of money, too.)
As for how this all relates to nutrition, studies show that dietary patterns, including what and when you eat, can affect the quality of sleep. Of course, high amounts of sugar and caffeine may cause you to feel more energetic, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep, Pankonin notes. On the other hand, a banana with low-fat yogurt and peanut butter on whole grain crackers made the Cleveland Clinic’s recent list of “sleep-inducing snacks.” Bottom line? Investing in a healthy balanced diet is worth it—in more ways than one. Just remember to consult a pro with your unique nutrition questions in order to set out on the best course of action for you.