Healthy Eating Week is a designated week for developing our understanding of diet, and its impact on physical health. What we put into the body makes a real difference to its ability to function.

In the first of our two-part blog, we looked at the nutrients that are believed to help support mental health and cognition, as well as the hair, skin, joints and immune system. Missed part one? Click here[link] to read it!

As ever, our blog is intended as a guide using today’s understanding of nutrients and physical health – it should not be considered as medical advice. Your first point of contact when looking to improve specific areas of your body’s health should always be your health practitioner or GP, who can provide tailored recommendations.

Read on to find part two of our blog!

The heart

When we look at which nutrients are important to maintaining cardiovascular health, unsaturated fats are often a key point of focus. Saturated fats, often found in processed foods, can increase the level of harmful cholesterol in the body, which puts increased pressure on the heart as it becomes harder to pump blood through narrower blood vessels. Instead, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are preferred.

Linoleic acids are a kind of polyunsaturated fat found in many different foods. Walnuts and almonds are an abundant source, which makes them a good heart-healthy choice. It can also be found in many plant-based cooking oils, as well as in meat and eggs, albeit in smaller amounts.

Spinach and Kale are also a good choice of food when it comes to supporting heart health, thanks to rich vitamin and antioxidant content. Particularly bright and colourful fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries and raspberries, contain components called polyphenols, which give them red and purple colour vibrancy. Early studies[1] have suggested that polyphenols could improve the function of the blood vessels, which could in turn potentially reduce strain on the heart.

The gut

Sometimes described as the ‘control centre’ of the body, the gut – and the trillions of bacteria that make up the gut microbiome – can have an important influence on physical health. Of course, just like any other organ of the body, there are certain nutrients we can take on board that give the gut a helping hand.

Most of us don’t get enough fibre in our day to day diets. In fact, a study on behalf of Public Health England found that just 9%[2] of adults in the UK reach the recommended daily intake, which is 30 g of fibre, including 5g of prebiotic fibre.

Fortunately, fibre can be one of the most abundant nutrients in everyday foods! You’ll find it in whole grain cereals, oats, grains and baked potatoes (but remember to keep the skin on). Many fruits and vegetables can be strong source of fibre too, including broccoli, carrots, artichokes, legumes and most kinds of berries.

Another approach to supporting gut health is with fermented foods, which contain probiotics – ‘good bacteria’ that help the gut function at its best. Good examples include kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha.

The muscles

Taking care of the muscles isn’t just for athletes! The tissue that helps us to create force and motion rely on oxygen carried by the blood – but there are ways we can support the development of muscle tissue through diet.

Protein is known for its use in muscle development and repair – just check out your local supermarket to see the diverse array of protein options in vegetarian and animal product sources. Protein can be found naturally in red meats such as beef or pork or lean sources - chicken and fish. It can also be found in both rice and beans, so why not try a vegetable chilli for a dietary protein boost?

Berries can be useful for the body too! Red and purple berries contain anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol that can have anti-inflammatory effects, reducing muscle inflammation. While useful for everyone, this effect can be particularly effective for post-exercise muscle recovery. Why not try our simple and delicious berry smoothie recipe?

Finally, Zinc is thought to increase the body’s ability to develop muscle tissue. Zinc can be found in oysters and other shellfish but is much more accessible in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurts.

The bones

Our skeleton gives us shape and features, but it also enables motion. As we age, our bones tend to become more fragile, which can make it harder to recover from injuries or breakages. When we look to nutrients that can help support bone health, the two most well-known are calcium and Vitamin D.

Calcium is used by many different cells throughout the body but is particularly useful for the development and protection of bones, including your teeth. Our bodies naturally lose calcium through nails, hair and the skin – but our bodies can’t produce this mineral on its own, which makes a healthy intake of calcium very important. Calcium is well-known for being found in dairy products such as milk and cheese but can also be found in many leafy green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, as well as okra. 

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, as well as playing a role in muscle development. Our skin can naturally give us a Vitamin D top-up in reaction to sunlight, but we can also find it in certain foods. The vitamin is available in many supplements, but can be found in oily fish in small amounts, such as salmon, whitefish and mackerel. A good balance between Vitamin D and calcium is good for bone health!

So, what can we focus on during Healthy Eating Week?

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for physical health in terms of nutrients, vitamins and minerals - it takes a balanced diet! This Healthy Eating week, why not get better in tune with the body and the nutrients that make it tick?

It’s time to start giving your gut the love and attention it deserves! Don’t forget to visit the Bimuno learning resources, which break down the fundamentals of gut health, and how the trillions of microbes in the gut can play a part in physical and mental health. Discover more here.