8 Ways to Improve Your Health with Food

Thinkstock/iStockphotoThinkstock/iStockphotoFood is much too often associated with weight gain or loss. From the calorie-counters to the most gluttonous of eaters, oftentimes the first things someone thinks when they put a piece of food in their mouth are, "How many calories are in this?" and "What's this going to do with my waistline?"

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Sure, we're seeing plenty of other ways that food is associated with our body these days - whether that's keeping our immune systems strong, fighting cancer, or even battling a hangover, just to name a few. But despite all of the recent studies and reports that have been released about foods' positive effects on the body, too many people still think of a "diet" only as a way of controlling one's weight.

Food affects more than just your waistline, and with informed and smart choices, it can become a tool for helping you achieve your overall health. Improve your health with food by eating your way through the eight pillars of health - we're here to help you do it.

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Libido: Avocado and Garlic

Ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs called the avocado tree a "ahuacatl," which means "testicle tree." This was no coincidence, as the avocado contains many properties that lead to a healthy and thriving libido. The folic acid found in avocados is known to metabolize protein, thus giving you more energy. It also helps support two key elements that play a role in a healthy libido for both men and women. The vitamin B6 found in avocados helps increase male hormone production, and its high levels of potassium help support women's thyroid glands. Another common food found in our diets, garlic, is an aid to your libido, as well. By increasing healthy blood circulation, it also helps to promote a healthy sex drive.

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Sleep: Tryptophan

It's not news to most that the amino acid known as tryptophan makes us sleepy, but it might be news to you that your Thanksgiving turkey isn't the only effective sleep-inducer on the plate - those rolls and stuffing will do the trick as well. High-glycemic carbs, such as bagels, white bread, and short-grain rice, contain insulin that increases the ratio of tryptophan levels relative to other amino acids, making them great aids for falling asleep.

Metabolism: Fatty Acids

Foods that contain essential fatty acids, or omega 3s, such as tuna, lean white fish, salmon, and olive oil, help lower the levels of a fat hormone known as leptin. Lower levels of leptin increase the number of calories that are burnt and prevent them from being stored as fat.

Skin: Flavonoids and Lycopene

Fruits, wine, and chocolate can be key to great skin, too, and it's all thanks to flavonoids and lycopene. Flavonoids are another type of antioxidants that help support your skin because they maintain the amount of sun exposure your skin gets. Foods such as berries, apples, red wine, and dark chocolate are high in flavonoids and therefore are key in protecting your skin from sun damage. Flavonoids also improve skin's elasticity, hydration, and complexion. Lycopene is a phytochemical found in foods such as watermelon and tomatoes, and is another important agent that prevents the skin from sun damage. Loading up on foods rich in lycopene can help promote healthy skin because they'll aid in monitoring the levels of vitamin D your skin intakes, while protecting it from sunburn and aging.

Detox: Chia and Pumpkin Seeds

Increasing your seed intake can help you detox, too. Chia seeds are a great aid for detoxing because they help draw out toxins from the liver and pass them into the colon for excretion. In this same category are pumpkin seeds, which are great for fighting against illnesses, as they are valued for their anti-microbial benefits, including antifungal and antiviral properties.

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Healthy Gut: Probiotics and Prebiotics

With all of these foods you're consuming for your health, it's important to maintain a healthy gut so that they're digested properly and can do their jobs. Probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, are key for a well-functioning gut because they contain organisms that help strengthen the intestines. Along with probiotics, it's important to consume soluble fibers known as prebiotics, too. Foods classified as prebiotics, such as asparagus, garlic, and honey, contain a polysaccharide known as inulin, which is key in supporting your gut.

Stress: Trout

Along with the many other health benefits of foods that contain omega-3s, they are also a great tool for protecting your heart from the negative effects of stress hormones, and Lynch recommends trout as one of the fatty acid's key sources when looking to support mental health in this way.

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Joints: Omega 3s, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E

One of the body's most vital functions, movement, is heavily supported by our joints, which is why they are another pillar of health. Omega 3-rich foods such as salmon, tuna, and walnuts are great ways to prevent stiffness and inflammation in joints, keeping them healthy and strong. As a large source of antioxidants, vitamin C is essential for joint health because it helps support and strengthen the muscular tissue that make up our joints. Vitamin E is another mineral that is important for joint health, because it helps fight the aging process of joints and major joint-related illnesses such as arthritis and cystic fibrosis. Foods that are high in vitamin E include mustard greens, sunflower seeds, and spinach.

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-Anne Dolce, The Daily Meal