Carbohydrates in your diet are used for energy by your brain and body for many functions and activities.
The healthiest sources of carbohydrates come from whole, unprocessed foods such as whole grains, legumes, seeds, and fresh vegetables and fruits.
You’ll find the most abundant sources of fiber in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Fiber-rich carbohydrates protect your gut lining and help you have effort- less and painless daily bowel movements.
Calcium helps keep your bones strong, but your body relies on vitamin D (a fat-soluble vitamin that is hard to find in food) to help your body absorb calcium.
Eat lean protein, seafood twice a week, and plant-based protein from legumes. The USDA recommends that you get 10 to 35 percent of your calories from healthy proteins.
Help your kidneys stay healthy by drinking plenty of water and by avoiding highly-pro- cessed and refined foods.
How you eat, exercise, sleep, think, and feel influences the health of your organs, and vice versa. Having healthy organs helps you to feel good physically and mentally, and emotionally. How? They pro- vide the energy, moods, and willpower to eat healthy and get enough exercise. Healthy organs also keep your hormones balanced so you can sleep and not get overtaxed. Your organs work to perform specific and essential functions, from your brain and spinal cord (your control center), your digestive tract (aka your gut), kidneys, lungs, heart, your liver, your skeletal muscle, joints, bones, and more.
Here, in Part 1 of “Organ Matters,” we’ll focus on how nutritional choices influence your organ systems. In Part 2, we’ll discuss sleep and healthy organs. Part 3 will cover exercise (mental and physical) influ- ences your organs, and how they affect your overall wellness and diet.
All your organs need proper nutrition to fuel, repair, and cleanse themselves every day. A healthy diet provides your body with the foundational building blocks required for strength and health—and helps the microbiome in your digestive tract (aka your gut) to thrive. The best way to eat healthy, according to nutrition and medical experts, is to follow a Mediterranean style of eating. This diet includes the healthiest unrefined carbs, proteins, fats, and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and so on). Read on for more examples of eating habits and their influence on your organs.
Carbs and Your Pancreas: Carbs are found in both healthy and unhealthy foods and beverages, from breads, grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits to cookies, pasta, soda, chips, and chocolate cake. These foods are made up of varying amounts of sugars, fibers, and starches.
Carbohydrates in your diet are used for energy by your brain and body for many functions and ac- tivities. Not all carbs are created equally. The healthiest sources of carbohydrates come from whole, unprocessed foods such as whole grains, legumes, seeds, and fresh vegetables and fruits. For your body to get the energy from the carbs you eat, you need the hormone insulin that is produced by your pancreas. If you eat too many refined and processed carbs—white breads, chips, pasta—the blood sugar in your body will be chronically elevated. When this happens, your pancreas becomes drained. If you regularly eat a lot of refined and processed sugars, your body will have a harder time producing enough insulin to absorb the glucose in your bloodstream. This can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and other health issues. You’ll keep your pancreas healthy by eating a moderate amount of complex carbs from unprocessed whole foods, as de- scribed above. It’s also wise to avoid sugary, processed, and refined drinks and foods.
Fiber for Your Gut: When it comes to your gut, one of your body’s most important organ systems, fiber is your friend. You’ll find the richest sources of fiber in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. These healthy, fiber-rich carbohydrates protect your gut lining and help you have effortless and painless daily bowel movements. When your gut microbiome is well nour- ished, it aids your body’s repair system, which also helps to strengthen and mend your gut lining. If you eat a lot of processed, packaged, and refined foods and drinks, it can break down the gut lining (also called the intestinal coating) in your digestive tract. Excessive alcohol use can also hurt your gut, leading to cracks or holes in the gut lining, which triggers inflammation and disease. Gut mi- crobes (bacteria) break down fiber into short-chain fatty acids, which supply energy to the cells of the gut lining as well as to the rest of your body and brain as energy currency.
Get Calcium and Vitamin D for Your Bones Our body repairs our bones daily, and to do this, your bones need calcium. Calcium helps keep your bones strong, but your body also relies on vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium. Every day we lose a small amount of bone and healthy bodies repair and replace the lost bone mass. This process requires the right amount of calcium and vita- min D. Men should aim to get 1,000 mg of Calcium, and women should take 1,200 per day. The best sources of calcium in your diet come from plain yogurt, sardines (canned in oil, with bones), cheese, fortified soymilk, and milk. You can get vitamin D from spending 10 minutes or so in the sun whenever possible. The recommended upper intake for vitamin D is 4,000 IU per day for both men and women. If your diet doesn’t contain enough calcium or vitamin D, talk to your doctor about a supplement.
Protein for your Muscles. The protein you eat is broken down into amino acids and then used as the building blocks that make enzymes, hormones, and muscle in your body. Your muscles are major energy-consuming tissues, and they do benefit from the right type and right amount of pro- tein. On the Mediterranean diet, that means eating lean proteins, seafood twice a week, and plant-based protein from legumes. Having more muscle tissue is a good thing because it reduces the pressure on other organs to absorb and store extra glucose, and this reduces excess insulin. Reduced muscle mass causes your cells to absorb more glucose. Excess glucose gets stored as fat inside the liver. Both reduced muscle mass and excess glucose can increase your risk of having excess insulin, which raises the risk of diabetes and metabolic disease. The USDA recommends 10 to 35% of your daily calories come from protein for men and women, or about 46 grams a day per women and 56 grams a day for men.
Nutrition for Healthy Kidneys. Ultimately, kidneys work in your body to maintain the fluid balance you need in your blood, which keeps your blood pressure within a safe range. Your kidneys break down toxins in your body and work as a filtering system that gets rid of waste. When blood pres- sure is too high or low, the rest of your organs suffer. Hidneys also help reduce blood sugar by se- creting a small amount of sugar from our blood into the urine—so you want them healthy. Almost every food you eat has some xenobiotics (foreign substances or waste products) that your body must excrete—your kidneys do this work. You can help your kidneys by staying hydrated, eating unprocessed whole foods, and by eliminating refined and overly-processed products.