By Caroline L. Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT
Take a moment to ask yourself: What motivates me to eat well?
If your key motivators behind eating a healthy diet are weight control and/or weight loss, you are not alone. As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), I notice the driving force behind many people’s desire to develop a healthier diet is typically weight-focused.
But there are often forgotten physical and mental health benefits of eating a balanced, varied and nutrient-dense diet– that have nothing to do with your body size:
1. Energy & Mood
Our bodies need a consistent intake of meals and snacks that include all food groups to sustain energy both for the brain and the body. Calories are energy, so, when we fall short of our required energy needs, we may feel fatigued, unfocused and maybe even a little crabby. And if we aren’t eating a diet full of grains, dairy, proteins, fruits, veggies and fats, we run the risk of missing key nutrients that will affect our overall well-being.
And we all know getting good sleep plays a role in how we feel mentally and physically throughout the day. In fact, sleep deprivation can lead to depression and anxiety. It can also play a role in increased disease risk (including heart disease and diabetes). And eating consistent meals and snacks throughout the day, instead of skipping meals and eating more at night, can help to improve sleep. 
2. Disease Risk
For years, nutrition research continues to show a link between eating a nutrient-dense diet and reduced disease reduction. For example, Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Particularly, soluble fiber, found in foods like peanuts and other legumes, has been shown to lower cholesterol which plays a role in reducing heart disease. Andeating more unsaturated fats (in plant-based proteins like peanuts) than saturated fats (in animal proteins) can lower the risk of heart diseaseand improve healthy (HDL) cholesterol levels.
And a 20-year studyin the Netherlands released this year (2018), suggests a link between peanut butter intake and a reduced risk of certain types of pancreatic cancer in men. Researchers followed 120,852 people for 20.3 years to examine pancreatic cancer cases, and 454 people had a diagnosis for pancreatic cancer by the end. They found that peanut butter consumption (at least 1 teaspoon per day) was associated with a lower risk of pancreatic cancer diagnosis, compared to less or no peanut butter consumption. However, they did not find significant results in women or participants who consumed peanuts.
As all studies do, this one had its limitations, including the use of self-reported food-frequency questionnaires, which are subject to human error, the fact that only baseline (or initial) measurements were performed on the participants (as opposed to continual measurements of food intake over the study period), the association could be attributed to reduced alcohol consumption, and the dietary and exercise patterns in the Netherlands differ from those in the U.S.
Eating a healthy diet rich in the other kind of fiber -- insoluble fiber -- found in foods like veggies and whole grains, will help push food along in your digestive track.
To learn more about the research around plant-based foods and fiber, click here.
Ideas for Balanced Meals:
- Beef Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce
- Peanut Butter Coconut Berry Bowl
- Peanut & Chocolate Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- PB & J Overnight Oats
- Sriracha Shrimp Peanut Bowl
When making daily food choices, remember your eating patterns play a significant role in several aspects of your health and overall well-being.
To learn more about adopting a balanced diet, click here.
To learn more about heart health and peanuts, click here.
To learn more about how an imbalanced -- or restrictive -- diet can affect your overall well-being, click here.
Definition of Health Terms. Meline Plus website. https://medlineplus.gov/definitions/nutritiondefinitions.html. Updated December 27, 2016. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Why is it important to eat grains, especially whole grains? ChooseMyPlate.gov. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/grains-nutrients-health. Updated June 12, 2015. Accessed August 7, 2018.
Part D. Chapter 1: Food and Nutrient Intakes, and Health: Current Status and Trends - Continued. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Available at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-3.asp. Accessed August 4, 2017.
Nieuwenhuis, L. and P.A. van den Brandt, Total Nut, Tree Nut, Peanut, and Peanut ButterConsumption and the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in the Netherlands Cohort Study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 2018. 27(3): p. 274-284.