We all know that good nutrition is important for us to stay healthy and to fight off illness, but did you know that eating the right nutrients can actually repair and rejuvenate your body? When you eat nutrient-rich foods, some health benefits start right away within the cells, while other benefits can take months or years before they have an impact.
Tamas Horvath, PhD, a neurobiologist at Yale University, says it’s best to take a long-term approach to healthy nutrition. “Certain effects may happen quickly, but it’s best to take a long-term perspective when you’re trying to change your body,” he said.
To give you an idea how soon the antioxidants in your salad will start attacking the free radicals in your body, or how many fish dinners you have to eat in order to benefit from the omega-3s they contain, here’s a list of some important nutrients and how soon you can expect to benefit from eating them:
Within hours you can…
Lower Stress and Feel Happier: Not getting enough vitamin B6 has been associated with anxiety, depression, and stress, and researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University say that aging women are more prone to become deficient.
According to Hanjo Hellmann, PhD, a plant biologist at Washington State University, “When B6 makes its way to your brain, it facilitates synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which makes you feel calm and happy. But if you have a B6 deficiency, your brain may not be able to make enough dopamine.”
You can get B6 from eating a variety of foods, but it’s particularly abundant in potatoes, bananas, red meats, poultry, and chickpeas. When you eat foods rich in B6, the vitamin is quickly sent throughout the body but it doesn’t store well. That’s why you need to ingest a consistent daily amount. Hellmann recommends getting 1 to 2 mg of B6 per day, which is about the amount you get from eating one medium russet potato and a chicken breast. Getting this amount each day can help you produce enough dopamine to counter stress and feel happier.
Prevent Cell Damage that Can Cause Health Problems: Antioxidants are necessary to cancel out free radicals that damage your cells. Hellmann says, “Antioxidants begin working almost immediately upon absorption—as soon as they find a free radical to interact with.” But antioxidants are active for just a few hours. That’s why they must be replenished on a continual basis. Plus, Hellmann says, “They are a diverse group and don’t all have the same functions. The key is always having plenty in your body to take on anything that comes along.” In other words, you’ll get the most health benefits by including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your meals every day.
In five weeks you can…
Boost Your Memory: A study in Australia found that folate improves memory within 35 days. Women participants in the study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, boosted their memory performance after taking 750 mcg of folate per day, which is about the amount contained in one cup of cooked spinach and one cup of cooked lentils.
In six weeks you can…
Lower Homocysteine Levels: An analysis of 25 studies on B vitamins and homocysteine, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that taking 800 mcg of folate supplements daily for 6-8 weeks reduces homocysteine concentrations up to 23%. Foods rich in folate include meat, fish, eggs, and dairy foods.
In two months you can…
Support Your Heart Health: Many Americans are deficient in omega-3s, which are essential fatty acids that your body needs for good health but can’t produce on its own, so you have to get them from your diet. Omega-3s offer countless health benefits, from smoothing the skin and aiding weight loss to elevating your mood and minimizing the symptoms of arthritis. Perhaps the most important benefit of omega-3s is its support of a healthy heart. Some benefits kick-in soon after you digest a meal of omega-3-rich fare. However, the effects will only be temporary unless you consistently eat omega-3 fatty acids as part of your regular diet. This is essential so your body can maintain an optimal saturation level, according to Susan Raatz, PhD, RD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. “If you are deficient in omega-3s and begin eating at least two 3 oz. servings of fatty fish a week, your heart will see significant benefits in 4 to 8 weeks,” Raatz said.
Good sources of omega-3s are oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and anchovies, and plant sources like flaxseeds, walnuts, and spinach.
In one year you can…
Improve Your Eyesight: Lutein is an antioxidant plant pigment known as a carotenoid that concentrates in the retina and lens to protect and strengthen the eyes. Elizabeth Johnson, PhD, a scientist who studies vision at Tufts University, says lutein is important for eye health.
In a study conducted at North Chicago VA Medical Center, researchers found that patients with age-related macular degeneration improved their vision after taking 12 mg of lutein per day for one year. As a reference, eating just ½ cup of cooked spinach can provide you with this same amount (12 mg) of lutein. Other great sources of this antioxidant are peas, broccoli, and corn.
Strengthen Your Bones: Vitamin D is required for your body to absorb the calcium it needs to build strong bones and lower the risk of osteoporosis. An analysis of several vitamin D studies in JAMA found that a daily vitamin D supplement of 700 to 800 IU combined with calcium reduces the risk of bone fractures by 26% after 2 years. Good sources of vitamin D are fortified milk and cereals, fish and eggs, as well as vitamin D supplements.
For most people, beneficial results from a personalized vitamin regimen, along with healthy eating habits, diet, regular exercise and healthy lifestyle habits, will occur within 4-8 weeks. But keep in that long-term, sustained efforts will get the best results by maximizing the benefits of a healthy diet and vitamin supplement regimen.
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