Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on
August 23, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on:

You might think that you’re eating pretty well, but if your diet is lacking in key nutrients, you could be doing yourself a lot of harm.

A poor diet can lead to physical health problems, such as obesity and heart disease, as well as cognitive health problems, such as brain fog and dementia.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how unhealthy diets can cause both physical and mental health problems. We’ll also provide some tips on how to achieve a healthy diet and protect your health.

Let’s get started.

What is a poor diet, exactly?

A poor diet is one that’s high in unhealthy foods, such as processed meats, sugary drinks, and refined carbohydrates. It’s also low in healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the majority of Americans have an unhealthy diet, which increases the likelihood of developing chronic diseases due to the high intake of salt, saturated fat, and sugar.

Studies also show that only 1 in 10 adolescents in the United States and adults eat the recommended daily amount of fruits or vegetables.

Another study also shows that on any given day, 6 out of 10 youth aged 2 to 19 and 5 out of 10 adults consume at least one sugary beverage. 

How is food associated with health?

The food we eat affects our physical health in many ways. For example, the nutrients in food can:

  • Build and repair body tissues
  • Produce energy
  • Help regulate bodily processes
  • Feed the cells in our body, including brain cells.

When we don’t get enough of these nutrients, our bodies can’t function properly. This can lead to a variety of health problems, both physical and cognitive.

Now that we know how food is associated with our health, let’s take a look at how poor nutrition can cause physical and cognitive health problems.

How does a poor diet affect physical health?

A poor diet can lead to a variety of physical health problems, such as:

  • Gout
  • Obesity
  • Malnutrition
  • Reduced Immunity
  • Heart disease
  • Tooth decay
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type II diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer, such as ovarian, breast, and colon cancer.

These conditions are all serious and can have a major impact on your quality of life. In some cases, they can even be deadly.

For example, obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. In fact, it’s estimated that obesity contributes to 112,000 deaths every year in the United States alone.

Type II diabetes is another serious condition that can be caused by poor nutrition. This form of diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications, such as kidney failure, blindness, and amputation.

Certain types of cancer are also associated with a poor diet. For example, a diet high in processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.

How does an unhealthy diet affect cognitive health?

Poor nutrition can also lead to mental health problems, such as:

These problems can have a major impact on your quality of life. For example, dementia is a degenerative brain disease that leads to problems with memory, thinking, and behavior.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and it currently has no cure. It’s estimated that this disease affects more than five million Americans.

Brain fog is another common cognitive problem that can be caused by a poor diet. This condition is characterized by difficulty concentrating, poor memory, and difficulty thinking.

Other issues that are brought by poor nutrition include:

While these problems may not be as serious as some of the physical health problems we’ve discussed, they can still have a major impact on your quality of life.

How can you improve your diet and protect your health?

If you’re concerned about the effects of poor nutrition on your physical and cognitive health, there are steps you can take to start healthy living and protect your health.

Some simple dietary changes you can make include:

Know the essential nutrients that you need daily

Essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, are important for maintaining good health.

Vitamins are organic compounds that are needed in small amounts for the proper function of our cells.

Minerals are inorganic compounds that play a role in many bodily processes, such as muscle contraction and nerve transmission.

Antioxidants are nutrients that protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals.

You can get most of these essential nutrients you need from healthy foods. However, some people may need to take supplements to ensure they’re getting enough of certain nutrients.

For example, vegans and vegetarians may need to take vitamin B12 supplements, as this vitamin is found mainly in animal products.

Eating more fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients that are essential for good health. They’re also low in calories and high in fiber, which can help you maintain a healthy weight. 

Fruits and veggies like leafy greens, berries, and citrus fruits are also good sources of antioxidants. These substances can help protect your cells from damage and may even reduce your risk of some chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Eating lean protein

Protein is an essential nutrient that helps build and repair body tissues. It’s also necessary for the proper functioning of enzymes and hormones.

Good sources of protein include lean meats, fish, beans, and tofu. You should aim to eat about 0.36 grams of protein per pound (0.80 grams per kg) of body weight per day.

Reducing your intake of sugar and refined carbs

Sugar and refined carbs can cause spikes in your blood sugar levels. This can lead to problems like weight gain, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes.

You should aim to limit your intake of sugar and refined carbs to no more than 50 grams per day.

You can do this by avoiding sugary drinks, desserts, and processed foods. Instead, opt for healthier alternatives like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Cutting back on processed foods 

Processed foods like chips, crackers, and cookies are often high in calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats. They’re also low in nutrients.

Eating too much of these foods can lead to weight gain and other health problems. You should aim to eat no more than two servings of processed food per day.

Avoiding trans fat and saturated fat

Trans fat and saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease. You should avoid these types of fats as much as possible.

You can do this by reading food labels carefully and avoiding processed foods, fast foods, and fatty meats.

Increasing your intake of healthy fats, such as Omega-three fatty acids.

Omega-three fatty acids are a type of healthy fat that’s beneficial for your heart and brain health.

Some good sources of omega-three fatty acids include salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts. You should aim to eat two servings of these foods per week.

Switch over to healthy recipes that look and taste good.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring. There are plenty of healthy recipes out there that are both delicious and nutritious.

You can find healthy recipes online, in cookbooks, or from friends and family members. Once you find a few that you like, make a list of the ingredients so you can easily buy them next time you’re at the grocery store.

Planning your meals ahead and shopping for healthy ingredients.

Planning your meals ahead of time can help you make healthier choices. When you know what you’re going to eat for the week, you can make sure to buy healthy ingredients and avoid unhealthy temptation foods.

You can also cook some meals ahead of time so that you have them ready to eat when you’re hungry. This can be especially helpful on busy weeknights when you don’t have time to cook.

Enjoy cooking and eating healthy food with family and friends without distraction.

One of the best ways to enjoy healthy eating is to cook and eat with family or friends. This way, you can chat and catch up while you’re preparing food.

It’s also an excellent opportunity to teach others about the benefits of eating healthy. You might even inspire them to make some positive changes in their own diet. 

Start small and make gradual changes.

Making big changes to your diet all at once can be overwhelming. And, it’s more likely that you’ll give up if you do not see results right away.

Instead, start small and gradually add more healthy foods to your diet. For example, try swapping out one unhealthy snack for a healthier option. Or, add an extra serving of vegetables to your dinner each night.

Find a friend or family member who will eat healthily with you.

Eating healthy is more fun when you do it with someone else. Find a friend or family member who’s also interested in eating better and team up together.

You can cook meals together, go grocery shopping, or even share recipes. Having someone to support and motivate you will make eating healthy much more accessible.

Set realistic goals for yourself and reward yourself when you reach them. If you’re trying to start healthy eating, it’s essential to set realistic goals for yourself. Otherwise, you might get discouraged if you.

Taking supplements

If you’re not getting enough of certain nutrients from your diet, you may need to take supplements.

For example, if you don’t eat enough fish, you may want to take a fish oil supplement. This supplement can help increase your levels of omega-three fatty acids.

You should talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. They can help you determine which supplements are right for you and how much you should take.

Making these changes can help improve your physical and cognitive health. In addition, they can also help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure and type II diabetes.

If you’re not sure how to make these changes, there are plenty of resources available to help you.

For example, the American Heart Association provides a variety of resources on its website to help people at risk of cardiovascular diseases eat a healthy diet.

Also, the American Psychiatric Association has a plethora of guides for people who want to start promoting healthy eating on a budget.

Foods to Avoid to Eat Healthier

To help start healthy living and protect your health, it’s important to avoid certain foods.

Some of the foods you should avoid include:

Processed meats

Processed meats are meats that have been treated to extend their shelf life. They include items such as:

  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Hot dogs
  • Deli meats
  • Canned meats 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer by the World Health Organization has announced that processed meats are often high in saturated fat and sodium. They’ve also been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Refined grains

Refined grains have been milled to remove the bran and germ. This process also removes many of the nutrients found in whole grains.

Some examples of refined grains include:

  • White flour
  • White rice
  • Bread made with white flour
  • Pasta made with white flour
  • Many breakfast kinds of cereal. 

You should avoid refined grains because they’re often high in sugar and calories. They can also cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to type II diabetes.

Sugar-sweetened beverages

Sugar-sweetened beverages are any drinks that contain added sugar. This includes:

  • Soft drinks
  • Fruit juices
  • Sports drinks
  • Sweetened coffees and teas
  • Energy drinks.

These beverages are often high in calories and can lead to weight gain. In addition, they can also increase your risk of type II diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Unhealthy fats

Unhealthy fats are fats that can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases. These include:

Saturated fats

Found in animal products, such as:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Whole milk
  • Ice cream
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Processed meats, such as sausage and bacon.

Trans fats

Trans fats are often found in:

  • Margarine
  • Shortening
  • Fried foods, such as:
  • French fries
  • Donuts
  • Processed snack foods, such as chips and crackers. 

You should avoid unhealthy fats because they can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes.

In addition, they can also lead to cognitive problems, such as brain fog and poor memory. 

Wrapping Up

A poor diet can cause a variety of physical and cognitive health problems. It’s essential to eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.

You should also avoid processed meats, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and unhealthy fats. Making these changes can help improve your overall health.  

If you’re not sure how to make these changes, there are plenty of resources available to help you.

You can also talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian for more information on which healthy foods you should prioritize in your diet.

If you want to learn more about clearing brain fog and improving your overall brain health, check out more articles on our blog, and feel free to join the conversations in our online community!

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