A simple guide for eating your way to better mental and physical health.

Be healthier, happier and more attractive. It’s not a magic wand you need. It’s just a few tweaks on your plate. The foods you choose have a powerful impact on your body — inside and out.

Think about this, you put food actually inside of your human body. You chew and swallow it, and then food travels through your esophagus, breaks down in your stomach, and finally it hits your intestines. Special cells in your intestinal walls send the digested food molecules directly into your bloodstream.

Real, high-quality foods infuse your blood with powerful nutrients to energize and strengthen every single cell in your body. They fight disease, alter your mood and transform your appearance, among other benefits. This is the magic of real, whole foods — they have the power to change how you look and feel on a cellular level.

So what is considered a “real” food? It’s basically foods that have been minimally processed. Just about every food is processed to some degree like pre-cut and cleaned lettuce, yogurt and canned beans. These foods are healthy convenience items that are great buys since they make healthy eating easier than making everything from scratch. So processing itself is actually not bad — unless a food product takes that processing to an extreme.

Extreme processing is when something healthful has been removed and/or something fake has been added. The best way to determine this is to read the ingredient section of a label first, before you read the black and white section with all of the numbers. Check ingredients and try to limit foods that have long ingredient lists with chemicals you don’t have in your own kitchen, refined/white sugar and flour, artificial colors/flavors/ sweeteners, and preservatives.

So what can I eat for all the magic to happen?

Food for mind & body

Here is a quick look at some foods that protect your brain, heart, digestion, muscles, bones and skin.  Even beyond the foods called out here, there are hundreds of foods that keep your body working at its best. Top tip: Aim to have a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and healthy fats to keep you looking and feeling healthy from head-to-toe.

Brain

Broccoli, Cauliflower and Spinach
Research suggests vegetables protect our brain health/memory as we age.

Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens have been shown to have the most memory benefit of all vegetables.

Blueberries and Strawberries
Active ingredient: Flavonoids

One study found eating berries regularly could make your brain act up to 2.5 years younger.

Skin

Kale and Carrots
Active ingredient: Carotenoids

Kale and carrots help tint the skin that healthy orange hue which research shows is perceived as more attractive than even sun-kissed skin.

Fish and Flaxseeds
Active ingredient: Omega-3 fat

These foods can help protect against sun damage and wrinkles. Skin

Muscles

Potatoes
Active ingredient: Potassium, an electrolyte

Potassium supports healthy muscle function and can help prevent muscle cramps and help build muscle.

Tart Cherries
Active ingredient: Polyphenols

Can help to reduce muscle damage and soreness from exercise.

Heart

Nuts
Nuts have heart-healthy fats and vitamins such as vitamin E.

Regular nut eaters are 35 percent less likely to have heart disease than non-nut eaters.

Beans
Beans are high in fiber and heart-healthy minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Eating beans 4 times per week has been shown to decrease heart disease risk by more than 20 percent.

Bones 

Milk
Active ingredient: Calcium and vitamin D

Calcium is the main mineral of bones and vitamin D helps the body absorb it.

Prunes
Active ingredients: Magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, boron, polyphenols

About 5-6 prunes a day may help prevent bone loss and actually stimulate bone regrowth.

Digestion

Kefir
Active ingredient: Probiotics

Kefir has more types of probiotics than yogurt, which helps keep the digestive track healthy and regular.

Honey, Garlic & Onion
Active ingredient: Prebiotics

These foods feed the good bacteria in the gut to make them stronger.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, CSSD is a nutrition expert for people who are tired of boring diet advice and want a more flexible and fun approach to healthy living. She is the author of The Flexitarian Diet and the forthcoming book The Superfood Swap Diet. Meet Dawn and sign up for her weekly inspirational WOW email at her website.