2015 tips for healthier eating
AN APPLE A DAY - Tyrone M. Reyes M.D. (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2015 - 12:00am

In the past century, research on nutrition focused more on the health benefits and risks of single nutrients.  That is why, the advice then from physicians, nutritionists, public health specialists, and health advocates was to reduce fat; increase fiber; limit cholesterol; get more calcium; take vitamins; and others.

But as scientists discovered later, the health effects of food are likely due to the synergistic interactions of nutrients and other compounds within and among foods we eat.  This has led to a new approach in nutritional recommendations towards guidelines based on foods and eating patterns.

There is no single health diet.  Many eating patterns actually sustain good health.  What they have in common are healthy sources of protein and fats, and lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  By following such recommendations, you will help lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain forms of cancers, and other diseases.

If healthy eating is one of your health goals for 2015, here is how you should get started:

Come up with a better menu.  A healthy menu usually consists of one-half vegetables and fruits, one-quarter whole grains, and one-quarter healthy protein.  Examples of whole grains are whole-wheat bread and brown rice. Healthy proteins include fish, poultry, beans, and nuts — but not red meats or processed meats. Many studies have shown that red meats and especially processed red meats, such as bacon, bologna, and salami, are linked with colorectal cancer — and that you can lower your risk for heart disease by replacing either type of meat with healthier protein sources.  So, eat red meats sparingly (selecting the leanest cut) and avoid processed meats altogether.  Instead, replace red meat with more fish, poultry, legumes, and whole grains.  In a large Harvard study, these healthy proteins were associated with a significantly lower risk of death.

Pile on the vegetables and fruits. A person should consume at least two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables each day.  Doing so reduces the risk of many causes of premature death, such as cancer and diabetes.  The more colorful your selections, the better.  Red, orange, yellow, green, purple, and white fruits and vegetables each contain different and important groups of phytonutrients, including antioxidants and other disease-fighting substances.

Go for the good fats. Previously, we were advised to eat less fat, but now we know that it’s mainly the type of fat that counts.  The most beneficial sources are plants and fish.  You can help lower “bad” cholesterol by eating mostly polyunsaturated fats (including vegetable oils and omega-3 fatty acids), found in fish, seeds and nuts, and canola oil and monounsaturated fats (in avocados and many plant-based oils, such as olive oil and canola oil).  Saturated fats (found mostly in dairy and meat products) and trans fats (hydrogenated fat found in many fried and baked goods) boost LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, increasing your risk of heart disease.  Worse still, trans fats reduce your “good” HDL cholesterol.

Eat whole grains rather than refined grains, potatoes, and white rice.  Whole grains retain the bran and germ of the natural grain, providing healthful fiber, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.  Many of these substances are removed from refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, and are barely present in starches such as potatoes. Starches and refined carbohydrates are digested quickly, causing surges in insulin and blood sugar, boosting triglycerides, and lowering HDL cholesterol.  These changes increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.  The rapid rise and fall of blood sugar and insulin can also make you hungry, raising the risk of weight gain.

Eliminate liquid sugars. Soda is probably the largest source of added sugars in the present diet of urban Filipinos.  Most of these sugar-sweetened beverages — such as non-diet sodas, sugary fruit drinks, iced teas with added sugar, and sports drinks — provide calories and little else.  There’s good evidence that these drinks can raise the threshold for satiety (feeling full), thereby increasing the amount you eat and promoting weight gain. A 2011 Harvard study found that sugar-sweetened beverages were one of the dietary components most strongly linked to long-term weight gain among healthy men and women. Regular consumption has also been associated with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gout, and coronary artery disease.  What’s more, researchers from Cleveland Clinic found that both sugar-sweetened and low-calorie sodas are associated with a higher risk of stroke, perhaps more so in women.

Drink enough water.  Water is the only nutrient whose absence becomes lethal within days. Experts generally recommend drinking six to eight eight-ounce glass of fluid every day, which helps lubricate and cushion joints and protect tissue.  It doesn’t have to be solely water. You can satisfy some fluid needs by drinking milk, tea, coffee, or no-sugar-added juices, which are mostly water.

Learn to like less sodium.  Our body needs sodium for proper muscle and nerve function and fluid balance, but excessive amounts can increase blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke.  The dangers of a salty diet (salt is 40-percent sodium) are greatest in people over age 50, and in women more than men.  You’ll do yourself a favor if you wean your taste buds from a yen for salt.  Limit your daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) — the amount in one teaspoonful of salt.  If you have high blood pressure or are at risk for it, get no more than 1,500mg per day. 

Eat breakfast.  It’s easy to skip breakfast when you’re in a rush, aren’t hungry, or want to cut calories.  But a healthy morning meal makes for smaller rises in blood sugar and insulin throughout the day, which can lower your risk of overeating and impulse snacking.  Eating breakfast every day is one characteristic common to participants in the US National Weight Control Registry, who’ve lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off longer than a year.

Keep alcohol under control.  Many studies link moderate alcohol consumption to heart benefits, including a reduced risk of heart attack, increases in “good” cholesterol, and reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, gallstones, and dementia.  One drink per day in women, however, may also slightly increase your risk for breast cancer, and the risk increases steadily the more alcohol you consume.  There are plenty of other ways to get heart benefits, so if you don’t like alcohol, don’t have it.  According to a February 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, alcohol results in 10 times as many deaths as it prevents in the US.  Alcohol — a known carcinogen — accounts for up to 21,000 cancer deaths annually (more than melanoma or ovarian cancer), resulting in approximately 18 years of life lost in each case.  Approximately 30 percent of those deaths occurred with a consumption of less than 1.5 drinks per day.  “For most alcohol user, reducing alcohol consumption would likely improve their health in many ways, in addition to reducing cancer risk,” the study’s author concluded.

Dine mindfully.  Taking time to savor your food not only makes eating more enjoyable, it can also help control your appetite.  Your sense of fullness and satisfaction depends on hormonal signals from your digestive tract.  If you eat too quickly, your brain may not receive the signals that say you’re full.  Try putting down your fork between bites and chewing more slowly. Tune in to your food’s aroma, taste, and texture, and stop eating when you feel full.  Some small studies suggest that this approach may help some people make healthier food choices.

Take natural food rather than supplements.  It’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from food rather than supplements.  The only problem is vitamin D.  Here, a supplement is probably a good idea because it’s difficult to get the recommended daily intake (600 to 800 IU) through food alone.  On the other hand, you can get enough calcium by eating low-fat dairy products and non-dairy foods such as canned salmon, tofu, sesame seeds, dark leafy vegetables, and legumes.

Have a healthy merienda.  A merienda may not be part of a healthy eating plan, but try telling that to a Filipino used to taking a merienda during the day. Actually, a healthy snack can boost energy levels by stabilizing blood sugar while giving you an added dose of healthy nutrients.  But unplanned impulsive snacking often takes the form of cookies, chips, and candy bars.  So prepare healthy snacks ahead of time and keep them handy at home or in the office.  Limit calories to about 100 to 150 per pack.  Good choices include a banana or other fruit; a handful of unsalted nuts, and plain nonfat yogurt with a few strawberries.

Start the year right by making 2015 your year of eating healthier!

AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH CLEVELAND CLINIC EATING HEALTH HEALTHY MANY RISK
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