The Latest on Preventive Nutrition
Countless studies show that you can't just pop a pill to stay healthy.
"To optimize your health, more research studies are pointing to the benefits of nutrients within foods," says Felicia Busch, R.D., a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and author of The New Nutrition: From Antioxidants to Zucchini.
Granted, what you eat is only one part of the good-health equation. Exercising, drinking in moderation, not smoking, managing stress and getting plenty of sleep also can make a big health difference. Still, because you eat so often -- typically at least three times a day -- "your diet counts for a lot," says Ms. Busch.
She offers the following suggestions for disease-proofing your diet.
Fresh, frozen and canned fruits are packed with fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C and beta carotene that may help protect you from major chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration. Fresh and frozen are preferable over canned. Canning may reduce the content of some vitamins, and the syrup the fruits are canned in is high in sugar.
Moreover, most fruit has little fat and fewer calories than most traditional desserts. Still, "most people don't eat enough fruit," says Ms. Busch. "Yet it's so convenient."
To add more fruit to your diet, Ms. Busch recommends sneaking it into the foods you already eat. Top off your breakfast cereal or yogurt with fruit and add it to homemade breads, cakes and cookies, salads and sauces. Avoid fruit-flavored yogurts and puddings, as they are high in sugar and calories and low in fruit.
To make your diet interesting and more disease protective, "go beyond the basics like apples, oranges and bananas," advises Ms. Busch. Experiment with more exotic options, such as kiwi, papayas, mangos, raspberries, blueberries, melons, cranberries, strawberries and fresh pineapple.
"Tropical fruits and berries are especially potent sources of antioxidants," says Ms. Busch. Aim for 2 cups of fruit per day.
Drink some veggies
You should get 2-1/2 cups of vegetables a day, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
"Most Americans fall short for both fruits and vegetables," says Ms. Busch. "And that's not good, because vegetables contain antioxidants, fiber and other vitamins and minerals that provide health benefits against a host of diseases -- from cancer to high blood pressure."
To consume more veggies: "Drink vegetable juice," says Ms. Busch. "It's a quick trick to increase the numbers, and most vegetable juices are blends, so they provide more exposure to vegetables you might not otherwise eat."
Plus, variety makes the most of the types of disease-fighting nutrients you consume.
Added bonus: Many vegetable juices are calcium-fortified to help prevent bone-weakening osteoporosis.
Go a little nuts
"Nuts are chock-full of a lot of beneficial nutrients, like fiber, omega-3 fatty acids [alpha- linolenic acid or ALA] and unsaturated fatty acids zinc and B vitamins," says Ms. Busch.
Multiple studies have shown that adding a reasonable amount of nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds, to the diet decreases total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Separate studies have shown that nuts significantly reduce the risk for fatal heart attack. Nuts contain a relatively high amount of vitamin E; studies show that foods rich in vitamin E may help neutralize free radicals created during energy production in the cells.
"When you add nuts to your diet, cut back on fat somewhere else," says Ms. Busch, "perhaps by using less oil when you cook or switching from 2 percent milk to skim milk."
Go fishing more often
"The average American eats fish about one time a week," says Ms. Busch. "But scientists say to aim for two or three times a week." Fish, especially cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a heart-healthy fat that helps lower total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
"Eating more fish may also reduce your cancer risk," says Ms. Busch, "and even lower blood pressure."
Because of the high mercury content of some fish, if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, follow guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on limiting your intake of fish.
Online Medical Reviewers:
Coleman, Ellen RD, MA, MPH
Fiveash, Laura DrPH, MPH, RD
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.
Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.