If you are like most Americans, you made a New Year’s resolution to improve your health through diet and exercise. During March, which is National Nutrition Month, why not get back on track by reacquainting yourself with healthy eating habits? We know through scientific research that proper nutrition is one of the most important factors in disease prevention—and you’ll look and feel better. Follow these simple changes that you can make and stick with for a lifetime.
Habit #1: Lose weight and get active…even a small amount can make a big difference.
If you're overweight (two-thirds of American adults are), losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can have a huge positive impact on your health. The benefits include improved blood pressure, lower risk for diabetes, and decreased cholesterol levels. Research has also shown that only 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise (including brisk walking) will help to keep your heart healthy.
Habit #2: Cut back on "bad" fats.
A diet high in saturated fat can elevate "bad" LDL cholesterol, leading to plaque buildup in your arteries. Ways to reduce saturated fat include replacing butter with olive and canola oils, which contain good amounts of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats; choosing lean meats, poultry, fish and beans instead of higher-fat meats such as beef and pork; selecting nonfat or low-fat milk and yogurt in place of whole-milk versions; and limiting your intake of full-fat cheeses.
Avoid trans fats, which not only increase LDL cholesterol, but can also harm your “good” HDL cholesterol. You can avoid trans fats by avoiding foods that contain "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil" in their ingredient lists (they are found mainly in packaged snacks, crackers, baked goods, and some margarine).
Habit #3: Eat at least 25 grams of fiber daily.
Many research studies have shown that a high-fiber diet lowers the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, the average American only gets about 14 grams per day. Soluble fiber in oats, beans, and citrus fruits (such as oranges) helps reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Choosing whole grains, such as brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, boosts your intake of total fiber (through insoluble fiber, which is also good for digestion). A high-fiber diet can also decrease your triglycerides (another "unhealthy" fat in the blood), since a diet rich in refined carbohydrates may slow the body's production of triglycerides.
Habit #4: Eat fish twice a week.
Research shows that eating fish twice a week can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish lower triglycerides and blood pressure; they also can help prevent irregular heart rhythms. What if you don’t like fish? Talk with your dietitian or doctor about fish oil supplements. Daily supplementation may improve your overall cholesterol levels.
Habit #5: Increase your antioxidant intake.
Antioxidants have numerous health benefits. They have the ability to attack harmful free radicals in your body to get rid of them. Free radicals can damage the DNA in your cells, leading to disease and decay over time. Foods high in antioxidants include carrots, green leafy vegetables, berries, citrus fruits, apples, pears, and green tea. Different antioxidants benefit different parts of the body. The flavonoids found in tea, cocoa, and dark chocolate can also protect your heart.
Published On: March 05, 2014