It’s a simple question – “What’s an easy change I can make to improve my long-term health?” And if the issue isn’t smoking, drinking or exercise, we’re likely to talk about your diet.
A recent survey conducted by UnitedHealthcare showed that over 80% of Americans want to pay more attention to their health. Studies show that diet is the single biggest predictor of long term health. (Another interesting fact from this survey: Respondents said that a financial incentive of anywhere from $1 to $5 per day would inspire them to live healthier!)
Ok, but let’s say no one’s going to pay you. You just want to know, “What should I stop eating right now? And what should I start?”
4 Foods to Stop Eating (or eat less of anyway)
- Dried fruit and other highly processed foods, like granola bars. But they seem so healthy, right? These foods are ultra-processed and filled with (or sometimes coated in) sugar. Processed foods may masquerade as healthy, but often have a higher concentration of added sugars, saturated fat, and salt, along with less fiber and vitamin density. They also tend to have a high glycemic index, which means that your body rapidly metabolizes them to glucose (sugar). Foods with a high GI are associated with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes.
A recent study showed that these characteristics in ultra-processed foods ultimately lead to poor cardiovascular health, which is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Not only that, the processing sometimes creates harmful chemicals, such as acrolein and acrylaminde, which have been linked to poor cardiovascular health as well. Then to add insult to injury, there are additives in processed foods that may be harmful as well, such as glutamates, emulsifiers, sulfites, and carrageenan – no matter how fun it is to use those words when freestyle rapping.
“It’s a sure fight, with a sulfite, I’m not schemin’, it’s just carrageenan.”
So what kind of foods are we rapping about here? Snacks like granola bars, which can have up to 25 grams of added sugar (RxBar and Larabar are two examples that are more healthy and don’t contain added sugars).
- Egg yolks. With the recent keto craze and protein obsession, it’s easy to assume that eggs are okay, and should be consumed in large quantities. But cholesterol is still a bad thing, and those yolks are full of cholesterol. A recent study showed that higher intake of eggs was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Most nutrition guides don’t contain a daily cholesterol limit. Which means that eating a few eggs a week is probably fine, according to Harvard University’s Dr. Frank Hu. But the bottom line is that healthier breakfast options that have less cholesterol are out there. Simple trick – remove the yolks, and do egg whites only. We know they kinda look like watery sadness, but they cook up just fine.
- Red meat. This one hurts. I love barbecue and burgers. And I’m not alone. Americans love red meat, consuming as much as 220 pounds of red meat and poultry per year per person. However, higher consumption of red meat is associated with greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Just like with eggs, the occasional intake of red meat is not likely to be a problem. But it’s worth considering that the WHO considers red meat to be a carcinogen. The higher amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, and iron are just no bueno in large amounts.
- Store-bought hummus. How could this be bad? It seems so healthy, and it’s made from chickpeas which must be some kind of superfood, right? If you make it yourself, perhaps. And let’s be honest, none of you are doing that. So what’s wrong with that delicious tub of Sabra red pepper hummus that you put out instead of queso? Well, for one thing it is very high in salt as well as saturated fat. Also a lot of processed hummus contains potassium sorbate, an additive that has been linked to migraines and stomach upset. Check out this review to see some quality hummus brands that don’t have as much of the bad stuff in them.
Four foods to start eating more of:
- Fruits and vegetables. Seems pretty obvious since your mom has been telling you this since you were three. But the fact is that substituting a serving of fruits or vegetables for that processed snack you were reaching for could seriously improve your overall health. What are some excellent fruits to eat? Blueberries, pineapple, apples, and avocado top the list. Grapes, mangos, and cherries are all very high in sugar content, so you might want to avoid these. As far as vegetables, stick with green veggies and steer clear of corn and white potatoes.
- Fish. See our points about red meat above. Replace those meat servings with fish! I don’t know about you, but I always feel healthier when I eat fish. It’s loaded with nutrients like vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. According to one study, just eating one or more serving of fish per week can lower your risk of heart disease by 15%. In another study, regular fish consumption was proven to slow the age-related progression of cognitive decline. Some studies have even shown that omega-3 fatty acids in fish help decrease symptoms of depression.
- Whole grain foods. Get a wheat bun instead of white. Choose multigrain crackers over plain crackers. If you are getting bored with the grains in your life, spice it up by choosing quinoa, whole rye, or barley. Whole grains contain the entire kernel of grain, and are not processed to remove the husk. They contain more fiber, B vitamins, and minerals like selenium, magnesium, and potassium. Refined grains have a higher glycemic index (remember that?), and spike your blood sugar, while whole grains are digested more slowly and leave you feeling full longer.
- Nuts. Nuts are a great source of fiber, fat, and protein. Most of the fat in nuts is good however, consisting of monounsaturated fats, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Consumption of nuts has been associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Always buy nuts that have been minimally processed if at all. Processed nut butters (like peanut butter) have added salt and sugar that you don’t want in there!