Diet and Disease
Many chronic diseases are affected by what we eat. For instance, a diet high in calories is apt to cause weight gain which increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and arthritis. Diets high in salt can cause fluid retention and raise blood pressure. High fat diets increase the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, or celiac disease need to avoid certain foods and additives that make their symptoms worse.
Good nutrition not only addresses these concerns, it also helps the immune system work better. Individuals who get plenty of vitamins and other nutrients from eating healthy foods are in better physical shape and probably able to fight off illnesses more successfully.
So, what does it mean to eat a healthy diet? Every book, website, magazine, and healthcare professional might define healthy eating differently. In general terms, however, eating healthy means getting a variety of nutrients from a variety of foods, not eating more calories than you can burn, and avoiding foods known to cause disease. The National Institute of Health has a simple publication that helps clarify what it means to eat healthy. Click here to take a look.
Five Tips for Reading Food Labels
- Size Matters - What is the serving size and how many servings are in the package? How much do you intend to eat?
- Find the Fat - Go low on saturated fat and cholesterol. Avoid trans fat and foods that contain "partially hydrogentated vegetable oil." Look for healthier, unsaturated fats - olive, canola, and safflower oil.
- Be Salt Savvy - Salt (sodium) should be less than or equal to the calories per serving. The lower the salt, the better.
- Figure out the Fiber - Aim for 5 grams or higher per serving.
- Shun added Sugars - Put it back on the shelf if sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, corn sugar, fructose, or high-fructose corn syrup are among the first 3 ingredients listed. Other names for sugar are agave nectar, corn sweetener, dextrose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate, and glucose.
The 5 & 20 Rule
A really quick way to measure the merit of a food by its label is to use the 5 & 20 rule. Things you want to avoid (saturated fats, cholesterol, salt) should be 5% or less per serving. Things you want to include in your diet (fiber, calcium, vitamins) should be 20% or more per serving.