Healthy Eating Tip #5 – Fruits & Veggies

“Vegetables and fruits are essential ingredients in almost every cuisine. If you let them play starring roles in your diet, they will reward you with many benefits besides great taste, terrific textures, and welcome variety. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will lower your blood pressure, decrease your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, help protect you against a variety of cancers, guard against constipation and other gastrointestinal problems, and limit your chances of developing age-related problems like cataracts and macular degeneration, the most common causes of vision loss among people over age sixty-five. I’ve plucked potatoes out of the vegetable category and put them in the “Use Sparingly” category because of the dramatic effects on levels of blood sugar and insulin.”
              Dr. Walter Willett
              Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

          This quote highlights important advice that I think we’ve forgotten in today’s society. A reminder that the old dinnertime rule to “finish all your veggies” was not just a senseless act of parental authoritarianism. Yet it is easy to forget or downplay this important health message, particularly in the face of French fries, hamburgers, sugary desserts, and other mouthwatering foods, often processed to please our pallets. But let the message ring, because eating plentiful fruits and vegetables truly is a critical part of health and longevity. While pharmaceutical companies toil for the next magical pill and holistic doctors hail at the latest herbal remedy, the most repeatedly proven “pill” to better your health and extend your life remains good old fashion fruits and vegetables. These basic and abundant foods are packed with vitamins, antioxidant, fiber, and a number of other nutrients that protect against several forms of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic disease.
           Not long ago, a meta-study which analyzed and summarized a number of previous dietary studies found that people in the top tier of fruit and vegetable consumption (about 5 servings/day) were 15% less likely to have a heart attack than those in the bottom tier. This is after controlling for a number of other key variables such as gender, age, smoking status, etc. Additionally, among the more than 100,000 people enrolled in the Nurse’s Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, eating a similar amount per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of stroke. Eating just a single extra serving per day of fruits or vegetables decreased the chances of stroke by 6%. These are profound health benefits! Dr. Willett actually suggests eating about 9 servings/day. Admittedly, this is not easy, and I too fall short of this. But the general message is clear. Eat your fruits and veggies everyone!
              Keep in mind that while any given fruit/veggie has perhaps hundreds of useful vitamins and nutrients, no single fruit or vegetable contains everything your body needs for good health. This makes it important to eat from all the main fruit/veggie categories throughout the week. In my next blog, I will provide a list of these major categories, helping to guide your healthy eating! Also, the blending of fruits/veggies into shakes and smoothies has recently become a popular health trend. While delicious, there is an important disadvantage to delivering foods to the body in this way. This too will be discussed in my next blog. Stay tuned! And until then, happy holidays! 
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                                                                                 Shahir Masri, M.S. 


Healthy Eating Tip #4 – The Perfect Protein

“In the Healthy Eating Pyramid, red meat occupies the pointy tip to highlight the fact that something about red meat—its particular combination of saturated fats or the potentially cancer-causing compounds that form when red meat is grilled or fried—is connected to a variety of chronic diseases. In this pyramid, the best sources of protein are beans and nuts along with fish, poultry, and eggs. It separates vegetable and animal protein sources and makes the latter optional for people who want to follow a vegetarian diet.”

              Dr. Walter Willett
              Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

Red meat is associated with chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. That said, substitutes for red meat such as those described above will lead to substantial improvements in your health, thanks in large part to lower saturated fat. To clear up discussions of meat versus vegetarianism, YES you can get all your needed protein without consuming meat. And evidence does not suggest that meat protein is superior to plant protein. Meat is, however, a better source of complete protein. So if you’re a vegetarian, be sure to eat a variety of beans, nuts, grains, and vegetables alike to ensure that you complete your protein intake. Examples of plant protein combinations that complete each other are commonplace in society such as rice and bean, peanut butter and bread, and tofu and rice.

Meat eaters and vegetarians should both keep in mind the importance of eating seafood. Seafood is low in “bad” saturated fats and high in “good” unsaturated fats, especially a type known as omega-3s. Particularly if you eat red meat, a switch to fish will have profound positive effects on your cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. Seafood is a major source of two essential omega-3s called DHA and EPA that play an especially important role in the development of brain and eye tissue, as well as reducing cardiovascular disease and improving immune health. In other words, eat seafood! When you select seafood from the market, however, there are important factors to consider. In the section that follows, I have highlighted these considerations. For those who refuse seafood, you can skip out on the next section, but don’t skip out on DHA and EPA. At least take a fish oil supplement to obtain these essential nutrients.

Wise Seafood Selection

Most important to selecting seafood at the market is mercury and omega-3 content. This is particularly important if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Fortunately, choosing seafood with low mercury is not difficult as many guidelines highlight the best species to eat. Unfortunately, guidelines that also specify omega-3 content are harder to come by. In an earlier blog, however, I constructed such guidelines, which can be viewed here. Also, as many fisheries are under extreme pressure due to overfishing, you should try your best to select fish that are caught sustainably. For guidelines on choosing sustainable fish, visit SeaFood Watch.

In Dr. Willett’s quote above, he mentioned the cancer-causing chemicals formed when cooking red meat. For more info on this, see my earlier blog titled "Barbequed Meat: A Health Tip."

To keep these articles flowing, please show me your support by joining my blog! Simply click “join this site” at the top right of this page, log into your account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                               Shahir Masri, M.S.