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Find answers to frequently asked questions about nutrition, like why healthy eating is important and how to improve your diet.

  • What can I do to reduce my sodium intake?
  • Most of the sodium you get each day comes from processed foods rather than salt you use in cooking and at the table. Here are some tips to help you shake the sodium out of your diet: 

    • Avoid prepared foods. High sodium foods include:

      • Salty snacks such as chips and pretzels
      • Canned soups and sauces
      • Cured meats such as bacon and ham
      • Foods packed in salt water such as pickles, olives, and canned tuna
      • Frozen pizzas and dinners
      • Fast food

    • Use fresh foods whenever possible. Good choices include:

      • Fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added salt
      • Fresh meats, fish, and poultry rather than cooked or prepared items
      • Herbs and spices as seasoning instead than salt

    • Learn to read food labels.  Look at the “Nutrition Facts” panel on the label of packaged foods. This will tell you how much sodium is in the food.  When figuring out your sodium intake from the food label, keep in mind:

      • The milligrams (mg) listed is per serving. It is not for the whole package.  If you eat more or less than what they consider one serving, you’ll have to do the math to figure out how much sodium you are getting.

      • The percent of daily value (% DV) is based on 2400 mg a day, not the recommended 1500 mg. That means the sodium in a serving is a higher percent of your daily limit than what is listed on the label.

    • Choose carefully in restaurants. Restaurant food is high in sodium. Some ways to eat out and still keep your sodium level under control include:

      • Having your meal prepared without added salt
      • Asking that sauces, gravies, and salad dressings be served on the side
      • Selecting fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads and plain meats or fish from the menu
  • Who is at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

  • Those at greatest risk for vitamin D deficiency include breast-fed infants, older adults, people with dark skin, people with fat malabsorption and people who are obese or have undergone gastric bypass surgery.
  • What should I look for on food labels if I want to cut back on the sugar I eat in processed foods?

  • The first place to look is the Nutrition Facts box under carbohydrates, where you’ll find the grams of sugar in each serving. However, this sugar can be combination of added sweeteners and natural sugars in the food itself, such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk. To get a better idea how much added sugar is in the product, examine the ingredient list. The more sugar there is in the food, the higher it will be on the list. Look for high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, and almost any word ending in “ose,” including sucrose, glucose, dextrose and maltose. Cane sugar, beet sugar, molasses and honey are also forms of added sugar.
  • How can I lower my cholesterol, aside from dietary changes?

  • Aside from changes in diet, adults can help lower their cholesterol by increasing physical activity, quitting smoking (if a smoker) and taking medications, when necessary.
  • How can I help reduce fat inflammation in my body?

  • You can help to reduce inflammation of adipose tissue by maintaining a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins such as nuts and fish. Some drugs have also been shown to help reduce inflammation of fat over time.
  • How can I cut out excess sugar in my diet?

  • Many studies (including earlier NHANES reports) show that sugary soft drinks contribute more calories to the U.S. diet than any other single food or beverage. One 12-oz can of soda contains about 40 to 50 grams of sugar, depending on the type of soda. That’s equivalent to 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar. Guzzle a 32-oz jumbo drink from a fast-food restaurant or convenience store, and you’ll take in 23 teaspoons of sugar. But sodas aren’t the only problem. Lots of hidden sugars find their way into processed foods in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.

  • How do isoflavones improve blood pressure?

  • Although the exact mechanism is unclear, experts believe that isoflavones increase the production of enzymes that create nitric oxide, a substance that helps to widen blood vessels and reduce the pressure created by blood against the vessel walls. When consumed on a regular basis, isoflavones can help reduce blood pressure, especially among those with borderline or high blood pressure.
  • How can too much salt be harmful to your health?

  • While some salt is necessary to maintain the proper balance of fluids in the body, too much salt causes the kidneys to retain water, which increases blood volume and pressure and puts a strain on the heart. These effects can cause hypertension and significantly harm those with pre-existing heart problems.
  • Are there drawbacks to drinking a lot of coffee?

  • Although there is strong evidence associating coffee with heart disease, caffeine is a mild stimulant and, as such, can cause a small, temporary rise in blood pressure and heart rate. It can also trigger heartburn and upset stomach in some people. While coffee itself has few or no calories, an extra-large caramel latte is a definite diet buster. Finally, heavy caffeine use can result in the “jitters” during the day and trouble sleeping at night.
  • Besides chocolate, what other foods contain flavonoids?

  • In addition to cocoa, most fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices contain flavonoids. Flavonoids can also be found in other types of food, including beans, some grains and wine.
  • Are certain foods associated with greater weight gain than others?

  • Yes. Some studies found that potato chips are more strongly associated with weight gain, followed by potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meats and processed meats. 

  • Are carbohydrates unhealthy?

  • According to research and dietary guidelines, carbohydrates are not bad for us. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. It is important to eat complex carbohydrates contained in whole grain foods, which take longer for the body to break down and keep us feeling full. In comparison, simple carbohydrates that are found in most processed foods and sweets can spike our blood sugar and keep us less satisfied.
  • Does replacing regular soda with diet soft drinks reduce extra sugar and calorie consumption?

  • It’s true that diet soft drinks don’t contain sugar, so switching from sugary soft drinks to diet drinks can help reduce excess sugar and calorie consumption. However, it’s still important to look at the overall quality of the diet. In this study, teens who consumed lots of sugar also consumed less protein and fiber. If teens switch to diet drinks but continue to eat the same way, they are likely to be missing out on important nutrients they need for good health. The study didn’t comment on the intake of calcium and other minerals and vitamins, but filling up on sodas, even if they’re diet sodas, may mean that a teen is not drinking enough milk or eating a balanced diet. In addition, many sodas contain caffeine, and cola drinks contain high levels of phosphates. A diet that’s high in phosphates but low in calcium can lead to weaker bones, a special concern for girls.

  • Does coffee have other health benefits?

  • Another long-running study of women’s health, known as the Nurses’ Health Study, concluded that regular coffee drinkers were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Coffee has also been linked to a lower risk of liver disease, gallstones, colon cancer, and Parkinson’s Disease. And, as any sleep-deprived student will tell you, a cup of coffee can sharpen memory and improve the ability to perform complex tasks.
  • How accurate is nutritional information in fast-food and sit-down restaurants?

  • A recent study found that nutritional information is more accurate in fast-food restaurants than sit-down restaurants. Experts suggest that fast-food nutritional information may be more accurate because the food is in exact portion sizes, often in containers. In sit-down restaurants, food is served on a plate with less-regulated portions. They also found that foods with lower-stated caloric content had higher actual caloric content, while foods with higher-stated caloric content had lower actual calorie content. Interestingly, side dishes in sit-down restaurants tended to have more calories than stated, rather than the entrees they accompanied.
  • Is drinking coffee safe for my heart
  • Many studies have shown that drinking coffee on a daily basis is safe for the heart and may actually reduce risk for heart disease. For most healthy adults, moderate coffee consumption can be part of a healthy diet, and for individuals that experience side effects from coffee, decaffeinated coffee can be a useful alternative.

  • In which types of foods are n-3 PUFAs found?

  • N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found in most oily fish and fish oils. These can be found in their natural forms (fish), as well as in daily supplements.
  • Should pregnant women give up coffee?

  • Many women avoid coffee during pregnancy because they are concerned that caffeine can increase the risk miscarriage or preterm birth. However, a 2010 position statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that moderate caffeine consumption--about 200 milligrams or the equivalent of a 12-ounce cup of coffee--does not appear to be harmful.  When calculating your daily caffeine intake, be sure to account for caffeine from sources such as tea, cola, and chocolate, as well.
  • Is television watching associated with weight gain?

  • Yes, increased television watching has been  associated with an increase in weight gain. For example, in a recent study, watching one hour of television per day contributed to an average weight gain of .31 pounds, while three hours of television watching each day contributed to an average weight gain of .93 pounds.
  • How does chocolate help with weight control?

  • Flavonoids are a type of nutrient found in most plants, including the cocoa bean, which may boast a number of health benefits, including improved weight control. Chocolate that is minimally processed with the greatest amount of cocoa are a good source of flavonoids.
  • How does high sodium intake increase risk for heart disease?
  • High sodium levels increase blood pressure by stiffening the walls of the arteries, making the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body. If a diet is consistently high in sodium, these effects can lead to hypertension, a significant risk factor for heart disease. The DASH diet provides guidance for reducing your sodium intake.
  • What dietary changes should I make to reduce my risk of developing atherosclerosis?
  • Are there certain foods I should avoid because of my cardiomyopathy?
  • Should I follow a special diet because of dilated cardiomyopathy? Any dietary restrictions?

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