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Eat Better

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

  • Should I eat seafood?
  • The 2010 Dietary Guidelines encourage everyone to eat at least 2 servings (8 oz) of seafood a week. The health benefits of fish and shellfish as a source for low-fat protein heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids outweigh the risks from mercury and other pollutants, which are sometimes found in these foods.
  • How does chocolate improve cardiovascular health?
  • Although the exact relationship is unclear, many suggest that the antioxidants and flavanols found in cocoa and chocolate help resist damage to the heart over time. Furthermore, certain types of “good” fats such as oleic acid, most commonly found in olive oil, may help protect the heart and control cholesterol levels.
  • How can I reduce my risk for heart attack?
  • You can significantly reduce risk for heart attack by knowing your numbers and addressing any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, including hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking. You can also help reduce cardiovascular risk by maintaining a healthy weight and heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly and controlling stress.

    Watch a news video about this study featuring CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief, Dr. JoAnne Foody.

  • What if I have tried to learn more about my health but still have trouble understanding?
  • Patients who have trouble understanding their health conditions should ask for help from their health care team, whether it's a doctor, nurse or counselor. Health care providers can help point patients to a variety of resources that can cater to individual needs.
  • What is the best way to lose weight?

  • Weight loss boils down to a simple formula: burn more energy each day than you take in from food. A deficit of 3500 calories will net one pound of fat loss. Therefore, if you cut down your food intake by just 100 calories a day, you can expect to lose 10 pounds by the end of the year.

    Although it’s tempting to look for a quick fix with a speedy weight loss scheme, many popular diets are unhealthy or produce only temporary results. You’ll have better luck with an eating plan that includes a variety of healthful foods and gives you enough calories and nutrients to meet your body’s needs. Taking it slow by making ongoing eating and exercise changes is the best way to reach and maintain your optimal weight.
  • What are good sources of vitamin D?

  • Vitamin D can be found naturally in a few food sources such as fatty fish, cheese and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also added to some food products like milk and some yogurts, juices and cereals. The best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency, however, is to get enough regular exposure to the sun and to take supplements when necessary.
  • What are the best sources of isoflavones?

  • Soybeans are the most common source of isoflavones, with the most popular soy products being soy milk, tofu, edamame, soybeans and tempeh. Isoflavones can also be found in meat alternatives such as soy burgers, but be sure to check the nutrition labels; meat alternatives tend to have fewer isoflavones than other natural sources and can be high in sodium. Also, a number of isoflavone supplements are available for those who don’t like the taste of soy products.
  • What foods are highest in omega-3 fatty acids?

  • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are foods containing the most omega-3 fatty acids, followed by certain fish, fish oils and nuts. Certain plants and spices are also high in omega-3 fatty acid, such as fresh basil, dried oregano and grape leaves. 

  • What foods are low in sodium and high in potassium?
  • Most fruits, vegetables and dairy products have a low sodium-potassium ratio, meaning they are good sources of potassium without high levels of salt. Processed foods, on the other hand, are often high in sodium and contain less potassium.
  • What foods should I avoid when trying to limit sodium intake?

  • While many foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium, it is estimated that 75 percent of dietary sodium comes from processed foods. When limiting salt intake, try to avoid prepared meals and limit consumption of condiments, canned and frozen foods, and packaged snacks, which contain some of the highest concentrations of sodium. Always read food labels when possible to help accurately measure your salt intake each day.
  • What foods high in flavanol?

  • Heart-healthy flavanols can be found in many fruits and vegetables, such as apples, blueberries, black beans and tomatoes. Dark chocolate and other chocolates that are the least processed and contain the greatest levels of cocoa powder are highest in flavanol and other heart-healthy nutrients.
  • What does the dietary portfolio consist of?

  • The four categories of the dietary portfolio are soy protein, sticky fibers, plant sterols and nuts. Good sources of soy protein include soy-based meat substitutes, such as soy burgers, soy cold cuts and soy milk. Sticky fibers can be found in products such as Metamucil, or grains such as oats and barley. Plant sterols can be naturally found in some foods, such as avocados, corn oil, and sunflower seeds, and is often added to foods, such as margarine and fruit drinks. Lastly, nuts like almonds and pistachios are part of the dietary portfolio.
  • 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.

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