By Kathy McManus, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Brigham and Women's Hospital
How about some nutrition science to go along with your New Year's Resolution? The Department of Nutrition at Brigham and Women's has compiled compelling evidence that shows how diet and lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your risk of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. Better yet, you can do it in three easy steps. Make a scientific resolution this year and raise your glass to good health!
Three Ways To Watch Your Weight
By maintaining a healthy weight, you can best ensure your long-term health.
- Check your body mass index number (body weight adjusted for height). A BMI of more than 25 significantly increases your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
- Watch for weight gain after your early 20s. Middle-aged men and women who gained between 11 and 22 pounds after age 20 were three times more likely than people who gained 5 pounds or less to develop heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and gallstones.
- Tuck in that bulge. Fat that collects around your waist and chest may pose a greater health problem than fat around the hips and thighs. Abdominal fat has been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and heart disease, especially when waist measurements are greater than 39 inches for men and 34 inches for women.
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Three Essentials for Working Up a Sweat
Research has shown a strong relationship between the level of exercise and development of heart disease. Too little exercise increases risk, while regular physical activity reduces it and has many other health benefits.
- Learn how to set up an exercise program.
- Exercise for at least one hour a day. Remember, physical activity is cumulative, meaning you can spread it over smaller chunks of time.
- Work to stay motivated.
Keep in mind the many benefits of working up a sweat: weight management, cardiovascular conditioning, decrease in LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides, increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol, reduction in stress, and decreased risk of osteoporosis.
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Three Steps to Better Eating
Use the New Year to banish the bad, and bring in the good eating habits.
- Limit your saturated fats and avoid trans fats. Trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and lower your HDL cholesterol. Saturated fats raise your serum cholesterol, specifically LDL cholesterol. Carefully read the ingredient lists on all the packaged foods you buy. If you see "hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" you have found a source of trans fats. To determine the amount of saturated fat in a particular food, look for the serving size and the amount of saturated fat (in grams) on the nutrition label.
- Trans fat food sources: margarine; vegetable shortening; foods containing "hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil", such as cookies, crackers, pastries, microwave popcorn, and some frozen meals; deep-fried foods such as donuts, French fries, and fast foods
- Saturated fat food sources: cheese; butter; fatty meats (hamburger, steak, prime rib); cold cuts; poultry skin; whole milk and whole milk products, such as ice cream and cream; desserts prepared with butter, cheese, coconut, including cakes, pies, cookies, etc.; tropical oils such as palm kernel or coconut
- Increase your intake of good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). When substituted for the unhealthy fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats lower your LDL cholesterol. Many population studies show that countries that consume monounsaturated fats as their main source of fat have a much lower rate of heart disease.
- Monounsaturated fat food sources: olive oil; canola oil; peanut oil; nuts, including almonds, cashews, filberts, macadamias, pecans, pistachios and peanuts; avocados; peanut butter (look for all-natural brands) and other nut butters
- Polyunsaturated fat food sources:
- Omega-6 food sources: corn, soy, safflower and sunflower oils, sunflower seeds
- Omega-3 food sources: fish, including herring, bluefish, salmon, pollack, flounder, lake trout, tuna, and sardines; sources of alpha linolenic acid such as canola oil, flax seeds and flaxseed oil, wheat germ, soy bean oil, walnuts
- Pile on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and good grains. Nutrition research shows that people who consume higher amounts of fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Likewise, nuts have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Finally, eating whole grains offers protection against diabetes, heart disease, cancer and gastrointestinal problems such as diverticulosis and constipation.
Nut sources: almonds, cashews, peanuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, peanut butter and other nut butters such as almond butter and cashew butter
Whole-grain food sources: 100-percent whole-grain bread, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain crackers, whole-wheat flour, wheat berries or cracked wheat, quinoa, brown rice, barley, millet. Note: Look for foods that list whole grains first on the ingredient list.
- Fruit and vegetable food sources:
- Vitamin C — oranges, green and red peppers, collard greens, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, papaya, strawberries, kiwi
- Beta carotene —l apricots, carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, cantaloupe, sweet potato, dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, hubbard squash, papaya
- Folic acid — dark leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, sweet potato, orange juice, oranges
Vitamin B6 — banana, sweet potato, avocado, broccoli
Best wishes for a healthy New Year!
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Kathy McManus, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is the director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital and director of nutrition and behavioral modification program for the Program for Weight Management at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Simmons College and received a Master of Science degree in nutrition from Framingham State College.