By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
Got a food craving? Juicy apple or bag of potato chips?
Whether it’s an afternoon break or late night snack, most people will reach for the calorie-laden, processed snack.
But we know better. We know that a nutritious diet can serve as a strong foundation for a long, healthy life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention 9 in 10 Americans consume too much sodium and nearly $173 billion a year is spent on health care for obesity.
Being overweight or having obesity increases a person’s risk of getting various diseases and ailments, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even cancer.
In fact, it is linked with a higher risk of getting 13 types of cancer, including endometrial cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women and colorectal cancer. These cancers make up 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
Two of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure and the risk for heart disease and stroke. Current guidelines recommend getting less than 2,300 mg a day, but Americans consume more than 3,400 mg a day on average.
Over 70% of the sodium that Americans eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods. Eating foods low in saturated fats and high in fiber, cutting back on sodium-rich foods, along with regular physical activity, can help prevent high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure.
People who are overweight are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes because, over time, their bodies become less able to use the insulin they make. About 88 million adults in the U.S. have prediabetes. The number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has nearly doubled in the last two decades as the U.S. population has increased, aged and become more overweight.
Changes in Diet Can Help
Fruits and vegetables are the building blocks of nutritious diets, as they’re loaded with nutrients that serve the body in myriad ways. The nutrients found in many fruits and vegetables do wonders for your body and health.
Calcium: Dark, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, and bok choi contain calcium. Calcium also is found in fruits, including papaya and orange. According to the National Institutes of Health, the body utilizes calcium to build and maintain strong bones. In fact, the NIH notes that almost all calcium in the body is stored in the bones and teeth, where this vital mineral provides structure and hardness. Calcium also helps nerves carry messages from the brain to every part of the body.
Dietary fiber: Dietary fiber is found in various fruits and vegetables. The Cleveland Clinic notes that berries like raspberries and blackberries contain significant amounts of dietary fiber. Pears, artichoke hearts and Brussels sprouts are packed with fiber as well. A high-fiber diet helps stabilize bowel movements and maintain bowel health, and WebMD notes that studies have found a link between high-fiber diets and a lower risk for colorectal cancer. Studies also have linked fiber-rich foods with heart-friendly outcomes like reduced inflammation and lower cholesterol.
Magnesium: The Mayo Clinic reports that magnesium supports muscle and nerve function and energy production. Individuals with chronically low levels of magnesium could be at increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. The NIH notes that magnesium is widely distributed in plants. That means it can be found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including spinach, edamame, black beans, bananas, and broccoli. Magnesium levels vary significantly in these foods, so anyone concerned about magnesium deficiency can speak with their physicians about the best and healthiest ways to include more in their diets.
Vitamin A: According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, vitamin A stimulates the production and activity of white blood cells, helps maintain healthy cells that line the body’s interior surfaces and regulates cell growth and division necessary for reproduction. Green, leafy vegetables are good sources of vitamin A, as are orange and yellow vegetables like carrots and squash. Vitamin A also can be found in cantaloupe, apricots and mangos.
Potassium: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans established by the United States Department of Agriculture lists beet greens, lima beans, swiss chard, baked potatoes (with skin), and yams as great sources of potassium. Kiwi, melon, cantaloupe, and bananas are additional sources of potassium. The T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports that the main role of potassium in the body is to help maintain normal levels of fluid inside the cells. Potassium also supports a normal blood pressure.
If you think eating healthy is easier said than done, try these tips:
• Substitute vegetables in recipes. You can boost your health by replacing refined grains with veggies in recipes. For example, cauliflower can be chopped finely to replace rice, mashed potatoes or even used in pizza crust. Spaghetti squash and zucchini have become a popular and natural replacement for pasta because it separates into long, thin strands after cooking.
• To avoid grabbing processed snack foods when you get hungry between meals, plan ahead by having nutrient-rich snacks on hand. Nuts, vegetables and fruits are rich in nutrients and tasty.
• Use salt sparingly. Reduce use of salty sauces and condiments, read food labels and choose products with lower sodium content and remove salt and salty condiments from the table and try and avoid adding them out of habit.
Adopting a healthy diet can boost immunity, lower risks of diseases and help you live longer.
This article originally appeared in the June 2-8, 2022 print edition of The Two River Times.