We all want the easiest path to good health, and nutrition can be a great place to start. When it comes to nutrition, the amount of information can seem overwhelming. Cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, phytonutrients, vitamin D and omega-3 fats are all important factors to consider in keeping your body healthy. Focusing on these factors can be a way to provide direction on your path to good health.
Cholesterol is often one of the first things people think of related to diet and disease. High blood cholesterol is associated with heart disease, which is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. Our body does need some cholesterol for hormone production along with other body functions, but closely monitoring cholesterol, saturated and trans fats is important to consider to help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is always found in animal products.
Saturated and trans fat can be found in any processed food, depending on how it’s been made. Saturated and trans fats are hardened fats that your body treats like cholesterol which can build-up in your blood vessels. There are many ways to balance cholesterol, saturated and trans fat in the diet:
· Choose small portions of lean meats
· Choose low fat cheese, milk and yogurt
· Use olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, olives and avocados in place of saturated fats such as butter, shortening and creamy salad dressings
· Choose foods that are labeled “trans fat free”
· Choose more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes
Phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, are found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and teas.
Some of the names of the phytonutrients are capsaicin, carotenoid, flavanoid, lignan, lycopene, and phytoestrogens. These names are important to recognize since they are becoming more popular on food labels. The bottom line is, the more colorful the food, the greater its phytonutrient power. Phytonutrients may improve immune function along with decreasing the risk for certain diseases. Research continues to investigate phytonutrient function as it relates to disease prevention and health. Here are some ways to include more phytonutrients in your diet:
· Add berries to your whole grain cereal
· Include broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, beans and sunflower seeds in your dark-leafy green salad
· Season foods with herbs, spices, garlic, chili peppers and onions
· Enjoy an orange, grapefruit or handful of nuts as a snack
· Enjoy tea and dark chocolate
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that was added to milk back in the 1930s as a way to prevent rickets, a disease of the bones. It is widely known that vitamin D is made in the body through sunlight exposure. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be more prevalent in northern climates where sunshine is not as abundant. Recent research is now questioning whether there is a connection between vitamin D deficiency and disease risk. Low vitamin D levels may be associated with high blood pressure, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. The typical American diet tends to be very low in vitamin D. Here are some easy ways to increase your vitamin D intake:
· Consume vitamin D fortified dairy products
· Choose fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout, herring, sardines & mackerel
Some foods that are high in vitamin D are also high in Omega-3 fats.
Omega-3 fats have been linked with heart disease prevention and improved mental health. The different types of omega-3 fats are ALA (alpha linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaneoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid ). ALA is found in vegetable oils and walnuts. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish. Omega-3 fats promote good health. Fish is important to include in your diet since it contains DHA. Adequate intake of DHA is linked with decreasing heart disease along with possibly improving mental health. Here are some ideas to increase your intake of Omega-3 fats:
· Consume grilled, baked or broiled fatty fish at least twice a week such as salmon, tuna, trout, herring, sardines and mackerel
· If you don’t consume fish: The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommends at least 500 milligrams of omega-3 fat daily, taken as a supplement
· Use canola, olive, soybean and flaxseed oils more often
· Use walnuts in cooking, baking and on top of salads and vegetables for a nice crunch
Good nutrition is eating a balanced diet, consisting of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, legumes, nuts and healthy fats. These foods provide the nourishment your body needs to maintain good health. Start improving your nutrition by being aware of the cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, phytonutrients, vitamin D and omega-3 fats that you eat in order to help prevent disease and improve your overall health.
At the time of this writing, Dawn Lundin, Sherri Rule and Deb Sergey were Registered Dietitians at Marquette General Health System for Nutrition and Wellness Services, providing services to a wide variety of clients.
Excerpted with permission from the Fall 2009 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2009. All rights reserved.