How Diet Plays a Role in Disease Prevention

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heart-healthy diet

This morning, Dr. Oz visited the Today Show to talk about an important new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by researchers at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition. Scientists looked at data regarding what Americans eat and what they die from and found a clear relationship between certain foods and the risk of disease. The researchers discovered that they could attribute almost half (45%) of the more than 700,000 deaths from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes to just 10 dietary factors.

What this reveals is that simply changing how we eat can dramatically reduce disease-related deaths and significantly cut health care costs at the same time. In fact, the savings could be huge, because it’s estimated that we spend somewhere around $80 billion on these diseases each year.

Interestingly, these deaths from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes aren’t just because we eat too many bad foods, but also because we’re not eating enough of the good kind.

So, we are actually giving you permission to eat more of something for the sake of your health.

Here is what we recommend you add to your diet:

  • Healthy Fats – These are the omega-3 fats found in salmon and small fatty fish like sardines. They are anti-inflammatory and studies show that people with the highest levels of these fats in their blood have a lower risk of heart disease and improved brain health. The optimal amount is 250 mg per day. You can get a whole week’s worth in just one serving of salmon.
  • Nuts and Seeds – The fatty acids in nuts are predominantly unsaturated and good for you. Nuts also contain complex carbohydrates like fiber, as well as protein, and other good nutrients. Another recent paper suggests that nuts may also be important for weight loss, because they help you feel fuller longer. According to researchers, large studies actually show an inverse association between nut consumption and weight gain over time. The JAMA paper suggests that the optimal amount is about five 1 oz servings per week.
  • Plant Oils – A third type of healthy fats are called polyunsaturated. These are the types of fats found in soybean and corn oil. You want to replace animal fats, which are mostly saturated fats, and simple sugars with these. Dr. Oz and I really like olive oil, which contains mostly monounsaturated fats and other phytochemicals like flavanols, but this wasn’t evaluated in the study. I spoke with the senior author of the paper, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, who is also the dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, and he pointed out, while we usually call these vegetable oils, “there are actually almost no “vegetable” oils.   Almost all healthful oils are from fruits, nuts, or seeds (e.g., olive, canola, etc.) – extracts from bioactive-rich foods that give rise to life.”
  • Fruits and Vegetables – Fruits (not including juice) and vegetables are loaded with fiber, prebiotics, and phytonutrients. The longest living people on the planet have diets that are plant-based, meaning they fill their plates with mostly fruits and vegetables. Vegetables in this study also included beans, which are a great source of protein. According to the study you should be eating about 14 oz of vegetables a day. That’s about four servings, which is equivalent to two cups of cooked or four cups of raw vegetables per day. They also recommend about three servings of fruit, which is about three apple-sized servings a day.
  • Whole Grains – Whole grains are foods like faro, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta. Whole grains contain more nutrients than the more refined white grains and flours and are broken down more slowly by the body, so you don’t get a big rush of sugar in your blood. According to the study, the optimal amount of whole grains is about 4.5 oz per day. For reference, a slice of whole wheat bread is about 1 oz and a serving of pasta is about 2 oz. Read the ingredient labels of whole grain foods carefully, because packaging can sometimes be deceiving. Always look for 100% whole grain, to make sure you are getting the good stuff.

There are plenty of great foods to eat more of, but there are still some we need to be eating less of to reduce deaths from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

  • Eat Less Salt – Sodium is associated with high blood pressure and heart disease. Processed and fast foods are loaded with salt and are probably where most people are getting overexposed. Cutting back on these foods can help. If you are used to a lot of salt, it can be hard to quit at first, but we have a plan that can help: check it out here. According to the study, the ideal amount sodium daily is 2000 mg, which is about one teaspoon of salt.
  • Cut Out Sugary Drinks – This includes sodas, sports drinks, and juices. According to the study, the ideal intake is none! These are just empty sugar calories. The best drink for you is water. If it’s too boring, try sparkling water instead.
  • Avoid Processed Meats and Unprocessed Red Meats – Process meats are loaded with salts, nitrates, and other things that put your health at risk. In addition to increasing your risk of death from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, the WHO also says they increase the risk of cancer. According to the study the ideal amount of processed meats is none. Unprocessed red meats are less of a problem, in fact according to the analysis they attribute the least number of deaths to this category of food, but you still don’t want to eat too much. According to the authors the ideal amount is actually one 3 oz serving per week!

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