The quality of the food we put into our bodies is an essential part of living a healthy lifestyle. There’s no time like the present to start paying attention to the ingredients we use and the nutrients they provide us. However, product labels can be confusing or even misleading, and although many products claim to be healthy alternatives, that is not always the case. Here are a few simple ways to ensure that the products we choose actually live up to their claims of being the “healthy choice.”
There is no doubt that whole-grain products such as cereal, bread and crackers are better for us than the processed alternatives. However, brands advertising cracked wheat, seven-grain and multi-grain might not contain any whole grains at all. To ensure that what you buy contains 100 percent whole grain, check the ingredient list for indicators such as whole wheat, whole-grain corn and whole oats or oatmeal. These keywords should be first on the list, and will help separate the real wheat from the fillers.
Incorporating vitamins and minerals into our diets is invaluable. However, purchasing vitamin-infused water to supplement a multivitamin is an expensive and insufficient shortcut. More than likely what you will find are empty calories derived from sugar, not the necessary vitamins and minerals. There is no liquid substitute for a daily balanced multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Snack foods are convenient ways to tide us over in between meals. Unfortunately, finding healthy alternatives to our favorite snack foods can be difficult. Potato chips, while delicious, are loaded with fat and salt. Veggie chips seem like a reasonable alternative, but when reading the fine print it becomes obvious that they can contain just as much fat as the regular brands. So what is the healthy alternative? Baked or whole wheat chips.
Another popular snack food, fruit snacks, can be misleading as well. While the packaging might indicate the use of “real fruit,” more often than not they are actually made with high volumes of sugar and hydrogenated fat.
So with all of the unhealthy options out there, how do we make appropriate choices? There are a few staple foods that offer significant benefits to both our bodies and minds by boosting our immune systems and filling us up.
Fish: Though many fish are low-fat sources of protein, even the fatty types have their benefits. Sardines, salmon, herring and halibut are all good sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which studies have shown reduce the risk of early death in patients with heart disease. If fish is not a family favorite, omega-3s can also be found in walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed and fish oil supplements.
Berries: Berries are a great way to strengthen the immune system because of their antioxidant properties. Blueberries and raspberries, among many others, are known for their ability to fight diseases, including food poisoning caused by certain bacteria.
Broccoli: Broccoli is known not only as a great source of calcium, but also for its ability to lower the risk of certain cancers, such as lung and colon cancer. This is because it contains a high level of antioxidants called glucosinolates, which help to stimulate the body to rid itself of toxins. Just two or three tablespoons per day provide a strong dose of antioxidants.
Tomatoes: Studies have shown that the pigment lycopene, found in all red fruits and vegetables, might help to protect against certain types of cancers. In America, the richest source of this pigment is found in ketchup and pizza sauces. Lycopene can also be obtained by drinking 6 ounces of vegetable juice every day.
Barley: Whole grains are well known for their heart-healthy properties. Oatmeal and whole wheat bread are both good foods to eat on a regular basis to support heart health. Just one more example of how beneficial whole grains can be, barley has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol and for having a higher content of disease-fighting antioxidants than any other grain.
Healthy eating doesn’t stop at portion control and calorie counting. The quality of the food we eat is an important part of deciding what to put in our bodies. Northern Nevada Medical Center offers a free, online health library that includes the nutritional value of commonly used foods. You can use this easy tool to find out how the foods you eat stack up in terms of calories, fat, protein, cholesterol, sodium, fiber and more.
Visit http://healthinfo.northernnvmed.com/Library/NutritionFacts. The health library also offers recipe suggestions and additional information on healthy options at http://healthinfo.northernnvmed.com/Library/Recipes
Denver Miller, MD, specializes in internal medicine and geriatric medicine with the Northern Nevada Medical Group. Dr. Miller earned his medical degree from The Institute of Biomedical Sciences School of Medicine at the University of Juarez, Mexico, and his residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Miller also completed a fellowship in geriatric medicine at UCLA. Northern Nevada Medical Group accepts most of the area’s health plans including Medicare. Same-day appointments and walk-ins are welcome. Call 352-5300 to schedule an appointment.