Nutrition

When it comes to our health, moderation, common sense and smart choices still rule.

One of the most surprising things about what we know of diet and nutrition today is that common sense still rules. The things we did in the past, such as completely cutting out fats and carbohydrates, is not the cure-all we once thought. In fact, many of today’s studies show that everything in moderation is still the best way to approach a healthy and balanced diet.

“There are no magic bullets for health or weight-loss goals. Anyone trying to sell you a shake, supplement, detox plan, or waist belt is more likely to be after your wallet than to want to see you reach your weight loss goals,” says Dr. Michelle Cardel, assistant professor and registered dietitian at the University of Florida Department of Health Outcomes and Policy.

If we have learned anything, it is that the old rules from the 1980s and 1990s that focused on people cutting out all dietary fat were in fact wrong, and caused a “fat-free revolution” according to Cardel.

“The downside of that is that it often led to people eating more sugar and refined carbohydrates, which was not a healthy tradeoff. Dietary fat is an important part of a balanced diet, and eating foods like eggs and olive oil are great in moderation,” she says.

That said, not all fats are healthy or good for you.

“The new recommendations to eat more dietary fat do not mean that saturated fats are ‘good’ for you. In fact, randomized controlled trials show that replacing saturated fats (such as those found in butter) with unsaturated fats (such as those found in salmon, almonds, and olive oil), show a reduced risk of heart disease,” Cardel says.

Fat shouldn’t be something we are scared of — as long as we know the difference between saturated fat (butter for example) and unsaturated fat (olive oil, salmon).

“Focus on eating a diet high in healthy unsaturated fats, limit consumption of foods high in fat, and avoid eating trans fats completely,” Cardel advises.

The state of our health comes down to the choices we make. Heredity and genetics do play a part but taking responsibility for our diet could reduce the risk of diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

According to Cardel, a recent study showed that people with a poor diet could reduce their risk of dying an earlier death with some small improvements to their diet.

“They found that regardless of the type of diet quality score (for example, Healthy Eating Index, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet score, or Mediterranean diet quality score), those who improved their diet quality over a 12 year period were less likely to die during those 12 years,” Cardel says.

Cardel says the bottom line from this study is that if you are currently eating a poor diet and you improve it, your odds of dying in the next 12 years goes down.

She suggests making small but meaningful improvements. One example is to replace one serving of animal protein daily such as red meat with a serving of nuts or legumes.

“Or try replacing one of your soda drinks a day with a cup of flavored sparkling water like LaCroix,” she says.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many people ask what diet Cardel ascribes to herself — after all, she is the expert.

“What I eat is not really a diet, per say, but more of a Mediterranean diet pattern. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating (such as) a predominantly plant-based diet that includes fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains, with the added fun of healthy fats from olive oil, seeds, and nuts, and even some wine,” Cardel explains.

According to Cardel, research has shown that healthy adults who follow a Mediterranean-style diet have a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Cardels says that to recreate the Mediterranean lifestyle and diet, you should consider doing the following:

• Most of your diet coming from plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts;

• Eat healthy fats such as olive oil instead of butter;

• Use herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt;

• Limit red meat to a few times a month;

• Eat fish and/or poultry at least twice a week;

• Enjoy your meals with your family and friends, rather than eating at a desk or in the car;

• Drink wine in moderation (optional);

• Get plenty of exercise .

Supplements have long been debated as to whether they are effective or necessary. The FDA does not regulate this industry, which means quality and effectivity can vary greatly between brands and types of supplements. The bottom line is to do your research.

“The only supplement that I would give a blanket recommendation for is prenatal vitamins for women of reproductive age. Beyond that, the need for supplements varies significantly based on an individual’s age, sex, and disease state,” Cardel says.

If people are interested in supplements, Cardel always encourages them to buy those with a USP label (http://www.usp.org/verification-services/usp-verified-mar).

“Supplements are a multibillion industry that people often don’t realize is not regulated by the FDA. Thus, supplements can make slippery claims without proving they are true,” Cardel explains.

Cardel says that if a supplement is USP-verified then you can get some peace of mind knowing it:

• Contains the ingredients listed on the label (in the declared potency and amounts it states on the bottle).

• Does not contain harmful levels of specified contaminants (e.g. lead and mercury).

• Will be metabolized efficiently by your body.

• Has been made according to FDA current Good Manufacturing Practices using sanitary and well-controlled procedures.

While there is no magic bullet or easy, quick fix to losing weight and staying healthy, there are choices that we know can improve one’s chances of having a longer, healthier life.