You Are What You Eat
In This Chapter
- Obesity and preventable deaths
- Foods with a negative impact on health
- Foods that help to prevent or manage common health problems
- Your lifestyle and your risk for chronic diseases
The foods we put in our bodies every day go a long way to determine the state of our health. Foods are chockfull of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients the body needs to maintain proper functioning and energy levels, as well as decrease our risk for chronic disease. It’s like the old adage, if you put bad gas in a car it won’t run correctly. Well, if you put bad foods in your body, it, too, won’t run properly. At some point, your body will stall, leaving you at risk for many types of health issues.
In this chapter, we’ll provide you with the reasons that you are indeed what you eat. You’ll discover how foods can lead to health hazards and how others may be part of the solution. Not only is it what you eat that can affect your health, but your overall lifestyle in addition to something you have no control over—family genetics.
The Road to Good Health
Unfortunately for us, there’s no one magic food that will put us on the fast track to good health. The key is to consume a variety of healthy foods each day and to live a healthy lifestyle. If family genetics is a concern, a healthy diet and lifestyle become even more imperative if you intend to keep traveling down the right road. The goal is to take care of your body, both inside and out, in order to decrease your risk for health issues such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, just to name a few.
Sometimes the road to good health can seem like a juggling act, but the trick is to turn it into a balancing act. It doesn’t need to be difficult, but it does take some effort. You need to balance eating right, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, and de-stressing whenever possible. Sounds easy, right?
You should start by including a good doctor on your team, one that focuses on wellness and is proactive. Be sure you get a full checkup on a yearly basis. Next, learn all you can about good nutrition and put it into practice. There are plenty of resources to help, including the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ChooseMyPlate.gov and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, not to mention all the good information in this book. Start by adopting healthier habits such as exercise and healthy eating, and the rest will fall into place!
Both ChooseMyPlate.gov and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (cnpp.usda.gov/DietaryGuidelines) are issued and updated jointly by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) every 5 years. Both guidelines work hand-in-hand to provide the most current science-based advice for all Americans 2 years and older. They’re available so that we can educate ourselves as to what good nutrition is and how we can make healthier choices. The key is not to only read both of these educational components, but to implement them in your everyday life.
Eating Hazards and Solutions for Health Issues
The foods and beverages you choose to consume can either be a hazard to your health or the solution to better overall health. The choice is yours! It’s up to you to feed your body foods that help and protect rather than injure. Whether you have a health issue or not, it’s in your best interest to consume foods that will improve your overall health and decrease your risk for chronic disease. The foods you choose to consume are something you have complete control over and a change you can start immediately.
There are many health issues that can be directly related to the foods we consume. On the other hand, there are foods that can also help to prevent and/or manage certain health issues. We’ll visit some of the more common health issues that plague Americans, and discover which foods can create a hazard and which can be the solution.
It’s well known that obesity is a major problem in our country, but do you realize what it can do to your body and your health? Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer, just to name a few. All of these health issues are the leading causes of preventable deaths. In other words, reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight can prevent or help lower your risk for many of these types of health issues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one third of the adult population in the United States is obese.
For many people obesity is directly related to food and beverages, mainly the types chosen in addition to portion sizes and calories consumed. This, in conjunction with a poor activity level, can and usually does lead to obesity.
Here are ways to begin to address your weight issues:
- Assess your weight using the Body Mass Index (BMI), which can tell you if you’re at a healthy weight. See Chapter 5 for more information on BMI and assessing your weight.
- If you’re not at a healthy weight, take steps to lose weight. Just a modest amount of weight loss, 5 to 10 percent of your current weight, can make a positive impact on your health.
- Slow and steady weight loss is the most successful way to lose weight and keep it off. It’s all about an ongoing lifestyle change in daily eating and exercise habits.
- To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Since 1 pound equals 3,500 calories, reduce your caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day for a safe and recommended rate of weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
- If you rely on a healthful diet and regular exercise to lose weight, your chances for success in both the long and the short term will be very good.
Eating the wrong types of foods and/or eating too much of them can tip the scales in the wrong direction, putting you at risk for obesity and therefore a host of health problems. This is not to say that eating these foods will definitely lead to obesity, but if eaten in large quantities on a regular basis, chances are you’ll head down that road. Any food, unhealthy or healthy, can lead to excess weight gain if you eat too much of it. It’s all about balance and moderation!
Hazard foods that can lead to obesity include:
- Fast food: These foods contain mostly unhealthy fats, too much sodium, and large amounts of calories. Fast food on a regular basis can cause obesity and all sorts of health issues.
- High-sugar foods: Examples are candy; baked goods such as cookies, cakes, pies, and donuts; table sugar; and sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and bottled iced teas. These foods contain way too much sugar and too many calories, and have no nutritional value. Eating them on a regular basis will lead to weight gain.
- Alcohol: Too much alcohol can add too many unnecessary calories to your diet and leave less room for healthy foods.
- Refined or processed grains: These foods include white breads, sugary cereals, white rice, and other foods made with white flour. They lack the fiber and nutritional value of whole grains and other healthier carbs. In addition, they make you hungrier more quickly and can cause overeating, which leads to obesity.
- High-fat foods: These include foods full of saturated fats such as full-fat dairy products, some salad dressings, and fatty or processed meats. They add unhealthy fats along with too many calories to your diet.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving 19,352 Swedish women who consumed one to two whole-fat dairy products daily showed that there was an inverse relationship to weight gain. This may be because the whole-fat products provided increased satiety levels, which led to eating less later on, or the fact that some of the fatty acids may play a role in weight regulation.
Eating the right types of foods in moderate portions can help you reach and/or maintain a healthy weight. It will also lower your risk for many chronic diseases since these foods are also good for your health.
Solution foods that can help prevent obesity include:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables: These foods add nutritional value, healthy calories, and fiber to meals and snacks.
- Whole-grains: Foods such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa add fiber and nutritional value to help fill you up quicker and keep your energy and blood sugar levels more stable.
- Nuts, seeds, and beans: These foods add healthy fats, protein, and nutritional value to your diet.
- Fish, seafood, and lean meats: These lean protein sources help to satisfy your hunger when included in a well-balanced meal.
- Unsaturated fats: Foods containing fats such as plant oils and avocados add health benefits and satiety to meals.
Fad diets may seem like the easy and quick way to lose weight, but don’t be in such a hurry. Most fad diets are just that, “diets” that are a temporary fix to a lifelong problem. Fad diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies, metabolic issues, and muscle loss. Most don’t work, and definitely don’t work long-term. Some rely on supplements that contain caffeine, other stimulants, and harmful chemicals. You should steer clear of fad diets.
Heart disease, such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and congestive heart failure, is currently the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Lowering your risk for heart disease includes eating healthier foods, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, managing your blood pressure, and lowering blood cholesterol levels. Although some heart issues can be genetic, lifestyle habits do play a major role in both preventing and managing heart disease.
There are plenty of foods that are directly involved with many of the risk factors for heart disease. Paying close attention to what you eat is one of the most important preventative measures you can take to help protect your heart.
Hazard foods that can increase your risk for heart disease include:
- Saturated fat: Foods that contain saturated fat include butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, and fatty cuts of meat, especially red meats. Saturated fat can increase your “bad” blood cholesterol levels, as well as the risk for heart attack.
- Trans fat: Foods that contain hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil contain trans fat. These fats lower your “good” cholesterol and raise your “bad” cholesterol. Big culprits include packaged snacks, crackers, baked goods, and some margarines. Always read labels carefully to ensure you’re avoiding trans fats. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled in June 2015 for all trans fats to be removed from food products.
- High-sodium foods: Too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure for some people, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Added sugars: Added sugars are the sugar added to foods by consumers or manufacturers. High added sugar intakes may be linked with high blood sugar and high triglyceride levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Solution foods that can help prevent heart disease include:
- Fruits and vegetables: These foods are full of antioxidants and fiber, which are both heart friendly.
- Sources of vitamin E: This vitamin may help protect against “bad” cholesterol, and therefore help protect the heart. Foods containing vitamin E include nuts, leafy greens, fortified whole-grains, avocados, and vegetable oils.
- Fatty fish: Fish such as mackerel, sardines, tuna, and salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be heart healthy.
- Healthy fats: These fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat in foods such as olive oil, canola oil, certain fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Unsaturated fats, when used in place of saturated fats, help lower cholesterol levels and therefore the risk of heart disease.
An easy way to add heart-healthy fats and fiber to your diet is to add ground flaxseed to your foods. Flaxseed is high in both fiber and omega-3 fatty acids as well as antioxidants and lignans. Ground flaxseed is more absorbable than whole seeds. It can help lower cholesterol levels as well as help improve blood sugar levels, and works as an anti-inflammatory. You can add 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily to smoothies, nonfat yogurt, hot cereal, mashed potatoes, etc. Flaxseed is usually not recommended during pregnancy and is categorized as “possibly unsafe” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) due to the possible estrogren-like effects; however, there is no reliable clinical evidence at this time regarding effects on pregnancy.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body is unable to produce enough insulin or unable to use it effectively. It causes your blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than they normally should be. Glucose in your blood comes from the digestion of carbohydrates and is an essential form of sugar your body uses for energy. However, too much blood sugar can be harmful and do plenty of damage to your body.
Food is a major component to preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor. In addition, what you eat, including sugars and carbohydrates, will affect your blood sugar levels. There are foods that can be hazards and ones that can be solutions.
Hazard foods that can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes include:
- Refined grains and foods made mostly with white flour: These include white breads, white rice, white pasta, and sugary cereals. They usually have a higher glycemic index (GI), and therefore are broken down quickly into sugar, making controlling blood sugar more difficult.
Glycemic index (GI) is a measurement of how much each gram of available carbohydrate (total carbohydrate minus fiber) in a single serving of a food affects your blood sugar level.
- Sweetened foods and beverages: Any food or beverage with added sugars derived from any source could provide a sugar load to your system and may increase insulin resistance. It also provides excess calories, which can lead to weight gain.
Insulin resistance occurs when the body can produce insulin without a problem but cannot utilize it effectively. Body cells don’t respond properly to insulin, and therefore cannot absorb glucose from the bloodstream, resulting in the body needing higher levels of insulin for glucose to enter the cells.
- Fruit juices: Who knew that fruit juice could be a problem for diabetics? Juice can cause sharp spikes in blood sugar for people with diabetes due to its concentrated source of fruit sugar and lack of fiber. If the juice isn’t “100 percent juice,” it contains loads of added sugars as well. Whole fruit is a much better option.
- Whole-fat dairy products: Dairy products are important; however, choosing the right types is even more important. Whole-fat dairy products are loaded with saturated fats because they’re an animal product, and those fats can worsen insulin resistance, which is the last thing a person with diabetes needs. Fill your refrigerator with fat-free or low-fat dairy counterparts such as fat-free milk, low-fat cheese, and low-fat yogurts.
Solution foods that can help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes include:
- High-soluble fiber foods: Soluble fiber can help slow the absorption of glucose (or blood sugar) from the food in our stomach and help better control blood sugar levels over time. Foods high in soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat bran, apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, blueberries, lentils, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, carrots, cucumbers, and psyllium.
- Monounsaturated fats: These are healthy fats and are great for overall health. When it comes to diabetes, however, studies have shown that a diet high in monounsaturated fats and low in refined carbohydrates may help to improve insulin resistance and control blood sugar. Monounsaturated foods include avocados, almonds and other nuts, olive oil, and canola oil.
- Berries: All fruit is part of a healthy diet, but berries in particular (such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries), due to their powerful antioxidant content, have been shown to reduce the risk for certain health issues including type 2 diabetes. Blackberries are particularly high in fiber, which is also helpful in managing diabetes. Blueberries contain specific antioxidant compounds that have antidiabetic properties and may help to improve insulin resistance.
- Whole-grains: Made with whole grains, these foods include whole-wheat breads, oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, quinoa, and bulgur. They’re full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber. They’re a steadier source of energy and help to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
Hypertension may not ring a bell, but I’m sure you’ve heard of high blood pressure. Hypertension is just a fancier name for this common condition. In fact, one in four Americans has been diagnosed with hypertension. Blood pressure is the force of blood against the artery walls as the heart pumps blood through the body. Blood pressure that’s consistently high can eventually cause blood vessel damage and health issues such as heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Because hypertension has minor or no symptoms, it can be a silent killer. Many people can go years without even realizing they have it unless a doctor checks for it. However, by then the damage often is already done.
Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers, systolic (the top number) and diastolic (the bottom number). Blood pressure levels lower than 120/80 mmHg indicate normal blood pressure. However, if you have known heart or kidney issues or have had a stroke, your pressure may need to be lower than normal. High blood pressure or hypertension is when blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mmHg.
Just like other health issues, food can play a major role in both preventing and managing hypertension. As far as hypertension goes, your best bet is to do all you can to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Hazard foods that can increase your risk for hypertension include:
- Sodium: Many people are sodium sensitive, and therefore too much sodium in their diet can lead to high blood pressure. Since it’s difficult to know if you’re one of these people, it’s best to control your sodium intake to help prevent high blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure, it’s important to limit the amount of sodium you consume. Most sodium in our diet comes from processed and packaged foods, fast foods, and table salt. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
- Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure. If you do drink, limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women to help prevent or manage high blood pressure.
- Low potassium: This mineral is essential for allowing the smooth muscle cells in your arteries to relax, which lowers blood pressure. When your potassium intake is low, you can be putting yourself at risk for hypertension.
- Low vitamin D: There’s a possibility that too little vitamin D in your diet can increase your risk for high blood pressure. Researchers believe vitamin D may affect a certain enzyme produced by your kidneys that affects blood pressure. While more studies need to be done, it’s definitely a plus to ensure you’re getting plenty of vitamin D in your diet by including fatty fish as well as fortified dairy products.
Solution foods that can help prevent and manage hypertension include:
- Calcium-rich foods: It has been found that populations with low calcium intake have higher rates of hypertension. This isn’t to say you need to get more than what is generally recommended, but there may be some protective effects if you get the recommended daily intake of calcium, preferably through food. Good sources include low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, dark-green leafy veggies, canned salmon, calcium-fortified foods such as soy foods and orange juice, and almonds. The recommended intake is 1,000 to 1,200 mg/day.
- Fruits and veggies: A higher consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of hypertension. Eating a variety of fruits (especially citrus fruits, tomatoes, and bananas) daily, as well as leafy greens and root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, is a great way to ensure you’re getting plenty of potassium daily.
- Fatty fish: This fish is high in good fat; omega-3 fatty acids; and includes salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can have a positive impact on blood pressure. The AHA recommends eating a serving of fish (3.5 ounces cooked), especially fatty fish, at least twice per week.
- Garlic: You may love to cook with it, but it offers more than just flavor. Currently garlic is being researched to uncover possible benefits to lowering blood pressure.
Fruits are helpful in the fight against hypertension, but it appears that berries of all kinds, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are especially rich in a compound called flavonoids, which might help prevent high blood pressure and even reduce blood pressure that’s already high.
Unfortunately, just about all of us know someone who has had cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, 1 million people are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to decrease our risk, including not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy, staying active, and getting the recommended screening tests.
Hazard foods that can increase your risk for certain types of cancer include:
- Salted, pickled, and smoked foods: These types of foods, as well as some processed meats such as hot dogs, commonly contain additives called nitrates. These nitrates may have a cancer-causing effect.
- Trans fat: As we discussed earlier, trans fats are another component of some foods that again comes with several links to health problems. It’s one of the worst fats you can eat and has been linked to certain types of cancer. Your best bet is to stay away from it altogether. In June 2015, the FDA ruled that all food manufacturers eliminate it completely over the next three years.
- Charred foods: Although cooking on the grill can be a great way to cook without fat, you still need to be careful. That well-done, charred burger can contain cancer-causing compounds. Try marinating your meat first, cut down the time and temperature at which the meat is cooked, and cut off charred spots. If you cook meat at high temps on the stove, use peanut oil, which can best handle the heat.
Solution foods that can help prevent cancer include:
- Vitamin C-rich foods: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help lower your risk for cancer. Rich sources of vitamin C include grapefruit, oranges, bell peppers, and broccoli. Stick with vitamin C from foods as opposed to taking a supplement.
- Berries: Berries seem to pop up quite a bit as a solution food to many health issues, including cancer. Berries, especially blueberries, contain an antioxidant called pterostilbene that has cancer-fighting properties. Berries in general contain loads of cancer-fighting phytonutrients.
- Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes, in addition to other foods that contain large amounts of beta-carotene, have cancer-fighting effects. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant grouped into carotenoids that gives some plant foods their color. Foods high in beta-carotene include mostly orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and carrots, as well as leafy greens.
- Wild salmon: This fish is rich in vitamin D, which is important because low levels of vitamin D intake have been linked to certain types of cancer. Salmon also contains the healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Salmon doesn’t naturally produce omega-3s. It comes from what the fish eats. Salmon eat herring, anchovies, and mackerel, otherwise referred to as “feeder” fish.
We’re not talking about the occasional inflammation in your knee or the cut you had that became inflamed. We’re talking about chronic inflammation. This type of inflammation can last from several months to years, and plays a bit of a puzzling role in the body. When inflammation becomes chronic, it affects healthy tissue and can become the root problem to all types of health issues, including asthma, arthritis, lupus, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Food is a large part of helping to reduce and/or eliminate chronic inflammation. Experts believe that anti-inflammatory benefits come from the synergistic effect of foods that are consumed together as well as from individual foods.
Hazard foods that can increase your risk for inflammation include:
- Red meat: Most of us love that sizzling steak, but a 2014 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that greater red meat intake is associated with unfavorable plasma concentrations of inflammatory biomarkers. Substituting red meat with other sources of healthier protein foods is associated with a lower biomarker profile of inflammation. The solution is to decrease your intake of red meats as much as possible.
- Alcohol: Regular consumption of alcohol can have negative health effects that range from heart disease to insulin resistance, all of which can increase and/or cause chronic inflammation. Keep in mind moderation: no more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women.
- High-sugar snacks and beverages: There’s a definite overconsumption of high-sugar foods and drinks in our country, which may explain some of the health problems that plague people in the United States. Excess sugar leads to weight gain and can cause spikes in both blood sugar and insulin, which in turn can trigger chronic inflammation.
- Sodium: Sodium is an essential mineral we need in our body for some very vital functions. However, when we consume too much sodium, not only can it cause high blood pressure for those who are sodium sensitive, but it can exacerbate inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Solution foods that can help decrease your risk for chronic inflammation include:
- Dark-green leafy vegetables: Most vegetables contain a wide variety of phytonutrients, including flavonoids (quercitin) and carotenoids (lutein and beta-carotene), but dark-green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens are at the top of the list in terms of their specific content. These specific veggies have more than a dozen different flavonoid compounds that function as anti-inflammatory and anticancer agents as well as antioxidants.
- Tart cherries: This fruit contains a very potent class of flavonoids called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are what give cherries, berries, and other fruits and vegetables their deep, rich colors. Cherries are an anthocyanin-rich food that delivers substantial antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory activity and can help relieve pain by working in much the same way aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs do. Both tart cherries and sweet cherries have high concentrations of anthocyanins; however, tart cherries such as Balaton and Montmorency varieties contain the highest content and also contain other supporting compounds.
- Ginger: This spice contains natural anti-inflammatory effects and is often used as a common remedy for inflammation-related conditions. Ginger may help to calm arthritis pain by lowering hormone levels that induce inflammation.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in the form alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). They also are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and lignans, which contain antioxidant and plant estrogen qualities. Both ALA and lignans may help reduce inflammation by blocking the release of certain pro-inflammatory compounds.
Acid reflux occurs when the liquid content from your stomach, or gastric acid, backs up (refluxes) into the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle, hence the term “acid reflux.” This acid causes irritation of the lining of the esophagus, resulting in heartburn. When this problem becomes chronic, it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Food can be a major culprit in acid reflux. Not everyone responds to the same foods in the same ways. If you suffer with acid reflux and/or GERD, it’s important to pinpoint the foods that individually trigger your symptoms so you can avoid them. Although it’s not a one-food-fits-all situation, there are some foods that in general can aggravate acid reflux symptoms and some that may just help.
Hazard foods that can trigger acid reflux include:
- High-fat foods: These types of foods may not be high in acidity and get as much press when it comes to heartburn, but they can take a toll on GERD sufferers. Higher-fat foods take more time and stomach acid to digest, which delays stomach emptying and can relax the LES. This, in turn, allows for your stomach to increase acid production as well as become bloated, both of which will worsen acid reflux symptoms.
- Carbonated beverages: Those tiny little bubbles from carbonation that seem so harmless in our favorite soft drink can often trigger acid reflux symptoms. The bubbles expand inside the stomach, which in turn increases pressure on the esophageal sphincter, promoting symptoms of reflux such as heartburn. In addition, because the carbonation increases stomach pressure, it tends to cause burping, which can cause the LES to open, again increasing your chances of acid reflux. Soft drinks that are both carbonated and contain caffeine are even worse.
- Citrus fruits and tomato products: As healthy as these fruits and veggies are, they tend to commonly cause or worsen acid reflux symptoms. The NIH has identified citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit along with tomatoes and tomato-based products as major offenders of acid reflux. These foods are highly acidic and likely to cause heartburn in those who are prone to it, especially if consumed on an empty stomach. Other vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts can be gassy and therefore cause acid reflux symptoms, so experiment to see what you can tolerate.
- Chocolate: This tasty food is a favorite for many, but unfortunately for some, chocolate can be a common trigger for heartburn. Chocolate contains a chemical called methylxanthine that can relax the LES, allowing acid to flow back up into the esophagus. Chocolate also contains caffeine and other stimulants such as theobromine, is higher in fat, and contains cocoa, all of which can agitate reflux. Although health-wise dark chocolate is better for us, it’s still chocolate and not great for those who suffer with acid reflux.
Solution foods that can help prevent acid reflux include:
- Almonds: Not only are they healthy, but if you’re a nut lover you’ll be happy to know that almonds, whether roasted, salted, or unsalted, can be effective in treating heartburn symptoms for some people. Almonds are an alkaline-producing food and can help balance the pH in your GI tract, lowering the acid and helping to reduce heartburn. Try popping three or four almonds right after a meal or snack, chewing them up well so that the oil is released from the nut. Almonds are a good source of calcium and “healthy” fats, but keep in mind that they’re also high in calories, so stick to just a few. Although high in “good” fats, they also can cause heartburn in some—especially if eaten in large amounts.
- Low-fat yogurt: This yogurt can be beneficial for acid reflux due to the probiotics they contain. Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that are present in and essential for a healthy digestive system. Yogurt is one of the best ways to consume probiotics, as it contains live strains of these good bacteria. Eating yogurt with probiotics can help restore and maintain the natural pH balance of the gut, which can help reduce the effects of acid reflux. Opt for Greek yogurt, which is higher in protein, and always double-check that the label states, “Live and active cultures.”
- Oatmeal: Start your day with oatmeal instead of a greasy pork-filled breakfast, which can and probably will trigger acid reflux symptoms. Oatmeal is low in fat and high in fiber and can soothe your stomach. Including other higher-fiber foods in your daily diet can help naturally lessen your chances of experiencing acid reflux.
- Bananas: This healthy fruit can have an antacid effect on your stomach as well as remove a particular type of bacteria linked to ulcer formation. In addition, bananas have a naturally low acid content. Try a bite of banana shortly before a meal, with a meal, or shortly afterward to see if it brings any relief. Eat a banana anytime during the day you feel heartburn, or add them to cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, etc. Eat bananas at the right time; if they’re under-ripe they have a higher acid content, so make sure they’re ripened and not too green on the outside.
Not only are you what you eat, but you are what you do as well. Your lifestyle in general, besides your diet, can greatly affect many aspects of your health. Smart eating goes hand-in-hand with other lifestyle habits, including exercise, sleep, and de-stressing.
Exercise is a habit that plays an extremely important role in managing your weight and your overall health. Everyone should exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise doesn’t have to mean hours at the gym. It means simply taking part in anything that helps to get your body moving. The goal is to get active and stay active on a regular basis, along with maintaining a healthy diet plan.
In addition, being more active in your everyday routines can be helpful. Forget about all the modern conveniences we have these days and take stairs instead of elevators, walk into the bank instead of using the drive-thru, and get off the electronic devices and walk the dog, wash the car, or work in the yard.
If you’re not sure why you should exercise regularly, here are just a few of its many benefits:
- Manages blood sugar levels.
- Maintains and/or reduces body weight.
- Keeps your heart healthy by lowering both your resting heart rate and your blood pressure.
- Helps to lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and increase “good” cholesterol (HDL), as well as lower triglyceride levels.
- Increases blood circulation, especially to your extremities.
- Reduces the physical and mental implications of stress and depression.
- Increases your energy levels.
- Helps you to sleep better.
- Improves balance and joint flexibility.
- Helps you feel better overall, both physically and mentally.
- Decreases your risk for many chronic illnesses.
For healthy adults, the HHS recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly. They also recommend strength training at least twice weekly.
Starting an exercise regimen doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be as easy as walking or as involved as joining a gym. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you do it consistently and you engage in activities that challenge your body. Always check with your doctor first before starting an exercise plan.
Not getting enough sleep won’t only make you feel tired, it can also contribute to health issues. Most people should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. But with our busy schedules there never seems to be enough hours in the day, so we steal hours from our sleep time.
You may not even realize it but not getting enough of those ZZZZs at night can lead to serious issues, including:
- Overweight and obesity
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Chronic headaches
- Difficulty concentrating
Not taking the initiative to go to bed earlier and get a good night’s sleep can be different than not being able to sleep and/or having a type of sleep disorder. If you have problems sleeping, try some easy solutions on your own such as a darkened room, relaxing before bed, no caffeine after a certain time, exercise, turning your electronics off an hour before bedtime, and so on. If nothing seems to work for you, it’s important enough to your overall health to see your doctor and work out a plan.
Stress is something we all deal with at one time or another. But for some, it becomes an everyday occurrence and can begin to affect overall health. Stress can begin to make you feel fatigued, depressed, irritable, uptight, and unable to concentrate. Chronic stress can be detrimental to your health, contributing to everything from daily headaches to obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, acid reflux, stomach issues, anxiety, and even asthma.
Utilizing different relaxation therapies to calm stress and anxiety can help put you on the road to better health. Whether these stress-management therapies are for you or not is up to you and your doctor.
Stress-management therapies may include:
- A relaxing type of yoga
- Guided imagery
- Deep-breathing techniques
If necessary, speak to your doctor and get help.
Most of what we’ve discussed in this chapter are issues we have control of in our life. However, there is one issue we don’t have control over when it comes to our health, and that’s our family genes. When we come into this world, we inherit a complete set of genes from both of our parents. These genes can greatly influence and predict our health and our risk for chronic diseases, especially heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and psychological disorders. Therefore, it’s vital to know your family health history. This doesn’t mean you’ll absolutely be passed down a health issue or two, but it does mean you may need to be more vigilant when it comes to your healthy overall lifestyle to prevent or manage them, and get regular checkups with your doctor.
The Least You Need to Know
- We need to feed our bodies with the right type of fuel on a regular basis in order to feel our best and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
- Although certain foods are unhealthy and others act as part of the solution to common health issues, there’s no single food that can cause them all or fix them all. It’s about the synergy of food and eating a healthy daily diet that makes the difference.
- How we physically treat our body can determine our risk for both common health issues and chronic disease.
- We do have control over what we eat and how we treat our body. We can make positive changes and implement them long term with some effort, self-discipline, and determination.
- One determinant we can’t control is our family history and genes. However, knowing our family history can be a motivator for making necessary lifestyle changes in order to prevent or manage health problems.