Healthy Diet Guidelines
What is the best diet to follow to ensure good health? Doctors advise that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (see page 6) and the Food Guide Pyramid (see page 5) are the best general guidelines for healthy people. You can adapt these guidelines to meet your individual needs by working with your doctor to ﬁnd out your personal health risks. As part of a thorough physical examination, your doctor will check your cholesterol and blood sugar levels and your blood pres- sure. He or she also will ask you a series of questions to ﬁnd out your family health history (see page 80). You can also calculate your body mass index (see page 18) and waist-to-hip ratio (see page 18) yourself to ﬁnd out the distribution of fat on your body. By using this information you and your doctor can tailor your diet to lower your personal risk of disease.
For example, if you have a high cholesterol level and a family history of heart disease, your doctor probably will recommend that you lower your intake of high-fat foods. On the other hand, if you have a family history of diabetes and are overweight, your doctor probably will advise that you go on a weight-loss diet. A family history of colon cancer might prompt your doctor to advise you to reduce your consumption of red meat.
But for most men, both the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food Guide Pyramid recommend consuming a diet that is low in fat and high in ﬁber- rich whole grains, vegetables, and fruits—at least ﬁve servings of vegetables and fruits and at least six servings of grain products per day. Eating too much fat, especially saturated fat (see page 46), elevates your blood cholesterol level and raises your risk for heart disease and stroke. Whole-grain foods that are high in ﬁber can help improve cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy digestive system. Grains, vegetables, and fruits contain an abundance of nutrients, such as essen- tial vitamins and minerals, many of which have disease-preventing properties. It is important to eat a wide variety of foods to make sure that you are consuming as many of these nutrients as possible.
Eating a healthful diet does not mean that you have to eliminate your favorite high-fat foods altogether. If you occasionally indulge in a cheeseburger or a hot fudge sundae, just make sure that you make up for it by eating low-fat foods at your next few meals, a concept known as “fat budgeting.” Again, you should look at your diet over several days, not meal by meal, when applying the princi- ples recommended by the Food Guide Pyramid. Choose lower-fat foods more often—for example, broiled rather than fried
chicken and reduced-fat mayonnaise or mustard on sandwiches instead of full-fat spreads.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food Guide Pyramid both stress moderation when it comes to the consumption of sugar, sodium, and alcohol. Sugar not only causes tooth decay, but sugary foods such as soda, candy, doughnuts, and pastries contain mostly “empty calories,” meaning that they have many calories but few nutrients. You can easily ﬁll up on such foods, leaving no room for more nutritious food choices. Many foods that are high in sugar are also high in fat, which doctors recommend you keep to a minimum.
Eating a lot of salt and foods containing sodium can raise blood pressure in salt-sensitive people. Salt-sensitive means that your blood pressure goes up when you take in too much salt (sodium). Not everyone is salt-sensitive, but unless you have been tested by your doctor, it is probably wise to limit your salt intake. Many processed and com- mercially packaged foods—such as canned soups, hot dogs, the ﬂavor packets in rice and noodle packages, and crackers and pretzels—contain very high amounts of sodium. Look for reduced-salt or low-sodium versions of such foods in the super- market.
Like sugar, alcohol provides plenty of calories, but not much nutrition. Again, moderation is the key. Men should consume no more than two alco-holic drinks (two cans or bottles of beer, two glasses of wine, or two mixed drinks) per day. In addition to the many health risks that overconsumption of alcohol can cause (see page 22), it also can lead to nutrient deﬁciencies and even malnutrition. In addition, alcohol can adversely affect how your body absorbs nutrients from the food you eat.
Ask the Doctor
Q. Are vegetarian diets healthy?
A. Yes, a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients you need. In fact, some research has shown that vegetarians are less likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity than meat-eaters. There are three types of vegetarians. Ovolactovegetarians eat eggs and dairy products along with plant foods. Lactovegetarians consume dairy products and plant foods but not eggs. A vegan diet is the strictest vegetarian diet of all. Vegans avoid all foods of animal origin, such as eggs and dairy foods, and consume only plant foods. A vegan diet can be deﬁ- cient in vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and vita- min D, so vegans probably should take supplements of these nutrients. Also, vege- tarians who eat dairy products have to be just as careful about the amount of fat in their diet as nonvegetarians, because full-fat dairy products have as much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol as fatty meats. If you are considering becoming a vegetarian, plan your meals carefully to make sure your diet is balanced. You may want to discuss your diet with a dietitian. Ask your doctor for a referral.