Know the Impact of Food on Your Health

Food has become a centerpiece of American life, filling holiday celebrations, family milestones, and gatherings of friends or co-workers, regardless of the holiday or the season.
What we sometimes forget, however, is the enormous effect food and beverages have on our health and well-being. The connection between food and health is, for many, one of the least understood and perhaps most neglected areas in healthcare. The high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the U.S. are partial testimony to that.
In the short term, what we eat and drink influences how we feel physically. In the long term, and perhaps most important, our diet contributes to our risk for many chronic diseases.
Food, of course, adds to our body weight. And overweight and obesity have now become national public-health concerns, affecting nearly two-thirds of adults in the U.S. Obesity, or excess body fat, increases the risk for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, and arthritis.
The kind and content of our diets can also lead to chronic conditions. Eating foods with high levels of saturated and trans fats, for example, has been shown to lead to several types of cardiovascular disease that affect the heart and blood vessels.
It’s important to remind ourselves that so much of an individual’s health relates to personal behavior, and eating habits rank high on the list of actions that influence health.
So what does ‘healthy eating’ really mean? How can we improve our eating behavior and at the same time reduce the risk of chronic disease? Here are some answers to those questions.
Use the MyPlate method. This method provides a good starting point for healthy eating, and its formula is simple. Take a nine-inch plate, and fill it as follows: one-half fruits and non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter grains and starches, and one-quarter meat and protein. Add a side serving of low-fat dairy. The MyPlate method (www.choosemyplate.gov for more information, and available in multiple languages) is one that can provide adequate nutrients for a healthy diet and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Limit consumption of processed foods and sugar-sweetened drinks. These foods and beverages generally contain higher-than-recommended levels of saturated fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol. It may not be possible to avoid processed foods completely, but a good rule of thumb to remember is this: the fewer steps food goes through to get to your table, the more likely it’s better for you. A more plant-based diet, as opposed to animal-based, is also beneficial.
Read food labels carefully. Reading labels will tell you how many calories and how much salt, fat, sugar, and other ingredients, such as fiber and carbohydrates, you’ll be consuming. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing important changes and additions to the information on food and nutrition labels. The new ones will highlight, more clearly and boldly than before, serving sizes, the number of calories per serving, the amount of added sugar, and the measures of important nutrients such as vitamin D, potassium, and calcium. These changes should help consumers become better informed about the foods they buy and eat — and thus lead to better dietary habits.
Watch your calorie intake. The formula is simple: the more calories we consume, without physical activity to burn those calories, the more weight we gain. And watch those ‘empty calories’ — calories from solid fats and added sugar that offer few or no nutrients.
All of this is not to say you can’t partake of a celebration, indulge every once in a while, or snack on that comfort food occasionally. But, overall, developing good eating habits is an important step to take to maintain health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
So, watch your calories, eat nutrient-dense foods, limit sugary drinks, and read food labels. These actions will keep you on the right track for healthy eating. –