According to Harvard University physician and author Walter Willett, a healthy diet — along with regular exercise and being tobacco-free — can eliminate 80 percent of heart disease and 70 percent of some cancers.
To help you assess your diet and eat right, here are five signs of nutritional trouble — and what you can do to combat them:
1. Do you eat too little of the foods that can keep you healthy?
These foods should be the foundation of your diet:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, such as whole-grain breads, oatmeal and brown rice
- Lean proteins, such as fish and poultry
- Oils or foods that contain unsaturated or monounsaturated fat, such as olive and canola oil, nuts and fish
- Dairy products that are low in saturated fat, such as skim milk
2. Is junk food a staple of your diet?
Many common foods are poor nutritional choices. For example:
- Complex carbohydrates such as white bread, potatoes, white rice and white pasta don’t have the disease-prevention properties of whole-grain carbohydrates. Plus, they are digested quickly, leaving you hungry sooner than whole-grains.
- Red meat and some dairy products are high in artery-clogging saturated fat and should be eaten sparingly.
- Fast foods and packaged goods typically contain saturated fats, which raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.
- Sugary beverages, such as soda and fruit juices, add calories but have few or no nutrients.
3. Do you consume too much sodium?
On average, Americans consume more than 3,400 milligrams a day — much of it from processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day (about 1 teaspoon) and, ideally, no more than 1,500 milligrams a day for most adults.
4. Do you always have second helpings?
Overeating has led to a national epidemic — obesity, which is linked to stroke, heart attack, hypertension, diabetes and other diseases. Take appropriate serving sizes and eat slowly.
5. Do you eat foods just because they are available?
Get rid of temptations and replace them with healthy options, such as carrot sticks, nuts, hummus, fruit and olives.