Deciphering Your Diet

It may be true that you are what you eat, but with a constant barrage of nutritional information to sift through, it’s hard to know what is best for you. Here are a few key points to chew on.

Olive oil is classified as a healthy fat.


ANTIOXIDANTS

Antioxidants protect cells from free radicals—chemical by-products that can strip the body of essential nutrients. Scientists suspect that free radicals damage cells by stealing electrons and may be linked to chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. Absorbed from food, antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and the minerals selenium and manganese, appear to fight free radicals by acting as electron donors. Instead of resorting to supplements—studies have yet to prove that synthetic antioxidants have a substantial impact on disease—protect the body from cell damage by consuming a mix of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, such as cherries, blueberries, and pinto beans.


FIBER

Soluble fiber (think Metamucil) found in psyllium husks and flaxseed helps lower unhealthy LDL cholesterol by binding to fatty substances in the intestines and carrying them out as waste. Insoluble fiber found in beans, seeds, nuts, roots, dark leafy greens, and whole grains helps push waste through the intestinal tract, promoting regularity and preventing constipation. Women need more than 20 grams of fiber per day, while men should consume 30 grams or more.


GOOD FAT VS. BAD FAT

Not all fats are created equal. Unsaturated fat from plant oils (olive, canola, and peanut), nuts, and seeds lowers unhealthy LDL cholesterol, boosts HDL cholesterol (the good stuff), eases inflammation, and stabilizes heart rhythm. Found in walnuts, flaxseed, and fish, polyunsaturated fat is high in omega-3 fatty acids—heart healthy fats that the body cannot produce. Because our body manufactures its own saturated fat, which boosts good and bad types of cholesterol, we do not need more from food. Keep saturated fat intake to a minimum and stay away from trans-fatty acids. Trans fats lower HDL cholesterol while raising LDL and can lead to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.


SUGAR VS. SYRUP

A spoonful of sugar may help curb the growing population of children with diabetes. A study by Rutgers University professor of food science Chi-Tang Ho found that beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup may increase the risk of childhood diabetes. Reactive carbonyls—compounds found in high fructose corn syrup, but not in table sugar—may cause tissue damage and complications associated with diabetes. Diabetics already have an elevated amount of reactive carbonyls in their blood, and a single can of soda contains five times that concentration.

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