Healthy Eating

10 tips for mindful eating — just in time for the holidays

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Eating without awareness can lead to overeating and take away much of the pleasure that can be found in your meals. During the holidays, it can easily cause you to overindulge. Taking a mindful approach to meals by slowing down and savoring the experience can not only help with weight control, but also enhance health and well-being — as well as your enjoyment of the meal.

The Nordic diet: Healthy eating with an eco-friendly bent

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

The Nordic diet features foods that are locally sourced or traditionally eaten in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. While the Nordic diet isn’t proven to prevent heart disease to the same extent as the Mediterranean diet, it’s healthier the average American diet. As an added bonus, it’s environmentally friendly — plant-based diets such as the Nordic diet use fewer natural resources (such as water and fossil fuels) and create less pollution.

Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food

Eva Selhub MD
Eva Selhub MD, Contributing Editor

Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets “premium fuel” — that is, nutritious, minimally processed foods. The emerging field of nutritional psychiatry is finding that what you eat directly affects the structure of your digestive tract, the function of your brain, and, ultimately, your mood. Give “clean eating” a try and see how you feel.

Healthy, convenient meals on the go: Yes, you can

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Today’s world runs at a hectic pace. To keep up, more and more people are turning to convenience foods — but many of these are high in calories, sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats. The good news is that healthy convenience foods are out there, and you can find them if you’re willing to spend a few minutes reading ingredient labels. Other ideas for enjoying home-cooked meals in short order include using canned or frozen fruits, vegetables, or seafood in your next recipe, as well as planning meals ahead and cooking in batches.

The type of fat you eat matters!

Contributing Editors, Harvard Health

Media coverage of a study published in the medical journal BMJ last month left the impression that eating saturated fat is not harmful to one’s health. These news stories left out an important point. Low–saturated-fat diets, in which those fats are replaced with even less healthful food (refined carbohydrates, for example), may not be any healthier than diets higher in saturated fats. Experts generally agree that the overall quality of a person’s diet matters more than any one particular food or food group. That said, the type of fat you eat is important, so choose foods with healthy unsaturated fat (fish, nuts, and most plant oils), limit foods high in saturated fat (butter, whole milk, cheese, coconut and palm oil, and red meats), and avoid foods with trans fat altogether.

Mediterranean diet may prevent breast cancer, but there are other reasons to pour on the olive oil

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

The PREDIMED study showed that the Mediterranean diet can statistically lower a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, strokes, and death from heart-related causes. The data also suggest that a Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced chance of getting breast cancer. This small analysis has some limitations, but provides another reason to consider this already healthful way of eating.

Fourth of July grilling tip: Check for stray bristles after cleaning with a wire brush

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Like millions of Americans, I plan to fire up the grill today for a Fourth of July cookout. But I’ll be adding an extra step to my routine: checking the grate for bristles that may have fallen off my cleaning brush. An article in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describes six people injured by consuming grill-cleaning bristles hidden in grilled meat. Three had abdominal pain from wire bristles poking through the small intestine or colon. Three others had bristles stuck in the neck. All of the wire bristles were safely removed with open surgery or laparoscopy (“keyhole” surgery). The same team had published a report of six other cases earlier this year in the American Journal of Roentgenology. Twelve cases from one medical center over a three-year period does not an epidemic make. But it’s enough to suggest that ingesting wire bristles happens wherever home grilling is going on. Keep your grill bristle free by using a brush that’s in good shape. After you use a brush to clean your grill rack, use a towel or wadded up bunch of paper towels to wipe it down.

How much protein do you need every day?

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Protein is essential to good health. The very origin of the word — from the Greek protos, meaning “first” — reflects protein’s top-shelf status in human nutrition. You need it to put meat on your bones and to make hair, blood, connective tissue, antibodies, enzymes, and more. It’s common for athletes and bodybuilders to wolf down extra protein to bulk up. But the message the rest of us often get is that we’re eating too much protein. The conclusion from a “Protein Summit” held in Washington, D.C., is that Americans may eat too little protein, not too much. The potential benefits of higher protein intake include preserving muscle strength despite aging and maintaining a lean, fat-burning physique. Based on the totality of the research presented at the summit, getting 15% to 25% of total daily calories from protein is a good target, although it could be above or below this range depending on your age, sex, and activity level. Healthful sources of protein — like fish, poultry, nuts, beans, and whole grains — are best when adding protein to the diet.

The long goodbye: FDA ruling will eliminate trans fats from U.S. foods

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Partially hydrogenated oils, once a workhorse of the food industry, have gotten an official heave-ho from the U.S. food supply. In a long-awaited decision, the FDA ruled yesterday that partially hydrogenated oils, which are the main source of harmful trans fats, are no longer “generally recognized as safe.” That means any food company wanting to use partially hydrogenated oils must get the FDA’s approval to do so. Companies have until 2018 to stop using partially hydrogenated oils or to petition the FDA for approval. The move is a good one for individual and public health. Trans fats have been a favorite of the food industry because they increase the shelf life of liquid oils and make margarine easier to spread. But trans fats are bad for arteries. Removing them from the U.S. food supply would prevent between 72,000 and 228,000 heart attacks each year.

Sweet dreams: eating chocolate prevents heart disease

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

If you’re a chocoholic, the news out of England is tantalizing: middle-aged and older adults who eat up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day (that’s more than two standard Hershey bars) seem to have lower rates of heart disease than those who spurn chocolate. At least that was the conclusion of a study that followed the health of nearly 21,000 resident of Norfolk, England, for 11 years. Most of the previous studies on the chocolate-heart connection found that only dark chocolate offered any cardiovascular protection. In the Norfolk study, any type of chocolate, including milk chocolate, seemed to have the same beneficial effect. I routinely write my patients a prescription for exercise, and sometimes for eating more vegetables and fruits. I won’t be writing any prescriptions for chocolate in the foreseeable future. But I won’t be telling them not to eat chocolate—in moderation of course.