Healthy Eating

A healthy diet helps pave the way to a healthy heart and blood vessels, strong bones and muscles, a sharp mind, and so much more.

Confused about what constitutes a healthy diet? You aren't alone. Over the years, what seemed to be flip flops from medical research combined with the flood of diet books and diet plans based on little or no science have muddied the water. But a consensus has emerged about the basics, which are really pretty simple.

An important take-home message is to focus on the types of foods you eat and your overall dietary pattern, instead of on individual nutrients such as fat, dietary cholesterol, or specific vitamins. There are no single nutrients or vitamins that can make you healthy. Instead, there is a short list of key food types that together can dramatically reduce your risk for heart disease.

Eat more of these foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and seafood, vegetable oils, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Eat less of these foods: whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods, red meat, processed meats, highly refined and processed grains and sugars, and sugary drinks.

Healthy Eating Articles

Big thighs may be wise

As scientists have struggled to understand why obesity increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and other woes, they have refined the definition of obesity and now understand that body fat is this culprit, not body weight. Surprisingly, having lower body fat may offer some health benefits, though diet and fitness are still vital to good health. More »

Developing healthful eating habits is not so hard

Dietary changes require time and effort, but they may not be as hard as you think. Focus on the pleasure of eating what's healthy, and you'll automatically cut down on what's not. The mainstays of heart-healthy eating are fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and non–red-meat sources of protein such as poultry, fish, and beans.  (Locked) More »

Controlling what — and how much — we eat

We live in an environment that is brimming with food and drinks that satisfy our cravings for fat, salt and sugar — but these make us overweight, cause illness, and shorten our lives. An adult can get by on as little as 500 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. But the average American intake is about seven times that amount, or 3,400 mg. Humans can certainly live without sugar (and, in fact, without any kind of carbohydrate as long as some fat and protein are available), but Americans now consume, on average, about 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily — and that's above and beyond the sugars found naturally in fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. There's nothing natural about today's food environment; agricultural and food policies and interests, past and present, determine food choices, prices, and even the locations where we can buy food. But as individuals, we must cope, choose wisely, and resist the temptations presented to us. Many people say that adopting diets low in salt, fat, sugar, or animal products alters their food preferences, and there's some scientific evidence to support this experience. Researchers have also investigated methods of modifying one's food preferences so more healthful foods will be more appealing. In general — and not unexpectedly — flavor and food preferences are more malleable when we're young (indeed, in utero), but as adults, we can still work on them. Some studies suggest that a baby's taste preferences can be altered by what the mother ate and drank while she was pregnant. In one often-cited study, researchers randomly assigned mothers to drink carrot juice or water during the last trimester of their pregnancy. The babies of mothers who drank carrot juice enjoyed carrot-flavored cereal more than the babies of the mothers who drank water (infant preferences can be deciphered from facial expressions). More »

December 2011 references and further reading

Deyell M, Buller C, Miller L, Wang T, Dai D, Lamas G, Srinivas V, Hochman J. Impact of National Clinical Guideline Recommendations for Revascularization of Persistently Occluded Infarct-Related Arteries on Clinical Practice in the United States. Archives of Internal Medicine 2011; 171: 1636-1643. Terkelsen C, Jensen L, Tilsted H, Trautner S, Johnsen S, Vach W, Bøtker H, Thuesen L, Lassen J. Health care system delay and heart failure in patients with ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction treated with primary percutaneous coronary intervention: follow-up of population-based medical registry data. Annals of Internal Medicine 2011;155:361-7. Greenspon A, Patel J, Lau E, Ochoa J, Frisch D, Ho R, Pavri B, Kurtz S. 16-year trends in the infection burden for pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators in the United States 1993 to 2008. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2011; 58:1001-6. (Locked) More »

The overlooked hazards of holiday eating

Most people are aware of the dangers of overeating and overimbibing during the winter holidays, but few worry about a lesser-known risk of year-end celebrations. Every year, 48 million Americans develop foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning or stomach flu), most of which isn't reported to health authorities. Festive dinners and buffets offer more opportunities for contamination than most meals, but you can greatly reduce your risk by taking a few precautions. More »