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

Getting out the gluten

Doctors are diagnosing more cases of celiac disease, leading to an increased interest in gluten-free foods, although not everyone who has difficulty digesting gluten has celiac disease. More »

How much water do I need to drink?

Download video. If you are unsure how much water is enough or even too much, Dr. Julia Silver is here with myths and facts about hydration. Find out how much water you really need for good health. (Locked) More »

Follow The Fertility Diet?

Adapted from The Fertility Diet (McGraw-Hill) by Jorge E. Chavarro, M.D., Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett. If you have been having trouble getting pregnant—or getting pregnant again—forget about the so-called fertility foods like oysters and champagne, garlic, ginseng, kelp, and yams. The true fertility foods are whole grains, healthy fats, excellent protein packages, and even the occasional bowl of ice cream. This isn't just wishful thinking. Instead, it comes from the first comprehensive examination of diet and fertility, an eight-year study of more than 18,000 women that uncovered ten evidence-based suggestions for improving fertility. This work, from the landmark Nurses' Health Study, fills a critical information gap on diet and fertility. The recommendations that follow are aimed at preventing and reversing ovulatory infertility, which accounts for one quarter or more of all cases of infertility. They won't work for infertility due to physical impediments like blocked fallopian tubes. And they aren't meant to replace a conversation with a clinician about whether an infertility work-up is needed. The strategies described below don't guarantee a pregnancy any more than do in vitro fertilization or other forms of assisted reproduction. But it's virtually free, available to everyone, has no side effects, sets the stage for a healthy pregnancy, and forms the foundation of a healthy eating strategy for motherhood and beyond. That's a winning combination no matter how you look at it. (Locked) More »

Potassium and sodium out of balance

The body needs the combination of potassium and sodium to produce energy and regulate kidney function, but most people get far too much sodium and not enough potassium. (Locked) More »

Putting clinicians in the kitchen could help spread the healthy eating message

The last time you saw a doctor for a checkup or other medical reason, she or he probably also asked about your health habits, such whether you smoke, take alcohol, exercise, or use sunscreen or seat belts. Such personal health behaviors have a huge impact on health and mortality, and public health guidelines urge clinicians talk to their patients about them. You probably were not asked what you ate for dinner last night, or what your usual breakfast fare is. But if some Harvard Medical School nutrition experts and their culinary partners have their way, such questions will become as routine as blood pressure checks, and doctors will be dispensing meal preparation advice as readily as they advise patients about the benefits of quitting smoking. Through a collaboration of the Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and other health care professionals can take a four-day crash course in the latest findings in nutrition research combined with hands-on classes in selecting and preparing healthy foods at the CIA's Greystone campus in California's Napa Valley (see photo below). Attendees listen to researchers talk about glycemic load, genes and food, and good fats and bad fats, and are instructed in the basics, such as how to use a chef's knife, stock the kitchen, and evaluate olive oil. The goal? Turn clinicians into ambassadors for change in the way American eats. "Many people eat too much and don't make the best choices as to what to eat," says Dr. David Eisenberg, director of the Osher Research Center at HMS, who came up with the idea for the HMS/CIA "Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives" program. It will take efforts on many fronts to improve the country's eating habits, but clinicians' offices are a good place to start. Studies have shown a link between physicians' health habits — like fat consumption, weight control, getting a flu shot, alcohol use, exercise, and smoking — and their likelihood of discussing these issues with their patients. Moreover, patients say that clinicians who talk about their own healthy habits are more believable. Eisenberg and his colleagues believe that clinicians who know how to shop for, prepare, and enjoy nutritious, appealing meals are more likely to counsel patients on their eating habits, and in practicing what they preach, become convincing role models. (Locked) More »

Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?

Let's cover the original misinformation first: The earliest missives warned that microwaved plastic releases cancer-causing chemicals called dioxins into food. The problem with that warning is that plastics don't contain dioxins. They are created when garbage, plastics, metals, wood, and other materials are burned. As long as you don't burn your food in a microwave, you aren't exposing yourself to dioxins. There's no single substance called "plastic." That term covers many materials made from an array of organic and inorganic compounds. Substances are often added to plastic to help shape or stabilize it. Two of these plasticizers are BPA and phthalates are believed to be "endocrine disrupters." These are substances that mimic human hormones, and not for the good. More »

Abdominal fat and what to do about it

Though the term might sound dated, "middle-age spread" is a greater concern than ever. As people go through their middle years, their proportion of fat to body weight tends to increase — more so in women than men. Extra pounds tend to park themselves around the midsection. At one time, we might have accepted these changes as an inevitable fact of aging. But we've now been put on notice that as our waistlines grow, so do our health risks. Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it's a key player in a variety of health problems — much more so than subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grasp with your hand. Visceral fat, on the other hand, lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs. More »

Microwaving vegetables

A study in the November 2003 Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture caused a stir because it found that microwaved broccoli loses much of its nutritional punch. The researchers steamed, pressure-cooked, boiled, and microwaved about 2 cups of the vegetable with 10 tablespoons of water and then compared the flavonoid content by cooking method. Flavonoids are substances in fruits and vegetables with antioxidant properties that may lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Steamed broccoli lost 11% of its flavonoids; pressure-cooked, 53%; boiled, 81%; and microwaved, a whopping 97%. Heat from any sort of cooking lowers the levels of some vitamins. But water exposure is another major factor. Many nutrients dissolve in it, so when vegetables are prepared in water, some of the healthful elements leach out and get thrown away with the (veggie) bath water. That's probably why steamed broccoli, which didn't come into direct contact with water, came out on top. But you don't have to microwave broccoli in 10 tablespoons of water, as the researchers in this study did. Just a couple will do — and frozen vegetables don't need any extra water. You can have your microwave and get most of your veggie nutrients, too. More »