Avoiding the Dietary Villains
Is your diet filled with harmful ingredients that are damaging your health? For example, saturated fats may be increasing not only your risk of a heart attack, but the severity as well. A report by the National Institute of Medicine concluded that there is no level of trans fats that is safe to consume. Salt has been called one of the deadliest ingredients in the food supply and some organizations believe sugary foods, like soft drinks, are so detrimental to health they should carry warning labels. What can you do about it? Read more to find out where they lurk, why you should limit them, and how to do it.
Saturated Fats (The Artery Clogger)
Why limit: Saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease by increasing LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood. They may also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers.
Food Sources: high fat milk products (whole and 2% milk, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream) and fatty meats (ground beef, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, salami, bologna, ribs, chicken wings), as well as tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil)
Recommended Intake: no more than 20 grams daily (ideally 16 grams or less)
Label Reading Tip: look for products that contain no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving
Research Highlight: In the Seven Countries Study involving over 11,000 men, a diet high in saturated fat was identified as one of the most important risk factors causing death from heart disease.
Good Advice: Consume low-fat milk products and eat small servings of lean meat (“loin” cuts like sirloin steak and pork tenderloin are among the leanest). Drain the fat from ground beef and take the skin off chicken. Most importantly, remember that cheese is a major source of saturated fat in the Canadian diet. Eat cheese-laden foods like pizza and lasagna in small quantities. When buying cheese, if you don’t like low-fat cheese (many people don’t), a good compromise is a “light” or reduced-fat cheese.
Trans Fats (The More Evil Artery Clogger)
Why limit: Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease by both increasing LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood. These fats also make the arteries stiff and may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Food Sources: found in some processed foods (cookies, crackers, microwave-popcorn, snack foods, hard margarine) and some deep-fried foods (french fries, donuts, chicken nuggets)
Recommended Intake: no more than 2 grams daily (ideally as close to 0 grams as possible)
Label Reading Tip: look for products that are trans fat free (don’t worry about small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats found in meat and milk products)
Research Highlight: In the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study involving over 80,000 women, those women who consumed the most trans fats were 50% more likely to develop heart disease and almost 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Good Advice: While most food companies have done a good job at removing trans fats from grocery store shelves, the restaurant industry has been much slower to respond. When dining out avoid deep-fried foods or ask whether the oil used is free of these nasty fats.
Sodium (The Blood Pressure Pusher)
Why limit: Sodium (salt) can increase blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease. It’s also linked to a higher risk of stomach cancer and may be detrimental to bone health.
Food Sources: soup, frozen dinners, cold cuts, bacon, sausages, pickled foods, tomato sauce, salsa, salad dressing, fast food and restaurant meals
Recommended Intake: no more than 2300 mg daily (ideally 1500 mg or less)
Label Reading Tip: Look for soups or frozen dinners that contain less than 500 to 600 mg per serving (this is still not low sodium, but is about as good as it gets). Choose snack foods like crackers, popcorn, or nuts that are unsalted or lower in sodium (120 mg per serving or less). Compare brands – the sodium content in the same food can vary tremendously from one brand to another.
Research Highlight: The DASH-Sodium trial (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) looked at the effect of a high, medium and low sodium intake (3,300 mg, 2,400 mg and 1,500 mg per day) on blood pressure. Results were consistent: the greater the reduction in sodium, the greater the reduction in blood pressure.
Good Advice: As much as 80% of the sodium most people eat comes from either processed, packaged foods or from restaurant meals. Buy more fresh foods, like fruits and vegetables, and when you do buy processed foods, learn to read food labels. At restaurants, ask that food be prepared without salt and if nutritional data is available, choose less salty options.
Sugar (The Empty Calorie Contributor)
Why limit: Sugar provides no nutritional value, other than calories. High intakes of sugar-rich, nutrient-poor foods, like soft drinks, are linked to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and can crowd more nutritious foods out of the diet.
Food Sources: some foods are naturally high in sugar (fruit juices, dried fruit, honey, maple syrup, jam/jellies) and many foods contain added sugar (desserts, candy, ice cream, cereal, granola bars, yogurt, chocolate milk)
Recommended Intake: no more than 12 teaspoons of “free sugars” daily – sugar that is added to foods, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices
Label Reading Tip: To determine how many teaspoons of sugar a product contains, divide the grams of “sugars” listed on the food label by four. For example, if a granola bar contains 12 grams of sugars, that translates to 3 teaspoons of sugar per bar.
Research Highlight: In the Nurses Health Study II involving over 80,000 women, drinking one or more regular soft drinks daily was linked to an 83% higher risk of type 2 diabetes and an increase in body weight.
Good Advice: Use sugar in small amounts to make healthy foods taste better – jam on whole-wheat toast or sugar on whole-grain cereal. Choose healthy, pre-sweetened foods like whole-grain cereals, yogurt, chocolate milk and canned fruit that contain less added sugar. Eat most of your fruits and vegetables whole – have no more than about 1 cup (250 mL) of fruit juice or ¼ cup (60mL) of dried fruit daily. Most important, avoid sugar-only foods, such as soft drinks. Cakes, pies, cookies, and candy are also nutrient-poor, but sugar-rich.
* all recommended intakes are based on a 2000 calorie diet
Final Words of Wisdom: Avoiding dietary villains is only half the equation and is not enough to ensure great health. Equally important, and perhaps even more so, is to load your diet with health-protective foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and healthy fats.