One Size Doesn’t Fit All: What Are the Best Foods for You?

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: What Are the Best Foods for You?

Do most people need to eat the same type of diet to be healthy? Much of what we see in the media would make it seem like that’s the case. Fad diets aside, we hear a lot about eating a balanced, healthy diet in moderation. Bestselling writer Michael Pollan summed it up this way:   “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Sounds reasonable. But is it really that simple?

Like much of life, eating healthy isn’t one-size-fits all. There may be basics that many can agree on, like drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables. But what is best for your body and your health depends on many things that aren’t the same for everyone. Your age and activity level are factors in choosing the best things to eat and how much.

And some serious, chronic health problems can be significantly impacted by your food choices. For health issues like arthritis, cancer, heart disease or diabetes, what foods you choose may help or worsen your health.

Arthritis

If you have arthritis, your body has chronic inflammation. And what you eat can either help your symptoms or add to the problem.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet  can help. In general, regularly eating certain vegetables, fruits and oils can help relieve symptoms. The Mediterranean diet   is one example of an anti-inflammatory eating plan.

Certain foods and ingredients can make your arthritis symptoms worse. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that you watch out for these ingredients:

  • Sugar
  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats
  • Omega 6 fatty acids
  • Refined carbs
  • MSG
  • Gluten/casein
  • Aspartame
  • Alcohol

To help avoid foods and drinks that can make your arthritis symptoms worse, be sure to read food labels.

Cancer

While foods may not prevent cancer, some foods may help you lower your risk.   Research shows that making certain healthy food choices routinely over time can cut your risk of getting cancer.

To reduce your risk:

  • Focus on plants (whole grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits, legumes)
  • Eat in moderation. Obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer
  • Skip foods that are known to raise cancer risk. That includes processed meats like hot dogs and bacon, too much red meat, and too much alcohol.
Heart Disease

Many foods have broad health benefits in addition to improving your heart health. Nutrient-rich foods have good things like minerals, vitamins, protein and more. They are lower in calories, which can help you control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, all vital for a healthy heart.

Try a variety of fruits and vegetables and get most of your protein from beans, skinless poultry and fish. If you choose to eat red meat, select the leanest cuts. Pick low-fat dairy products and non-tropical vegetable oils.

One heart-healthy eating plan is DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The Mediterranean diet is another. But you can also craft your own plan based on your calorie goals and personal and cultural food choices.

Looking for power foods for heart health? The Cleveland Clinic has a list of some foods packed with heart disease-fighting nutrients. Having more of these super foods in your diet may help you reduce your risk of heart disease:

  • Vegetables: beets, bell peppers, dark, leafy greens (lettuce, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage) and squash (acorn, butternut and pumpkin)
  • Proteins: wild salmon or tuna (fresh or canned in water), organic skinless poultry, tofu and quinoa
  • Fruits: apples, pears, berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries), citrus (oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and grapefruits)
  • Grains: barley, brown rice, bulgur, flaxseed, oatmeal, wheat germ, chia seeds
  • Legumes: black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, lentils
Diabetes

If you have diabetes, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases suggests that you work with your doctor or health team to create a meal plan.

Some general steps to take:

  • Eat more fiber, like whole grain cereals, breads and crackers. Look for types of rice and pasta that have more fiber, rather than overly processed types.
  • Pick foods low in calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and salt.
  • Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, bread and cereals, and low-fat or skim milk and cheese.
  • Drink water, not juice or soda.
  • Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Then add lean protein like turkey, chicken (no skin) or beans to fill one quarter. The final quarter can be whole grains like whole wheat pasta or brown rice.

There is a lot of information out there about eating healthy. But that doesn’t mean the same things for everyone. To help find out what your individual needs are, talk to your doctor.

What foods fight inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s way of protecting itself.

But too strong an answer from your immune system can harm healthy parts of your body, leading to serious health problems. Conditions like arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and Alzheimer’s are all related to chronic inflammation.

What Foods Should You Avoid?
Some foods can make the situation worse. Overly processed foods, sugary drinks and too much alcohol can make chronic inflammation worse over time. Limit things like cakes, cookies and soda.

Also watch out for high-fat and processed meats. And take a pass on high-fat dairy items and fried foods.

What Foods Should You Eat?
Harvard Medical School suggests eating more:

  • Tomatoes
  • Fruits, such as oranges, cherries, strawberries and blueberries
  • Nuts, mainly almonds and walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Leafy greens, like kale, collards and spinach
  • Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna and mackerel
Sources: 36 Foods that May Help Lower Your Cancer Risk,   MD Anderson Cancer Center, 2019; The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations,   American Heart Association, 2015; Heart Healthy Power Foods,   Cleveland Clinic, 2019; 4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life,   National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2016; 8 Food Ingredients That Can Cause Inflammation,   Arthritis Foundation; Obesity and Cancer,   National Cancer Institute, NIH, 2017; Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Road to Good Health?,   WebMD, 2019; Foods that Fight Inflammation,   Harvard Medical School, 2018
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