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Improve your diet for the New Year

A few changes to your diet can improve your health dramatically. The improvements will not occur suddenly, but your body will be healthier over time. If you are overweight, or if you have high cholesterol or blood pressure, a proper diet can improve your health. The important thing to remember is that you have to maintain good eating habits. You cannot eat junk food frequently and expect to improve your health. Pastries, candies and greasy food should become a very, very small part of your diet.

If you want to be healthy, you have to eat nutritious food. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The vegetables and fruits can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried, as long as they do not include added sugar or preservatives. Fruits and vegetables decrease the risks of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease by increasing fiber and aiding weight loss. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and watercress, have been shown to protect against cancer.[1] Brightly colored vegetables and berries have phytonutrients that serve as antioxidants that enhance immune response. Blueberries and raspberries are low in calories and have many essential nutrients.

Reduce your fat intake by avoiding greasy foods like pizza, potato chips, fatty meats and cured or smoked meats. You should not avoid all fats. The body needs omega-3 fats, which are good for the brain and eyes, and can be obtained by eating fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and trout. Sunflower seeds and walnuts are vegetable sources of omega-3 fats. You should eat these foods three or four times per week to get an adequate amount of essential fatty acids.

Reduce starchy and sugary foods. Excessive consumption of carbohydrates leads to obesity and type 2 diabetes. One of the best changes that you can make to your diet is to avoid sweet soft drinks and to replace all refined flour products with whole-grain products. Try whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and grains like quinoa and bulgur wheat. These are easy to cook and can be used in salads, side dishes or main courses. The hardest thing to give up will be pastries and candies because our body has a built-in desire for sweets, but you must limit desserts to very small quantities.

Humans evolved on an omnivorous diet that included plants and animal products. Some nutrients, like Vitamin B12, can only be obtained from animal sources. Vegetarian meals that include milk and eggs can provide complete nutrition and may be an alternative way for decreasing meat in the diet. Vegetarian meals like a bowl of lentil soup with a cheese sandwich, or Cajun red beans and rice with a garden salad can be delicious and very satisfying.

To make your diet work, you have to get rid of the junk food in your kitchen. Donate to a food bank any food with hydrogenated fats, and anything high in sodium or with preservatives. Also, eliminate sodas and sugary drinks. Make room in your refrigerator for fresh produce and in your pantry for whole grain products. Start the new year with better menus for a healthier life.

[1] Keck AS, Finley JW., Cruciferous vegetables: cancer protective mechanisms of glucosinolate hydrolysis products and selenium, Integr Cancer Ther. 2004 Mar;3(1):5-12. PMID: 15035868

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