New Year, New You: Prioritizing Nutrition to Prevent Chronic Conditions

Posted on Thursday, January 13, 2022

January marks the beginning of an exciting new year! Here’s some great news to kickstart your 2022: Eating the right diet (along with other lifestyle factors, such as getting enough exercise, limiting alcohol intake and cutting tobacco) can play a major role in preventing chronic diseases.

The reality is that chronic conditions are plaguing our nation. Not only are chronic diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and diabetes, to name a few) the leading cause of death and disability in America, but they’re also the leading driver of the nation’s $3.8 trillion in annual healthcare costs.

Across the U.S., six in ten Americans live with at least one chronic disease, says the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and four in ten have two or more.

Now, let’s turn to diet. When it comes to nutrition:

  • More than 80% of Americans' diets are low in vegetables, fruits and dairy (2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans).
  • Fewer than one in ten U.S. adults and adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables (CDC).
  • On a given day, six in ten young people and 5 in 10 adults consume a sugary drink (CDC).
  • Nine in ten Americans consume too much sodium (CDC).

Statistics like those above are in direct opposition as to what constitutes a healthy diet. The general consensus is such that diets high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, omega-3 fatty acids, and low-fat dairy and low in refined grains, sugary foods and beverages, salty snacks, and processed meats protect against chronic conditions.

Here are some tips for healthy eating:

Incorporate healthy fats.

Heart disease—the nation’s leading cause of death—is especially linked to a diet high in fat. In particular, saturated fat (found in butter, cheese, red meat and other animal-based foods and tropical oils) can raise the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower your risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats, unlike saturated fats, have health benefits. Switching to unsaturated fats can actually help lower LDL cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim for less than 20 grams per day of saturated fat. The AHA recommends less than 13 grams of saturated fat per day.

Lighten up on sodium.

Too much sodium (salt) in your diet can raise your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should get less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. The American Heart Association recommends even less for ideal heart health, at 1,500 milligrams per day. Keep in mind that most sodium comes not from the salt shaker but from many typical foods we eat—from processed and prepared foods to restaurant meals. Cooking at home puts you in the driver’s seat; be sure to choose ingredients that are low in sodium.

Don’t forget the fiber.

Dietary fiber, found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, is important for helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. Unlike other food components (fats, proteins and carbohydrates), dietary fiber doesn’t get digested; it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body.

For those under age 50, The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine  recommends 38 grams of fiber daily for men and 25 grams for women. For people ages 51 and older, the daily recommendation is 30 grams of fiber for men and 21 grams for women. When adding fiber to your diet, do so gradually over several weeks. Adding too much fiber too soon can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping.

Cut down on added sugars.

Added sugars can contribute to health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should limit added sugars as much as possible, aiming for less than 50 milligrams a day. Getting more can make it difficult to consume all of the nutrients your body needs without getting too many calories. Note that some foods and drinks—like fruits, plain milk and plain yogurt—have natural sugars and don’t count as added sugar.

Add color to your plate.

The more colors of fruit and vegetables you put on your plate, the more nutrients you’re eating. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, or phytochemicals. They’re produced by plants to keep them healthy and give plants their rich colors and distinctive tastes and aromas.

When you eat plant foods, their phytonutrients protect you from chronic diseases—they have potent anti-cancer and anti-heart disease effects. Epidemiological research suggests that food patterns that include fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and may protect against certain types of cancers.

For cancer risk reduction, the American Cancer Society advises following the U.S. Dietary Guidelines: to consume at least 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables and 1½ to 2 cups of fruit each day, depending on your calorie requirements.

At Mom’s Meals, our mission is to improve lives through better nutrition at home. Whether you’re managing a chronic condition or your goal is disease prevention, we offer nine condition-specific menus, including a general wellness menu. All of our meals meet current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Which one best describes you?

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