You've heard it all your life: "You are what you eat." But now, more than ever, that old adage seems to ring true. In fact, experts are finding that avoiding preservatives and sodium by eating fresh foods helps to prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes.
Apples aren't the only fruit to keep the doctor away. Blueberries are becoming known as a "superfood." Research has proved that blueberries are among foods that prevent cancer, and recent studies have shown that eating a cup of blueberries a day can make you feel full and reduce belly fat.
Researchers at Texas A&M University have found that peaches and plums contain a phenol that prohibits growth of non-estrogen-receptive breast cancer cells. Those phenols kept the breast cancer cells from growing but didn't damage the noncancerous cells.
Dietitians Kathy Levin and Christina Rollins agree that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is the way to go, but there are still way too many people who aren't eating right.
"I've been a dietitian for 20 years, and I can tell you that not only are more Americans overweight but also more are obese," Levin says. An overweight person has a body mass index between 25 and 29.9. Anyone with a BMI that is more than 30 is considered obese.
Physician Nieca Goldberg, author of "Dr. Nieca Goldberg's Complete Guide to Women's Health," says people should begin taking steps toward better eating by simply looking at their plates. "Your plate should be half-filled with vegetables and salad, a quarter-filled with protein and a quarter-filled with whole grain," Goldberg says. "Get rid of sugar. Do takeout healthier. If food is glistening, don't eat it. Eat undressed vegetables, and get your sauces on the side."
Levin says people should pay close attention to warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has determined obesity is tied to coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, arthritis, infertility and endometrial, breast and colon cancers.
Levin sees a lot of patients who are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is often the result of being overweight and not exercising enough. More and more often, her patients are children. "Ten or 15 years ago, you never saw a child with Type 2 diabetes," she says. "Now I see them all the time. It's the same thing with high cholesterol."
Rollins says people could be healthier by paying better attention to what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. "For breakfast, I recommend eating a whole-grain hot cereal, such as oatmeal, because it provides fiber and helps keep cholesterol at a healthy level," she says. "Try a half-cup of unflavored oatmeal mixed with a half-cup of fresh or frozen fruit -- I like blueberries -- and add a little hot water. That makes a good portion, and it is filling."
If you choose to eat dry cereal, be sure to read the labels. "A lot of dry cereals are marketed as grains, but some are better. Raisin Bran and Kashi are better cereals," Rollins says.
Eggs are also a good source of protein. "The American Heart Association doesn't totally limit eating eggs," Rollins says. "If you are eating to lower cholesterol levels, try eating one egg with a yolk and a couple of egg whites, or you can use Egg Beaters."
Lunch and dinner should include at least one portion of fruits and vegetables, Rollins says. A portion is about the amount of food a woman could hold in her hand. "There is a new slogan that refers to fruits and vegetables. It is 'More a day for better health.' If you are eating a sandwich, put lettuce and tomato on it. For a snack, eat some carrot sticks."
Finally, don't forget to exercise. The CDC recommends that people exercise at least 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. "I know that everyone can't buy a treadmill or join a gym, but everyone can walk," Levin says. "I tell people to start with 10 minutes a day and go up from there. And if they can't walk, there are exercises they can do. They just need to start exercising."