DON'T eat ground beef and other fatty meats
Red meat is the largest source of fat and saturated fat in the average American's diet. The saturated fat alone makes it Heart Disease Enemy No. 1. Among the fattiest are ribs, bacon, and sausage. But the worst is ground beef ... because we eat more of it than any other red meat.
Unlike many meats, you can't trim the fat off hamburgers. And, despite the deceptive "80 percent lean" or "85 percent lean" claims on some ground beef packages, you can't buy truly low-fat ground beef. It may not sound fatty, but the remaining 10, 20, or 30 percent fat is enough to threaten your arteries.
If life without burgers just isn't worth living, try ground turkey breast. As long as it doesn't contain any skin, you can eat it 'til the cows come home, so to speak. Or try a Green Giant Harvest Burger, a Gardenburger, or some other veggieburger.
DON'T eat even lean red meat more than three times a week
Yes, lean meats have less saturated fat. But there's no "Nutrition Facts" label on packages of fresh meat (or poultry or seafood), so there's no way to tell how fatty they are.
What's more, a growing body of evidence suggests that even lean red meats - but not poultry or seafood - may increase the risk of colon and possibly prostate cancer. So if you're not a meat-eater, stay that way. If you are, limit yourself to three times a week (that includes lunches) ... and make it the leanest choices, like a roast beef sandwich or low-fat hot dog.
DO eat "plants only" dinners at least three times a week.
"Plants-only" means no meat, seafood, poultry, cheese, or eggs. It's not that those foods are necessarily harmful. It's that they crowd the vegetables, beans, and grains off (or nearly off) your plate.
Eating more plant foods - especially vegetables-may reduce your risk of a host of cancers, including colon, lung, stomach, mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, and bladder. And it can help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke to boot.
What's left when the meat, fish, and poultry vacate the plate? Plain old spaghetti with tomato sauce or pasta primavera (pasta with sauteed vegetables) are good options. But you'll also need some bean dishes to replace the nutrients in meat. Suggestions: bean burritos, lentil soup & salad, tofu & stir-fried vegetables over brown rice, or soy-based veggieburgers (like Boca Burgers).
DO make nearly all your snacks fruits and vegetables
The National Cancer Institute recommends that people eat at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The phytochemicals, fiber, folic acid and potassium in them may also help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. But most Americans are closer to three a day. And it's tough to hit five or nine if you're snacking on cookies, candy, or ice cream - even the low-fat variety. Tired of red delicious apples? Try Granny Smith, Ida Red, Rome, Stayman, or other varieties. Keep a bag of peeled baby carrots on your desk. Peel yourself a grapefruit, orange, or tangerine. Open and rinse a can of chickpeas or pinto beans to munch on. Keep a bowl of fruit salad in the fridge. You get the idea.
DO switch to low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese
Most Americans - especially females - don't get enough calcium to cut their risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) later in life. And most dairy foods are loaded with calcium. But if you're not careful, they can also be loaded with artery-clogging saturated fat.
Make your milk skim or 1% fat (so-called "2% low-fat" milk isn't). Eat ice cream or frozen yogurt only if it's low-fat or fat-free. A daily cup of gourmet - or even regular - ice cream can jeopardize an otherwise healthy diet.
DON'T eat pizza or other cheese-drenched foods more than once or twice a month
When it comes to high-fat dairy foods, cheese is the toughest nut to crack. First, the fat-free versions have a - shall we say - "unique" taste. Second, much of the cheese we eat comes in prepared foods like lasagna, cheeseburgers and pizza.
According to the manufacturers, two slices of almost any chain's pizza will use up 40 percent of your saturated fat limit for the day. And that's for just lain cheese pizza. Order a Pizza Hut Meat Lover's and you can say arrivederci to 60 percent of a day's sat fat. Make it a Triple Decker with Ham and you'll gobble up 70 percent (plus 800 calories and 2,000+ mg of sodium).
And for a few Americans (oh, say, 100 million or so), two slices is just the beginning. What's the answer? Eat pizza less often. Or get it at places that offer generous and creative vegetable toppings and tomato sauces that are flavorful enough to go cheeseless. (Okay, sprinkle on a tablespoon or so of grated parmesan for flavor.)
DO go for whole grains
Whole grains are more nutritious than refined grains, and they're more closely linked to a lower risk of colon cancer. The easiest way to eat 'em: First, buy whole wheat breads and crackers. (Rye, pumpernickel, and oatmeal breads are mostly white.) Second, switch to whole grain breakfast cereals - at least most of the time. The choices are almost endless: Wheaties, shredded wheat, Cheerios, raisin bran, oatmeal, and Wheatena, to name a few.
You can also try whole wheat pastas and tortillas, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat (kasha), and millet. But breads and cereals are the basics.
If you eat butter or margarine, DO buy only light tubs or sprays
Butter's the worst. It's loaded with saturated fat. Margarine - especially in sticks - is nearly as bad. It's got saturated plus trans fat.
The solution: a spray "butter" like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! or a tub of "light" margarine or whipped "light" butter. The butter may be harder to find - Land O' Lakes is the only national brand we know of. Fleischmann's, Mazola, Parkay, and Promise make light tub margarines.
None has more than six grams of fat or three grams of saturated and/or trans fat per tablespoon. They're not so good for sauteing or baked goods (because some of them splatter, and you may end up using too much). When it comes to cooking, you're better off with a spray like PAM, or olive or canola oil anyway.
To cut down on sodium, DON'T lean so heavily on prepared foods
It's the food industry - not the salt shaker - that causes our salt problem. More than 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed food.
Okay, so you can't prepare everything from scratch. But some things are easy. Instead of a frozen dinner, try steaming some broccoli and smother your broiled fresh flounder in low-fat mayo, lemon juice, and dill. Skip the commercial salad dressing and mix your own vinegar, fresh garlic, mustard, and a little olive oil.
Roast your chicken in orange juice after sprinkling with garlic powder and paprika. Saute fresh ripe tomatoes and mushrooms with garlic and olive oil for a better-than-bottled spaghetti sauce. Your blood pressure, bones, and tastebuds will appreciate the extra effort.
DON'T overload on sweets
Sugar doesn't just cause tooth decay. With a few exceptions, it also comes in foods that drag down a good diet.
By far, Americans get more sugar from soft drinks than from any other food. They account for a quarter of all the refined sweeteners we consume. And every 12-ounce Coke, Pepsi, or whatever is 160 calories of nothing. No vitamins, minerals, fiber, or phytochemicals. You just squandered an opportunity to chalk up one terrific serving of fruit with a glass of orange juice, or to boost your calcium with a glass of skim or 1% fat milk.
Other sweets - brownies, cookies, cheesecake, scones, pecan or cinnamon rolls - can saddle you with an entire meal's worth of calories and fat, much of it artery-clogging. Fat-free or low-fat versions are healthier, but even they take the place of fruit, whole grain crackers, or other nutrient-packed foods.
If you drink alcoholic beverages, DON'T overdo it
If you drink, keep it to no more than one a day (for women) or two a day (for men). Women who drink have to balance an increased risk of breast cancer against a decreased risk of heart disease. In one study, women who drank one to three times a week had the lowest overall death rate. But how much - or whether - you drink should also depend on your other risk factors for heart disease, breast cancer, and alcohol abuse.
DO take a multi-vitamin-and-mineral... and maybe more
Vitamins can't fix a broken diet, but they may make a good diet better, especially if - like most women and older people - you simply don't eat much food. Go for an ordinary multi with 100 percent of the USRDA (or Daily Value) for most vitamins and minerals, especially folic acid and vitamin D. Premenopausal Women: Consider also taking a calcium supplement (500 to 1,000 mg) unless you consume three or four dairy foods a day. Men & Postmenopausal Women: Consider a low-iron or iron-free multi to reduce your risk of iron overload. Seniors: Follow the advice on calcium for premenopausal women and take an extra 15 to 25 mcg of vitamin B12.