Diet and Health

{وَالَّذِي هُوَ يُطْعِمُنِي وَيَسْقِينِ وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ}
And Abraham prayed, “And He feeds me and quenches my thirst and when I fall sick then He (Allah) cures me.”  [Soorah Shu’araa: 80]

In this statement of the Quran by Abraham is a great scientific fact.  That is our food is directly related to our health and sickness.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Serious diseases that are linked to what we eat kill an estimated three out of four Americans each year. These diseases include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, some types of cancer, and diabetes. Eating a diet that contains 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day as part of a healthy, active lifestyle lowers the risk for all of these diseases.

Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables to keep them healthy. Despite the fact that they are important for maintaining overall good health and preventing diseases, eating fruits and vegetables is not even on many people’s radar screens.

Taking multivitamins doesn’t solve the problem–it is impossible to capture all of the vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting phytochemicals, and fiber found in fruits and vegetables, in a pill. Only fruits and vegetables, not vitamin pills, can provide all of these health-protecting nutrients together.

WHO IS AT RISK?

Everyone has some degree of risk for developing diet-related chronic diseases, and this risk increases with age. Lifestyle factors that contribute to increased risk for these diseases include not eating enough fruits and vegetables, eating too many foods high in saturated fats (fried foods, full-fat dairy products, fatty cuts of meat) and not getting enough exercise. These behaviors begin in childhood and become habits that can carry into adulthood.

Heart disease, which is largely influenced by what we eat, remains the number one killer of both American men and women. And, high blood pressure, which can be reduced within a month by changing eating habits, will affect 90 percent of American men and women at some point in their lifetime.

In general, men get chronic diseases more often than women and die from them at earlier ages. African American men have even higher rates of these diseases than white men, including heart disease, high blood pressure, many cancers, and diabetes, and get them even earlier in life.

The number of servings of fruits and vegetables that is recommended depends on a person’s age and gender, ranging from five a day for children age 2 to 6 (as well as some women and some older adults) to nine a day for teenage boys and active men.

CAN IT BE PREVENTED?

Leading causes of death, which include heart disease, high blood pressure, many cancers, diabetes and stroke, are largely preventable through lifestyle choices such as eating more fruits and vegetables. Eating 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is one of the easiest things everyone can do to lower their chances for all of the diet-related diseases.

This may sound like a lot, but in fact one serving size is actually quite small (it fits in the palm of your hand), and it’s easy to eat several servings during one meal in a vegetable or fruit salad, for instance. But remember, pills don’t count.

BOTTOM LINE

Simple lifestyle changes can save lives and improve your quality of life. A person does not have to drastically alter his or her diet to be healthier. Simply substituting an apple a day as a snack instead of a candy bar can make an important difference in lowering risk for disease and improving everyday performance. It is not necessary to make large changes in diet in order to improve health and avoid disease. Here are a few simple tips:

  • Grab an apple, orange, banana, pear, or other piece of moderate-sized fruit to eat on-the-go.
  • Snack on raw veggies like baby carrots, pepper strips, broccoli, and celery.
  • Pick up ready-made salads from the produce shelf for a quick salad anytime.
HEALTHY DIET OVERVIEW

The food choices we make can have an important impact on our health. However, expert opinions about which and how much of these foods is best continues to change as new research is completed.
This topic summarizes the research about the relationships between various foods or supplements and specific health conditions, and concludes with general recommendations for following a healthy diet.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
A number of studies have demonstrated important health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.

  • These foods decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases including coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke [1]; eating up to six servings per day appears to provide the most benefit. Cruciferous vegetables (ie, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetables may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease to the greatest extent.
  • High intake of fruits and vegetables also reduces the risk of developing certain kinds of cancer (including lung cancer and cancer of the gastrointestinal system).

The National Cancer Institute recommends a goal of five servings of fruits or vegetables per day.
FIBER
Eating a diet that is high in fiber can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by 40 to 50 percent [2]. Eating fiber also protects against type 2 diabetes, and eating soluble fiber (such as that found in vegetables, fruits, and especially legumes) may help control blood sugar in people who already have diabetes.
The recommended amount of dietary fiber is 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day. Many breakfast cereals are excellent sources of dietary fiber. By reading the product information panel on the side of the package, it is possible to determine the number of grams of fiber per serving

FAT
High blood cholesterol levels increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Eating foods lower in certain types of fat and cutting back on foods that contain cholesterol can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The type of fat consumed appears to be more important than the amount of total fat. Saturated fats and trans fats should be avoided.

  • Trans fats are those that are solid at room temperature, and are found in many margarines and in other fats labeled “partially hydrogenated.” Another major source is oils that are maintained at high temperature for a long period, such as in fast food restaurants.
  • Saturated fats come mainly from animal products, such as cheese, butter, and red meat.

When considering a low fat diet, it is important not to replace fat with carbohydrates. Increases in carbohydrate intake may lower levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (good cholesterol), which actually increases the risk of coronary heart disease.

FOLATE
Folate is a type of B vitamin that is important in the production of red blood cells. Low levels of folate in pregnant women have been linked to a group of birth defects called neural tube defects, which includes spina bifida and anencephaly. Vitamins containing folate and breakfast cereal fortified with folate are recommended as the best ways to ensure adequate folate intake.

  • However, supplements containing folate (called folic acid) are no longer recommended to reduce the risk of colon cancer or heart disease.

ANTIOXIDANTS
The antioxidant vitamins include vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene. Many other foods, especially fruits and vegetables, also have antioxidant properties. Studies have not clearly shown that antioxidant vitamins prevent cancer, and some studies show they may actually cause harm.
No recommendations can yet be made regarding the use of vitamin C to prevent coronary heart disease (CHD).
Vitamin E supplements, either alone or in combination with other antioxidant vitamins, are of no benefit in preventing prevention of CHD. Studies have also failed to show that supplements of vitamins E and C decrease the risk of stroke. The American Heart Association does recommend, however, that a healthy diet include foods high in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
CALCIUM AND VITAMIN D
Adequate calcium and vitamin D intake are important, particularly in women, to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. A healthcare provider can help to decide if supplements are needed, depending upon a person’s dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D (table 2). Calcium from food sources and supplements appears to slightly increase the risk of prostate cancer, although it may help to protect against colon cancer.
Although the optimal level has not been clearly established, experts recommend that premenopausal women and men consume at least 1000 mg per day and postmenopausal women should consume 1500 mg per day. No more than 2000 mg of calcium should be consumed per day. Experts recommend that adults consume a total of 800 International Units (IU) of vitamin D each day. This dose appears to reduce bone loss and the number of bone fractures in older women and men. Milk is the primary dietary source of dietary vitamin D, containing approximately 100 IU per cup. Infants and children also need vitamin D.

GENERAL RECOMMENDATION FOR A HEALTHY DIET
Eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and a limited amount of red meat. Eat at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. More is even better. Tips for achieving this goal include:

  • Make fruits and vegetables part of every meal. Frozen or canned products can be used when fresh products are not convenient or unavailable.
  • Add fruit to cereal.
  • Eat vegetables as snacks.
  • Leave a bowl of fruit out all the time for adults and children to eat as snacks

Trans fats and saturated fats should be avoided. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should be used instead. Tips to accomplish this include:

  • Choose chicken, fish, or beans instead of red meat and cheese.
  • Cook with oils that contain a lot of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like olive and canola oil.
  • Choose margarines that do not have partially hydrogenated oils. Soft margarines (especially squeeze margarines) have less trans fats than stick margarines.
  • Eat fewer store-bought baked goods that may contain partially hydrogenated fats, such as crackers, cookies, and cupcakes.
  • When eating at fast food restaurants, choose items like broiled chicken.

Get enough folate every day (400 micrograms per day). Tips for achieving this goal include:

  • Take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folate. This is especially important for women in the childbearing years.
  • Eat breakfast cereal that is fortified with folate.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables that are rich in folate, like oranges, orange juice, and green leafy vegetables.

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