If you suffer from any medical condition, you should check with your doctor before beginning any new diet plan. If you're given the green light, here are a few finer points to watch out for when trying to choose the diet that's best for you.
If high cholesterol or a history of heart disease is an issue, steer clear of diets that encourage you to eat a lot of animal products. Only animal products contain cholesterol, and they are the primary sources of saturated fats -- two dietary components that you need to keep to a minimum.
Make sure the diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, as they contain an arsenal of phytochemicals that may help keep your heart healthy. And make sure you're getting plenty of folate and vitamins B6 and B12 from food or supplements, since this trio of "B's" has been shown to control homocysteine levels in the blood. High homocysteine levels increase your risk of clogged arteries and heart disease.
Though it's far from proven, some experts believe that women at risk for breast cancer should not consume a lot of soy products. That's because soy is one of the richest sources of isoflavones, naturally occurring compounds that have an estrogen-like action in the body.
Some tumors are estrogen-dependent and feed off the hormone to survive. Too much estrogen could increase the risk. Though the "proof" so far comes only from animal and lab studies, some experts say, why risk it?
If constipation is an issue for you, steer clear of diets that discourage the consumption of carbohydrates, such as high-fiber whole grains, or that limit your intake of fruits and vegetables. Try to get 21 to 30 grams of fiber a day from whichever diet plan you choose.
Don't tempt fate by trying any sort of unbalanced diet plan that emphasizes any one food or food group over another. Choose a diet plan that includes enough -- but not too much -- protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Because diabetes puts you at increased risk for heart disease, opt for a diet that emphasizes heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and that includes a healthy dose of soluble fiber from beans, peas, lentils, oats, fruits, and vegetables. These foods will help keep both blood sugar and blood cholesterol under control.
Make sure you plan on sticking with your diet and maintaining your weight loss. Research shows that "weight cyclers," also known as yo-yo dieters, are putting themselves at risk for developing gallstones. If you already suffer from gallstones, you could make matters worse.
If your blood pressure tends to be high, you're at an increased risk for a heart attack or stroke. The diet that offers the best protection against high blood pressure includes plenty of low fat dairy foods and lots of fruits and vegetables. The key nutrients to focus on? Calcium, potassium, and magnesium. And go easy on the salt.
There are many different kinds of kidney disease, so it's best to check with your doctor before you try any new diet plan. But in general, if you have kidney troubles, don't consume too much protein. That means you should steer clear of diet plans that emphasize eating meat, fish, and poultry. People with kidney disease should drink plenty of fluids to decrease the risk of developing kidney stones and bladder cancer.
Calcium and vitamin D are vital to the prevention of this debilitating, bone-robbing disease, so make sure that whatever diet you choose includes plenty of those two bone-building nutrients. And make sure the diet's not heavy on protein or sodium consumption, since both can leech the calcium right out of your bones, leaving them weak, brittle, and prone to fractures.
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Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.
Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for WebMD.com. She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.