Eating right is the cornerstone to a healthy lifestyle. There are many factors we can't control in regard to health -- hereditary conditions, environmental concerns -- but we can control what we eat, which can help us fight disease, encourage healthy metabolism and more.

In this article, we'll discuss the importance of nutrition, how protein and fat fit into the picture, how to reduce fat and more. You'll learn about vitamin and mineral supplements, special needs diets and how important drinking water is. We'll cover:

  • The Importance of Water Water is essential to life. Every part of your body relies on it. Your blood, for example, is more than three-quarters water. Other body fluids, like saliva and digestive juices, are based on water. Almost every chemical reaction in the body takes place in a water medium and you couldn't get rid of body wastes without it. Learn how much water you need to drink a day, and why.
  • The Truth About Carbohydrates Is bread really bad? Many diets eschew carbohydrates in favor or protein, but truth be told, eating carbs -- in moderation -- can be a huge asset to a healthy diet.  Balancing complex carbohydrates with fiber is another essential tool of healthy eating. Don't fear bread and sugar. Learn how much carbohydrates you should be eating, what kinds and more.
  • The Protein and Fat Connection Eating too much fat is an obvious diet dilemma, but what about eating too much protein? Although it's not as widely known, an excess of protein can also cause health problems. Find out how much protein you need, what types of cholesterol to watch out for and how the negative health effects that can result from eating a high-fat diet.
  • Breaking Down Vitamins and Minerals Because there are so many, vitamins and minerals can be very confusing topics. But they are often a necessary dietary element. Vitamins and minerals are crucial to normal body functions and some of them may have a role in preventing our most deadly diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Getting enough for normal metabolism used to be our primary concern, but we now know that certain vitamins and minerals may be beneficial in even greater quantities, while others can be dangerous in excess. Get education about which vitamins you need more of and which ones you should slow down on.
  • The Basics of Supplements Sometimes, everyone's diet needs a little something extra. Although nutritionists like to insist on "food first," that isn't necessarily the end of the story. Supplements, by definition, are there to supplement a diet, not substitute for it. Pills can't provide you with the disease-fighting phytochemicals that are in plant foods. Yet with smart supplementation, you may be able to make a good diet better.
  • Reading Food Labels Healthy eating guidelines are supposed to help us, but they can be a little daunting. However, planning smart menus and shopping wisely are crucial links in the good nutrition chain. Standardized food labels can provide some guidance, as can a few calorie-cutting menu ideas and cooking techniques. But how do you know what to look for? By reading food labels and looking for key items.
  • Ways to Restrict Fat Cutting back on fat, especially saturated and trans fat, is one of the most important changes you can make in your diet if you want to prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. But how do you reduce fat when it seems to be everywhere? Start slowly. Count your fat grams. And use these tips.
  • The Basics of Special Needs Diets If your doctor has placed you on a special diet, don't feel singled out. If you are following a diet prescribed for heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, in particular, you may need to pay more attention to planning your meals, but there is some basic advice it makes sense to follow. Learn about how to reduce or eliminate things such as cholesterol, sodium and more.  //]]]]> ]]>

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The Importance of Water

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Water regulates your body temperature. 

It may not be as sexy as vitamin E or as trendy as beta-carotene, but water is the true nectar of the gods because it is so essential to life. Without it, you wouldn't live long -- four or five days at most.

Every part of your body relies on water. Your blood, for example, is more than three-quarters water. Other body fluids, like saliva and digestive juices, are based on water, as is urine. You couldn't get rid of body wastes without it. Almost every chemical reaction in the body takes place in a water medium, and water also lubricates and protects the joints, organs, nose, and mouth.

Most clever of all is how your temperature stays near that magical 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body needs water so that when you get hot, you can sweat. The water you sweat off then evaporates on your skin, cooling you down. Without it, you'd suffer heatstroke.

Water Levels

So how much do you need? Generally, you should drink six to eight cups of water a day. Although you can get by on less, drinking this much water is especially kind to your kidneys and colon, because it helps to flush toxins out of your body. When you drink a lot of water, the toxins can't hang around too long and cause damage to your kidneys or cancerous growths in the colon. In fact, drinking plenty of water may be the simplest of all disease-prevention tips.

Why not just drink when you're thirsty? Because your body's thirst-o-meter isn't very reliable. You should drink about three cups more than your thirst tells you to. And as you get older, your body loses the ability to tell when it's thirsty, making it doubly important to drink water even when you don't crave a cool drink.

Water Wary

Is your water safe? Milwaukee was not the place to be in 1993. Nearly 400,000 people were stricken with diarrhea and vomiting from drinking the public water, which had somehow been contaminated with the Cryptosporidium organism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that thousands of people in the United States and millions worldwide get sick every year from drinking water. Some scientists think the incidence is higher, but in any event, bacteria like Giardia and Cryptosporidium do pose risks to public water supplies.

Fortunately, most people don't get sick from low levels of contamination, but those whose immune systems are not at 100 percent--infants, elderly people, patients receiving cancer treatments, and people with HIV infection -- are more susceptible. They may want to find out if local health officials post advisories when organism contaminants are too high.

Organisms aren't the only problem, though. If your image of lead poisoning involves peeling paint in a rundown tenement, think again. Experts now warn that water is a significant source of lead -- and not just in older houses. New faucets are particularly likely to leach lead into water. Exposure to lead is especially dangerous for pregnant women, infants, and young children, causing brain damage that results in learning difficulties. It can also injure the kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells.

Another aspect of nutrition that you have probably been hearing a lot about lately is carbohydrates. Should you eat all carbohydrates? No carbohydrates? In the next section, we will help you separate fact from fiction with an in-depth look at carbohydrates.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The Truth About Carbohydrates

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. If you choose the right type and quantity, carbohydrates are crucial part of a balanced diet.

In recent years, carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation -- and it's somewhat undeserved.  "Carbs" are often viewed as a calorie-laden horror, a diet wrecker, an even bigger enemy than fat. But nothing could be further from reality.

Carbohydrates are your best friends. They are your body's preferred fuel. Both complex and simple carbohydrates are broken down in digestion to glucose molecules, which are absorbed into cells and burned as a power source. When we say "burned," we mean it quite literally. In fact, the amount of energy provided by food is measured by the amount of heat it produces when burned; these units of heat are calories. All carbohydrates provide four calories per gram.

They may all have four calories per gram, but that doesn't mean that all carbohydrates are the same. There are actually two kinds of carbohydrate: simple and complex.

Simple Carbohydrates

Sugars are "simple" carbohydrates. They are closest to the completely broken down form that your body uses as fuel. In fact, glucose itself is the simplest sugar. So the body converts sugar directly into usable energy. Pure sugar foods, such as hard candies and soft drinks, raise your blood sugar level and your energy level temporarily -- sometimes called a "sugar high." However, the levels quickly drop below what they were before, in a rebound effect. This has been dubbed the "sugar blues."

Sugar's reputation is truly battle scarred, but with very little reason. Sugar isn't quite the evil substance you may think it is. Its biggest fault is with the company it keeps; it is often found in foods with little or no nutritional value. Some of the charges leveled at sugar are baseless, some may be justified but haven't been proved, and a few are all too true. Here are some of the true and false charges:

  • Sugar causes hyperactivity. False. Its reputation for creating sugar monsters -- kids that eat sugar and go berserk -- just isn't true. No well-designed scientific study has ever been able to prove a link between sugar and hyperactive behavior. Keep in mind that kids often overdo sweets at particularly exciting times of the year, such as birthdays and Halloween, when they're naturally wound up just from the excitement.
  •  Sugar causes diabetes. False. Although there is a connection between sugar and diabetes, it is merely guilt by association. Diabetes is a hereditary disorder that appears when you lack insulin (type 1) or you become insensitive to it later in life (type 2). Can eating a lot of sugar cause this insensitivity? No, but being overweight can, and people who eat sugary sweets often gain weight -- hence, the confusion.
  • Sugar causes cavities. True, but it is hardly the worst offender. All carbohydrates can contribute to tooth decay. Complex carbohydrates, such as starches, can be just as much to blame for cavities as sugar, if not more so. The bacteria that cause decay are not picky about what they eat; starches that stick to your teeth provide plenty of food for bacteria. Surprisingly, one of the worst offenders is crackers.

Fighting Disease With FiberA great deal of the credit for the preventive powers of complex carbohydrates goes to fiber -- a certain type of complex carbohydrate found in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.It seems strange that something your body rejects can be so important to your health, but that's just the case with fiber -- the indigestible portion of carbohydrate. Your body can't break it down, so it passes right through and on out as waste. Yet to do without it is to invite trouble.Without fiber, the other substances in your intestines would just sit there, fermenting and stagnating. Any toxins from food or created by bacteria would have that much more time to be in contact with your intestinal walls. It's this exposure that is thought to be at least one cause of colon cancer.

Keeping things moving is a smart move that helps prevent other diseases and conditions as well: constipation, diverticular disease, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins. And the sticky properties of fiber keep diabetes, heart disease, and obesity at bay.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is the type that probably comes to mind when you think of fiber. It's found in the wheat bran that's in most bran cereals. The fact that it doesn't dissolve in water is what makes it so beneficial. Instead, it soaks up water like a sponge. This softens stool and increases its bulk, which puts pressure on the walls of the intestines and speeds the stool's movement through your body. If you make a regular habit of eating foods high in insoluble fiber, you can all but eliminate the worry of constipation and hemorrhoids, and it may decrease your risk of developing colon and rectal cancers.

Soluble fiber may not be as well known, but it's just as valuable. As soluble fiber dissolves in water, it forms gummy gels. These gels bind with substances you'd just as soon get rid of -- like bile acids. Remember oat bran? Well, it was no silly craze. Oat bran is rich in soluble fiber, and by binding with bile acids, it helps lower blood levels of cholesterol. The higher your blood cholesterol level, the more it can help you. To make a difference, eat oatmeal, a low-fat oat-bran muffin, or other foods high in soluble fiber, such as kidney and other beans, every day.

By slowing the absorption of carbohydrates, soluble fiber also helps keep blood sugar on an even keel. Some people with diabetes are able to control blood sugar better by increasing the soluble fiber in their diet. For those battling the bulge, the extra bulk in the stomach and its delayed emptying help curb the appetite without adding calories.

How much is enough? Most Americans don't get even close to the recommended amount of fiber -- 20 to 35 grams per day. The average American gets about 10 to 15 grams per day. To boost your intake, make some simple adjustments in your daily diet:

  • Switch to whole-wheat bread and whole-wheat pasta.
  • Start your day with a bowl of bran cereal.
  • Eat whole fruits instead of just drinking juice.
  • Get five servings (2.5 cups) of vegetables every day.

Can you get too much? Yes, excessive fiber can interfere with mineral absorption, but you'd consistently have to take in more than 50 grams per day to be worried. Few people have that problem. A more common problem is that people increase their fiber intake too fast, resulting in gas, bloating, and intestinal discomfort. These gastrointestinal problems can be prevented by adding high-fiber foods gradually over six to eight weeks.You must also be sure to drink enough water and other fluids, especially when you eat foods high in insoluble fiber. They soak up the available water in your intestines; if there isn't enough, you could end up with an intestinal blockage -- rare, but serious.Fitting In FiberUpping your intake of fiber can be easier than you think, and you already know the benefits can be great (reduced risk of heart disease and cancer to name only two). Boosting your fiber intake can go hand-in-hand with cutting back the fat, as long as you do it right. Here are some tips for filling up with fiber.

  • Switch to the whole-grain version of the foods you normally eat: brown rice instead of white rice; potatoes with the skin instead of peeled; whole-wheat bread instead of white bread; whole-wheat or lupin pasta instead of semolina pasta; whole-wheat or buckwheat pancakes instead of regular; bran muffins instead of blueberry muffins; graham crackers instead of buttery crackers; and so on. Then try adding new grains: barley, millet, triticale, and quinoa for extra fiber and pizzazz.
  • Start your day with bran -- either a cereal or a muffin (if it's not too high in fat). You could be a third of the way to your daily fiber goal if you choose your cereal wisely.
  • Slice up dried apricots, prunes, or other fruits to add to your cereal; dried fruits are an excellent source of fiber.
  • Opt for the whole fruit instead of juice whenever you can. Juicing removes most of the fiber, especially if the juice is pulp-free.
  • Fruits with seeds are a powerhouse of fiber; raspberries and blackberries are the richest in fiber, but strawberries, blueberries, figs, and elderberries are chock full.
  • Top your sandwiches with spinach instead of lettuce; add tomato, avocado, or sweet peppers. Use your imagination, but get some fiber-filled veggies in there.
  • Find new ways to add vegetables: Add lightly steamed vegetables to spaghetti sauce, layer vegetables in your casseroles, or add vegetable purees to soups, sauces, and casseroles when cut-up veggies won't work.
  • Top your salads with lentils, chickpeas, green peas, and florets of broccoli.
  • Add wheat germ into any baked product you make: cookies, brownies, muffins, quick breads, and especially pancakes. You can replace one-half to one cup of flour with wheat germ (you may need to add a little extra liquid, though, and don't replace more than half of the flour).

On the other end of the diet spectrum is protein. Some diets, like the Atkins diet, would have you eat all protein and no carbohydrates. In the next section, we'll tell you everything you need to know about protein. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The Protein and Fat Connection

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. The key to picking the right proteins is finding sources that are low in fat like fish.

Protein is an important element of any diet, but it's importance is often overstated. In fact, protein is, as a nutritional source, somewhat overrated. Although getting enough may be the difficulty in some areas of the world, it's rarely a problem in the United States. In fact, too much protein is our curse.

Still, it is essential for growth, indeed for life itself. Protein is made up of amino acids that your body uses to make body tissue and vital enzymes. There are nine essential amino acids that you must get in your diet.

You need about 50 to 60 grams of protein per day, and that's not as much as it sounds. Consider this: A quarter pound of meat, cooked, provides about 20 grams of protein, and a glass of milk adds another 8 grams. Every slice of bread, or equivalent serving of starch, adds another 2 grams each. So you see how easy it is to get enough protein. Anyone who eats meat easily gets more than enough.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Many people make the mistake of thinking you can never get too much protein. They associate protein with growth and assume more is better. They couldn't be more wrong. Once your body gets the amount of protein it needs, it converts the rest to energy, and if you already have enough energy, it is converted to fat. Obviously, this is not what you have in mind when you order the cottage cheese and hamburger diet plate!

Too much protein can also rob the body of its bone-strengthening calcium stores and has been implicated in osteoporosis. Although most people's kidneys can handle the job, eating excessive amounts of protein does put a strain on your kidneys, whose job it is to filter out the by-products of protein digestion.

Just as with sugar, protein's biggest problem is the company it keeps. Protein and fat just seem to go hand-in-hand. Think about it. High-protein foods are very frequently high-fat foods: meat, milk, and cheeses. Fortunately, there are low-fat choices, including skim milk, reduced-fat cheeses, and lean meats.

If you don't choose low-fat options and consistently eat foods with too much fat, you'll gain weight. That's because fat provides nine calories per gram -- more than twice the four calories per gram provided by either carbohydrate or protein. But fat is also essential to life. It's a source of linoleic and linolenic acids, which are essential fatty acids, and it's needed for brain functioning and absorbing fat-soluble nutrients.

The Road To Heart Disease

First and foremost among the health problems associated with dietary fat is heart disease -- the leading killer of both men and women. The fat content of your diet is only one risk factor -- family history, smoking, and exercise are others -- but dietary fat plays a crucial role. And unlike family history, it's one you can control.

The relationship between dietary fat and heart disease risk is somewhat complicated. If you want to understand how fat can increase your risk, you've got to look at the sometimes confusing topic of cholesterol.

Cholesterol is not a fat, although it is a fatlike, waxy substance (lipid). It is only found in foods that come from animals. Like fat, it leads a schizophrenic life: vilified but essential to life. Cholesterol is needed to make vitamin D and the sex hormones, and it is a key ingredient in the protective covering around nerves.

The danger comes from the cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. There, it can be attracted to any vulnerable spots along the walls of the arteries, where blood clots form and calcium also gathers. This plaque, as the deposit is called, continues to accumulate, narrowing arteries until blood can no longer flow through.

If this happens to an artery in your heart, it's a heart attack; if it happens to an artery in your brain, it's a stroke.

Cholesterol gets ferried around the bloodstream by substances called lipoproteins. There are different kinds -- some better for you than others:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is one form of the cholesterol found in your blood. LDL cholesterol has been dubbed the "bad" cholesterol. That's because LDLs carry cholesterol headed to your arteries.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is headed away from your arteries. Hence, HDL cholesterol is often called the "good" cholesterol.

The ratio of your total blood cholesterol level to your HDL cholesterol level is the most important factor in determining your risk of heart disease. As long as HDL cholesterol makes up enough of a portion of your total cholesterol level, you are not at increased risk.If you're worried about cholesterol, you're not alone, but what can you do about it? It's logical to assume that if your blood cholesterol is high, then the cholesterol you eat is to blame, but it rarely is. If you cut back on the cholesterol you eat, your body thinks it's getting shortchanged and makes more of its own cholesterol. After all, cholesterol is an essential substance, albeit a bit mysterious.People vary in their response to dietary cholesterol. A recent study showed that some people's blood cholesterol level doesn't rise even after eating four eggs a day, and another study showed that even when total cholesterol increases, LDL and HDL cholesterol levels both increase, resulting in no change in the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol.If not dietary cholesterol, then what? This is where dietary fat comes in: To lower your blood cholesterol, you need to cut back on certain kinds of fat. There are four kinds of fat in food:

  • Saturated fat is mostly found in animal products, such as meat and milk, and it raises your LDL cholesterol level.
  • Polyunsaturated fat -- like that in vegetable oils and margarines made from corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean -- used to be given star status because it lowers total cholesterol and the "bad" LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. However, it also tends to lower blood levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.
  • Trans fatty acids are the kind of fat formed when normal polyunsaturated fats are put through a process called hydrogenation. The process adds hydrogen atoms to make a fat more saturated, giving it the properties of a solid and making it less likely to turn rancid. Trans fatty acids behave like saturated fats in your body. In fact, they may be even worse, because they pack a double whammy. Not only do they raise LDL cholesterol levels, but they also lower HDL cholesterol levels -- the equivalent of a one-two punch to your heart.
  • Monounsaturated fat -- like that found in olive oil, canola oil, and peanut butter -- seemingly can do no wrong. It doubles your pleasure by lowering LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol. However, it is still fat. It has nine calories per gram and adds to your total fat intake -- a factor that increases your risk of other diseases.

Government groups and private health organizations currently recommend keeping total fat in your diet between 20 and 35 percent of calories. Often lost in the shuffle, though, is the message to keep saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories. To cut down on saturated fats, drink skim instead of whole milk, buy very lean meats, trim any visible fat, and limit portion sizes.Most important, move away from meat as the focal point of your diet. Concentrate on plant foods; their fat is mostly unsaturated, except for coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil, which are highly saturated.Here's a clue when you're standing, eyes glazed, in front of the supermarket dairy case: the more liquid a fat is at room temperature, the more unsaturated it is. That's why oils are your best bet, followed by squeeze or tub margarines, rather than stick margarines, butter, or lard.And eliminate trans fat from your diet. Check the trans fat content listed on the ingredient label, and avoid foods that contain it. Also, if "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils are listed, then trans fatty acids are present.Many nutritionists, however, believe it truly doesn't matter whether "polys" or "monos" predominate in your diet. What's important is keeping total fat to less than 35 percent of total calories and saturated and trans fats low. A high intake of fat (greater than 35 percent of calories) is likely to increase saturated and trans fats in your diet and makes it harder to avoid excess calories. For the fat that you do use, it may be best to choose olive oil or canola oil, both of which are high in monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. There may be one bright spot in the relationship between fat and heart disease: omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids may sound like something out of Star Trek, but they're really just a certain kind of polyunsaturated fat found in fish oils.Fish has a reputation as brain food, but its track record is as heart food. Research has pinpointed three ways omega-3s may help prevent heart disease -- by reducing blood pressure, lowering blood triglycerides (another type of fat), and lengthening the time it takes blood to clot. (This last benefit can also be a detriment. Eskimos, who have diets extremely high in omega-3s and have low rates of heart disease, suffer more bleeding-type strokes.)

Omega-3s have also shown great promise in fighting rheumatoid arthritis. Research suggests that fish oils can lessen fatigue and provide modest relief from joint pain. They've also generated excitement by preventing unwanted blood-vessel growth and tumor growth.

Fish oil supplements are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but your diet is a more logical place to start fishing for benefits. Fish certainly fits into a healthy diet. Even fatty fish, those that are highest in omega-3s, have little fat compared to beef, especially in the saturated fat department. Consult your doctor about the benefits and risks of fish oil supplements.

Plant foods that contain alpha-linolenic acid are considered sources of omega-3 fatty acids because the body can convert them into that form. Examples of these foods are dry beans, canola oil, flax seed, seaweed, tofu, walnuts, and wheat germ.

Don't Overlook Stroke

The same cholesterol that clogs up coronary arteries can also clog up the arteries to your brain. The result, just as devastating, is a stroke instead of a heart attack. The fact that strokes add up to be the third leading cause of death doesn't tell the whole story; they're also the leading cause of serious disabilities.

Blood pressure is an important risk factor for strokes, but so is a high blood cholesterol level. Research points to a component of LDL cholesterol called lipoprotein(a), which can increase your risk of stroke, as well as a heart attack.

The Cancer Connection

The nation's number two killer -- cancer -- also has ties to diets high in fat. Diets high in fat and calories lead to overweight and obesity, which increase the risk for certain cancers.  The link is strongest for colon cancer, breast cancer (in postmenopausal women), and cancers of the endometrium (uterine lining), pancreas, esophagus, gallbladder, and kidney.

The type of fat may make a difference in cancer susceptibility. Some research fingers saturated fat, but a sizable number of papers cite polyunsaturated fat as a culprit. This certainly makes a diet that emphasizes monounsaturated fats seem all the more friendly, but it also argues for an all-around low-fat diet.

It's also possible that the increased risk is the result of the combination of eating high-fat, high-calorie foods and not enough fruits and vegetables. Or maybe having too much body fat adds kindling to the fire of other carcinogens -- like tobacco.

Obesity Concerns

Fat contains more than twice the calories that carbohydrate or protein does, so it can quickly add to your total calorie intake. What's more, it seems that your body would rather convert dietary fat directly into body fat than burn it for energy, meaning that you might as well apply it directly to your hips or spare tire. Over time, eating too much fat leads directly to obesity.

However, with all this talk of which kind of fat is worse for your health, it's important to remember that every one of the different kinds -- saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated -- packs a whopping nine calories per gram.

Gallbladder Problems

Fat also has a weak connection to gallbladder disease, but probably not what you think it is. People who are overweight are at increased risk for gallstones. Women who are overweight are particularly affected.

Yet, the fat content of the diet doesn't seem to be the smoking gun in this case, even though the gallbladder's function is to release bile to help digest the fat you eat. The culprit is simply eating too much, which fat is a party to. However, a diet too low in fat is not good either, because it can cause the gallbladder to stagnate, and the inactivity may allow stones to form.

So the old admonition to follow a low-fat diet to avoid overstimulating the gallbladder is no longer sound advice. If greasy foods bother you, then avoid the fried route. Otherwise, the best advice is to lose weight and eat more fiber, a measure that helps for no obvious reason.

While carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the major nutritional elements that most people consider, the proper intake of vitamins and minerals is just as important. On the next page, we will describe the various types of vitamins and minerals and tell you how much you should have.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. 

Breaking Down Vitamins and Minerals

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Vitamin C is one of the few vitamins that most  people know and know where to obtain it.

Some have letters for names. Some have tongue-twisting chemical names. No matter where you encounter vitamins and minerals -- in a drugstore, in a bottle, listed on the back of your cereal box -- you know you need them. But how much and which ones?

Because there are so many, vitamins and minerals can be very confusing topics. However, just because they are confusing, doesn't mean you can ignore them. Vitamins and minerals are crucial to normal body functions and some of them may have a role in preventing our most deadly diseases such as cancer and heart disease, among other not-so-deadly ones.

Getting enough vitamins and minerals for normal metabolism used to be our primary concern, but we now know that certain vitamins and minerals may be beneficial in even greater quantities. Certain others can be deadly in greater quantities. The real trick is knowing which ones you need more of and which ones you should slow down on.

More, Please

If you're consuming "suboptimal" amounts of a nutrient, it's not good. You're not deficient -- that is, you won't show disease symptoms -- but you're taking in less than is thought to be the best for good health. The consequences of this aren't always clear, but the impact of less-than-desirable levels may accumulate over time, possibly leading to chronic health problems.

Nutrients are sexist. It's a fact. Men and women require most nutrients in similar amounts -- men slightly more of some. Yet it's much easier for men to meet their needs, because they need and get more calories, on average, than women. And that means they get more nutrients, too. Women who are dieting have an even tougher time meeting nutrient needs, unless they take a supplement.

The following vitamins and minerals are ones that you may not be getting in adequate amounts. There are dietary solutions for most, but some nutrients are difficult to get in the average diet and may require supplementation.

Vitamin A. Do you eat your four or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day? If not, you're not alone. Surveys show that less than half of adult women meet the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for vitamin A, probably because they don't eat enough fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene -- a precursor of vitamin A. Suboptimal intake could weaken your immune system.

Riboflavin. You don't drink milk either? Meet your counterparts: Only one half of adult women meet the DRI for this vitamin. If you're included in this poor showing, it may be because you're not including enough dairy products and whole or enriched grains in your daily diet.

Vitamin B6. Again, it's women who are at greatest risk for not meeting their needs for this vitamin. The average intake is just over 50 percent of the DRI. Women on birth control pills seem to need more than average. Some men and seniors of both sexes may fall short, too. If you fit into any of these groups, your all-important immune system may suffer for it. In studies, supplements of vitamin B6 have been shown to boost immune function in seniors.

Vitamin B6 may do much more than simply keep your immune system up and running. Research has identified that vitamin B6 protects the body from a build-up of homocysteine in the blood. High homocysteine levels have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Folate (folic acid). This is a red-flag nutrient if you're a woman taking birth control pills. Smokers and alcoholics may be low, too. All women trying to conceive should take a supplement, since a low intake can cause birth defects such as spina bifida in the first few weeks after conception. Even women not considering pregnancy might benefit from the protection folic acid seems to afford against a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

Men aren't left out in the cold either. Like vitamin B6, folate is necessary to break down homocysteine, an amino acid associated with increased risk of heart disease. Research on 15,000 physicians has revealed that those with diets suboptimal in folate and vitamin B6 were three times more likely to suffer heart attacks than those whose diets were adequate in the two nutrients.

Vitamin C. Such an easy-to-get nutrient shouldn't be in this category, but certain groups of people don't get enough, particularly those who skimp on vegetables and fruits. Smokers typically have low blood levels of vitamin C, because their needs are twice those of nonsmokers.

Calcium. The trend toward drinking soft drinks instead of milk with meals is having an effect. Less than a quarter of adult women and less than half of young children meet the DRI for calcium, which is 800 milligrams for children ages 4 to 8; 1,300 milligrams for children ages 9 to 18; 1,000 milligrams for adults ages 19 to 50; and 1,200 milligrams for adults over 50 years of age. Your doctor may advise you to get even more calcium each day. To get recommended levels, you may need to take calcium supplements.

Copper. No one is yet certain about the cost of ignoring this seldom-noticed mineral. Some studies have linked low copper levels to arthritis, high blood sugar, heart disease, and high cholesterol. If you're typical, you are not getting even close to the DRI for copper. And if you take megadoses of vitamin C (1,500 milligrams or more per day) you could be disrupting copper absorption and contributing to a copper insufficiency.

Chromium. Talk about a deficit. A government researcher who studied chromium in the diet estimated that 90 percent of Americans get less than the minimum daily recommendation for chromium. The value of chromium is in its blood sugar regulation. The rise in blood sugar that comes with aging may be a result of years of inadequate chromium in the diet, as chromium is needed for insulin to work.

Your first step toward adequate chromium nutrition is to cut down on the sugar content of your diet, which can rob the body of chromium.

Iron. Remember those old Geritol ads? Well, forget them. They gave a generation the wrong impression that older women needed more iron. It's just the opposite. Women in their child-bearing years who are menstruating need iron.

Why? Because they lose iron in menstrual bloodflow, which puts them at risk for anemia. Less than one-fifth of menstruating women meet the DRI for iron. Children are also susceptible, especially toddlers, preschoolers, and adolescents who are growing rapidly and whose diets are typically lacking in iron. Athletes and vegans (strict vegetarians) should also be on the lookout.

Fatigue doesn't always signal anemia, and anemia isn't always due to an iron deficiency, so any suspicion should be checked out by your doctor, who can run the appropriate tests. To boost iron absorption, drink orange juice (or get vitamin C from another food source); vitamin C helps your body absorb iron from plant foods. Avoid drinking coffee or tea at mealtimes and never at the same time you take a supplement that contains iron.

Magnesium. Three out of four people do not meet the DRI for magnesium. This has implications for many growth and repair jobs in the body, but it can also contribute to osteoporosis. Calcium gives bones their strength; magnesium makes them elastic -- just as important for resisting breakage.

Zinc. If you're not a big meat eater you might be short on zinc, unless you happen to like oysters. Just six medium Eastern oysters will give you five to six times the DRI. Otherwise, you probably get only about half what's recommended.

You need zinc for hundreds of enzymes that trigger important reactions in the body. The lower levels of zinc that come with age may be one reason for an increase in infections in older people. Seniors given zinc supplements show improved immune response.

However, caution is in order here. Too much zinc can also impair the immune system as well as cause a copper deficiency and lower blood levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol. If you take a multivitamin-mineral supplement, be sure it contains 15 to 30 milligrams of zinc. Avoid supplements with a megadose of zinc.

Vitamins Not To Overdo

Some vitamins can actually be harmful is you ingest too much. Here's a list of what to look out for:

Vitamin A. Don't make the mistake of substituting preformed vitamin A (called retinol) for beta-carotene in the hopes of preventing disease. Vitamin A is toxic in large amounts, over 50,000 international units (20,000 international units in children). Though toxicity usually results from oversupplementation, liver contains extremely high levels of vitamin A; eating too much too often is not a good idea.

Although vitamin A is vital to eyesight and immune function, too much vitamin A also causes vision problems and a weakened immune system that invites infection. If a pregnant woman takes too much, it can cause birth defects in the fetus.

This is not a nutrient to fool around with. Excess vitamin A can cause blurred vision, headaches, nausea, achy bones, or irritability. Particular caution for seniors: As you age, your liver is less able to remove vitamin A from the bloodstream, making toxicity a bigger worry. Supplements with preformed vitamin A should not contain more than the DRI. If you feel that you need a vitamin A supplement, it's best to take beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body.

Vitamin D. This is another nutrient that demands respect. Toxic levels are only five times the DRI. Children are particularly susceptible to a toxic reaction to vitamin D, which causes blood calcium levels to soar -- a dangerous condition.

Seniors often don't get enough vitamin D. They are not in the sun a lot, and when they are outside, their skin requires more time to convert vitamin D to its active form. Often, they don't drink much milk either. If this describes you, ask your doctor about taking a combination calcium-vitamin D supplement, or a multivitamin-mineral supplement. Just be sure you take only one of these options and that the amounts don't exceed 100 percent of the DRI.

Niacin. As its nicotinic acid alter ego, this B vitamin becomes powerful enough to lower high cholesterol levels. To do so, it must be prescribed in high doses (more than 1,000 milligrams), which can cause nicotinic acid flush -- an immediate redness and swelling of the face and neck, often accompanied by itching, headache, and nausea. This side effect lessens with use, but taking this supplement should be monitored by your doctor. Heartbeat abnormalities are more serious. People with diabetes are advised to stay away from high doses of nicotinic acid because it can raise blood sugar to dangerous levels.

Vitamin B6. This nutrient was once thought to be immune to toxicity. It took until the 1980s, when it became popular to take vitamin B6 supplements in ever larger amounts, to discover the upper limit of its safety. Here's what caused it to finally lose its cachet: nerve damage from doses as low as 500 milligrams a day, more commonly from amounts over 2,000 milligrams. Fortunately, the damage is reversible if the supplements are stopped at the first sign of tingly or numb extremities or trouble walking.

Iron. Like vitamin A, this Jekyll-and-Hyde nutrient is on both lists. Many people don't get enough, but too much can be dangerous, too. You hear a lot more about having iron-poor blood than you do about iron overload (or hemochromatosis), which can develop in people who inherit a gene that causes the body to absorb too much iron. This potentially fatal condition threatens a surprisingly large number of people -- 1 in every 250 -- mostly men and postmenopausal women, because their iron needs are lowest. They are best off avoiding supplements with iron.

Iron supplements also threaten children; they are the leading cause of accidental pediatric poisoning. It takes only five tablets of high-potency iron to kill a child under age six. Childproof caps are a must, though recent cases have been caused by caps left off or not tightened. Don't overlook grandparents' homes, where caution may be less vigilant and accidents more likely.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

If you haven't heard of antioxidants by now, you're just not paying attention. They're the hot topic in disease prevention. Antioxidants aren't new, however. They've been around all the time; we just weren't smart enough to appreciate them. Now we know they're like secret service nutrients that fight against a form of biological damage called oxidation -- a chemical reaction that occurs when oxygen latches onto substances that have left themselves exposed to attack.

With oxidation come the inevitable party crashers -- free radicals -- that do harm to whatever cells are in their way. This destruction escalates into chain reactions that eventually can even alter the genetic makeup of cells. Scientists now think free radicals are formed by pollution, cigarette smoke, even sunlight. It's been said that we have never needed antioxidant protection more than we do now.

In addition to their regular duty, several nutrients act as antioxidants. The best-known of these are vitamins C and E and beta-carotene (though beta-carotene's primary benefits may not stem from its antioxidant role). In addition, selenium and copper are essential components of enzymes needed for antioxidants. Other nutrients now being credited with antioxidant properties include riboflavin, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and another carotenoid called lycopene.

Research has shown that antioxidants are beneficial to health. They protect against chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, and they also boost immune function and combat aging, which may simply be the body's response to repeated assaults by free radicals.

But there is still disagreement over just how important antioxidant supplements are. It is recommended to get antioxidant nutrients from foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C appears to be a jack-of-all-trades, with links to lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and cataracts. Beta-carotene, on the other hand, has been riding a roller-coaster of evidence as to whether it protects against certain cancers and heart disease.

Despite mostly strong research results, particularly with lung cancer, some are skeptical of beta-carotene's role because most of the evidence came out of studies with fruits and vegetables, not simply beta-carotene supplements. It has become increasingly clear that other substances in fruits and vegetables may be just as important.

If you're not getting your necessary vitamins and minerals you might consider supplements, which will be discussed in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider

The Basics of Supplements

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Supplements are meant to augment good nutrition -- not replace it.

Nutritionists like to insist on "food first," but that isn't necessarily the end of the story. Sometimes supplements -- nutrients in pill or liquid form -- are needed to round out a balanced diet. With smart supplementation, you may be able to make a good diet better or at least provide a measure of insurance against a deficit. But getting nutrients from food is always the best way to balance eating.

Supplements, by definition, are there to supplement a diet, not substitute for it. Pills can't provide you with the disease-fighting phytochemicals that are in plant foods. Moreover, they certainly can't make a high-calorie, low-fiber diet a healthy one. Downing single nutrients in large amounts can be risky because of the interactions among nutrients. That's why a multivitamin-mineral supplement may be best for most people, with exceptions for certain key nutrients.

Who might benefit from supplements? You'll notice that unless they fall into one of the special categories listed, men as a group are noticeably absent from this roster. However, men who do not eat a balanced diet and are worried about their nutritional status certainly might also benefit from a multivitamin-mineral supplement. They're best off seeking out a supplement especially formulated for men, as it won't contain iron.

  • Breast-fed infants need a source of iron when they reach four to six months of age. Breast milk provides very little iron, and by this time, their body stores are depleted. Fortified cereal or formula fills the bill. For bottle-fed babies, a formula with supplemental iron is recommended. A fluoride supplement is also recommended, to prevent dental decay, if there is an insufficient amount in the local water supply.
  • Children usually get what they need from the foods they eat. If their eating habits tend toward long jags or if they are vegetarians, a multivitamin-mineral supplement can provide insurance.
  • Pregnant women and women planning to conceive are good candidates for a multivitamin-mineral supplement. It's wise to be sure nutrient levels are optimal before becoming pregnant. This is particularly important in the case of folate, as low levels are linked to birth defects that occur in the first few weeks after conception -- often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. It is important that women of child-bearing age get 400 micrograms of folate a day, either from a multivitamin or from a folic acid supplement.  Pregnant women should get 600 micrograms of folate and also have an increased need for water, the vitamins B6, C, and D and the minerals calcium, copper, iron, and zinc.
  • Breast-feeding women are also candidates. Although their increased nutrient requirements can largely be met by the extra food needed to meet their increased calorie needs, a supplement can help insure against depletion of the vitamins B6, C, and D, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Calcium needs may dictate a separate supplement.
  • Vegans and children who are vegetarians may not get all the nutrients their bodies need. Most vegetarians are no more likely to need a supplement than anyone else, but the exceptions may be growing children and adult vegans (who also shun dairy and eggs in addition to meat, fish, and poultry). They may need other sources of vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc.
  • Seniors over 50 need more of some nutrients and less of others, so they shouldn't pop pills indiscriminately. They need more folate and vitamins B6, B12, and D, though the body may have its own mechanisms for filling the B12 and folate gaps.  Postmenopausal women almost certainly need a calcium supplement. The DRI for women in this group is 1,200 milligrams per day.

Guidelines For Savvy SupplementingOnce you've decided whether or not you want to supplement, you have to choose from the rows upon rows of vitamins, minerals, and scads of other more questionable substances thrown in-between. It can be daunting, but don't be swayed by clever advertising or scare tactics.Strict rules govern what's allowed on supplement labels, but not what's printed in promotional literature displayed nearby. Wild claims made in places other than the label are suspect. Here are some helpful tips to guide you through the maze of supplements:

  • Check the supplement for which nutrients are present. Key nutrients to look for include vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, and zinc. Consider it a plus if the supplement contains some of the less popular, but no less important, minerals like boron, chromium, copper, and manganese.
  • Choose a supplement with close to 100 percent of the DRI for most nutrients listed. Up to 250 percent for water-soluble vitamins (C and the B complex) is OK. Avoid those that contain unbalanced amounts of key nutrients, since many of them work together.
  • Don't fall victim to tunnel vision -- looking to single supplements for each individual nutrient. A multivitamin-mineral supplement embraces more nutrients than you could swallow with single supplements, and you're less likely to have an imbalance of nutrients that creates the opportunity for large doses of one nutrient to interfere with the absorption of another nutrient.
  • Don't look to a multivitamin-mineral supplement to provide you with any significant calcium or magnesium. If much of either is added, it simply makes too large a pill to swallow. Instead, calcium is one case when a single supplement makes sense. Choose calcium alone, or a calcium-vitamin D combo (if you aren't also taking a multivitamin with vitamin D). Look to food sources such as tuna and wheat germ to boost your magnesium intake.
  • Try to choose a calcium supplement with smaller doses (500 or 600 milligrams) that you can take two or three times during the day; spreading out the doses improves absorption and lessens the likelihood of constipation.
  • Don't choose a calcium supplement made of bone meal or dolomite. Though some tests show them to be safe, others reveal the presence of lead and other toxic metals. Choose calcium carbonate or calcium citrate supplements over calcium gluconate ones. There is more available calcium in them.
  • Look for a multivitamin-mineral supplement without iron if you're a man or a postmenopausal woman. You probably do not need the extra iron, and there is a small chance it could be harmful if you've inherited the gene for iron-overload disease.
  • Look for a multivitamin-mineral supplement with beta-carotene as its vitamin A source; it's safer than vitamin A as retinol. Be aware, however, that supplements that boast "with beta-carotene" often lump it together with vitamin A on the label, making it impossible to tell how much beta-carotene you're actually getting.
  • Check the supplement's expiration date. Vitamins and minerals can deteriorate over time, losing their effectiveness. Vitamin A is notorious for this. Deterioration happens sooner if you keep them in the humidity of the bathroom. Find a drier place.
  • Don't waste money on supplements that contain numerous unrecognized nutrients, such as lecithin, pangamic acid (sometimes misrepresented as "vitamin B15"), choline, orotic acid, rutin, and other made-up vitamins ("vitamin B17" or "vitamin U"). Some of these are required by other animals but not humans, some are made in the body, and some are simply nonessential nontoxic substances. They aren't harmful, but too many of them can add unnecessary bulk, making a supplement harder to swallow.
  • Don't pay extra for inconsequential attributes, such as "natural," "chelated," or "time-release." Vitamins E and C may be more potent in their natural forms, but the difference is not significant. Some, like folic acid, are actually better absorbed in their synthetic form. Time-release is primarily a gimmick. In the case of calcium, time your own release by spacing out your doses. As for niacin, the time-release form of nicotinic acid is dangerous, as it can be toxic to the liver. Even claims of "no sugar or starch" are meaningless; starch in a supplement can actually improve nutrient absorption.
  • Don't assume a brand name and higher price are any indication of quality. Although some generic and no-name brands may not dissolve as well as name brands, generally what you see on the label is what you get. Some private-label brands are identical to name brands but are less than half the price.
  • Check with your doctor before taking antioxidant supplements.
  • Don't use supplements as an excuse to eat a poor diet. Don't let yourself develop a false sense of security that you're "covered."

Whole Foods And PhytochemicalsJust when we thought we knew it all, along come phytochemicals to prove that we don't. Our parents and grandparents witnessed vitamin discoveries in the first half of this century. The next generation came of age when more and more minerals were being recognized for their importance.Now, our children and grandchildren will explore the myriad of mysterious phytochemicals in foods. The word phytochemicals refers to protective compounds found in plants. They are neither vitamins nor minerals, for they are not essential to life, but they may hold the key to optimal health. Genistein in soy foods, lycopene in tomatoes and watermelon, polyphenols in tea, psoralens in celery, sulforaphane in broccoli, allylic sulfides in garlic, and ellagic acid in strawberries -- these are just a few of the exciting discoveries of the past decades.Scientists continue trying to identify the role of these and other phytochemicals and find out just what they do. The task is daunting. In an orange alone, it's been estimated there are 150 phytochemicals that provide various benefits, such as cancer prevention, cholesterol-lowering properties, and heart disease protection. Some researchers have futuristic notions of isolating some of these chemicals and then concentrating them into a single super-duper protective cocktail. However, it's premature to be so optimistic.To benefit from phytochemicals, you need only to start eating more fruits and vegetables. You've probably heard the call to eat at least four servings per day. That's just the beginning. The real goal, say experts, is to eat five to nine servings of different-colored fruits and vegetables a day.

Until now, researchers have focused on the beta-carotene and fiber in fruits and vegetables as the reason for their protective effect, but maybe that's not all there is to it. Maybe there's something else they have in common. Enter phytochemicals.

A lot of the same foods rich in beta-carotene are rich in other carotenoids that appear to have anticancer effects as well. Lycopene is one of them. Studies suggest that people who eat a lot of tomatoes and other sources of lycopene may have less risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and prostate.  

Eating more fruits and vegetables helps you reap the benefits from all the phytochemicals -- known and unknown.

Now that you know what kind of foods and components your body needs, it's time to learn how to find them. In the next section, you will learn how to read a food nutrition label.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Reading Food Labels

©2006 Publications International An example of a nutrition label.

Healthy eating guidelines, which are supposed to help us, can be a little daunting when it comes right down to deciding what to cook for dinner tonight and what to buy at the supermarket. What ingredients you be looking for? How much is a good amount? Even selecting food -- let along preparing and eating it -- can be confusing.

But selecting food is important. Planning smart menus and shopping wisely are crucial links in the good nutrition chain. Standardized food labels can provide some guidance, as can a few calorie-cutting menu ideas and cooking techniques. But how do you know what to look for?

Food Labeling 101

Don't you hate it? You're all set to enjoy creamy, rich chocolate fudge ice cream, and there it is, staring you in the face -- the food label that tells you it has 260 calories a serving and one serving is half a cup.

But you had a cup, at least, which means you just downed 520 calories or more. Even when you have no desire to know, those "Nutrition Facts" can't be ignored. Most nutritionists think that means we've come a long way, and indeed, we have. Most of us, when we aren't splurging on ice cream, are grateful for whatever information we can get about what we eat, because we really do want to eat healthy foods.

Mandatory food labels made their debut in May 1994. Before that time, the emphasis was on vitamin content, reflecting the concern with nutrient deficiencies in the first half of the century. Now, however, we're more worried about diseases of excess, in particular heart disease and cancer. So, today's food labels reveal information about calorie and fat content, in addition to vitamins.

Labels now use the Daily Value (DV) as the standard recommended intake for key nutrients at two calorie levels: 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day. The percentage of the Daily Value (%DV) listed on the label for each nutrient shows a food's relative contribution of nutrients. Be sure to keep in mind, though, that if you consume less than 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day, your maximum daily amounts for those nutrients will be lower.

And if you consume more calories per day, as do some men and athletes, then your maximum daily amounts will be higher. In most cases (for example, vitamins, minerals, and fiber) the higher the %DV, the better. However, for fat, cholesterol, and sodium, you want a low %DV. The %DV for fat on a label refers to how much of your daily total of fat this one food contributes. A %DV of 25 means that this particular food provides one-quarter of your fat allowance for a whole day. That's a lot of fat for one food.

You can also just check out the grams of fat. It's listed in regular type right next to the boldface words Total Fat -- easy to miss unless you look for it. It tells you all you really need to know. If the label lists saturated or trans fat, you may want to avoid the food. If you want, you can also check out the number of calories from fat after Calories from Fat (on smaller packages, it may be listed as Fat Calories).

If all this is too confusing, don't worry. You don't even need to understand it, if all you want to do is compare foods. Just compare numbers, but be careful what you're comparing. Although serving sizes are supposedly standardized, the government's idea of a serving size may not be yours.

Often, it may be less. That's why you need to figure the number of calories and nutrients for the amount you actually eat. Be especially careful of diet or "light" foods -- their serving size is often twice what the regular version of the food is. For example, a serving size of regular bread is considered one slice, but light bread must use a serving size of two slices, even though you wouldn't necessarily eat any more of the light bread than regular bread.

Health Claims Become Legit

It was novel -- and even shocking to some -- when Kellogg first aired its All-Bran ads that linked a high-fiber diet with less risk of "certain types of cancer." It was groundbreaking, and not technically legal at the time, because it made a health claim for a food. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tolerated it.  More claims followed, for better or worse.

Now, there are guidelines that allow for specific health claims linking diet and disease to appear on food labels. The following pairings of nutrients with health claims are examples of those allowed on food labels:

Dietary saturated fat and cholesterol with increased risk of heart disease

  • Sodium with increased risk of high blood pressure
  • Fruits and vegetables with reduced risk of cancer
  • The fiber in fruits, vegetables, and grains with reduced risk of cancer
  • The soluble fiber in fruits, vegetables, barley, and other grains with reduced risk of heart disease
  • Calcium with reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Plant sterol or plant stanol esters with reduced risk of heart disease
  • Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol, with reduced risk of dental caries

If the necessary information isn't there, or you don't feel like being a sleuth, check the ingredient label. If "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" fats are listed, then the product contains trans fatty acids, and the closer it is to the beginning of the list, the more there is in the food.Full Food DisclosureThere is good news for food-allergy sufferers. Companies now have to be more specific in their ingredient lists, making life easier for people who are allergic to certain ingredients and must ferret out foods containing them. For example, companies can no longer list protein hydrolysates as "flavorings." They must be listed by name, such as hydrolyzed wheat gluten or hydrolyzed casein. Color additives must also be listed by name, such as yellow dye #5 (tartrazine).Companies also must now 'fess up to the percentage of juice in their juice products. However, it's easy to be fooled if you don't check the ingredient list and nutrition label. A juice can be labeled as 100 percent juice but contain mostly "filler" juices -- white grape juice, apple juice, or pear juice -- which provide little nutrition and, in the case of apple juice, can even trigger diarrhea. Check the ingredient list to know what you're getting. Then check the nutrition facts to see what nutrients, if any, are present.One of the items you'll want to look for on a nutrition label is fat content. As we mentioned earlier, too much fat in your diet can lead to heart disease. In the next section, you will learn how to limit fat in your diet.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Ways to Restrict Fat

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Remember, every time you add more oil to  a recipe you increase the amount of fat.

Cutting back on fat, especially saturated and trans fat, is one of the most important changes you can make in your diet if you want to prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. But how?

Start slowly. Don't try to cut back all at once; it won't work. A good example is milk. Don't try to switch from whole milk to skim milk in one fell swoop. Instead, switch to two percent milk first and stay with it until you get used to it, even if it takes months. Then switch to one percent milk and allow yourself even more time to get used to it. Finally, make the switch to skim milk. You may notice the difference, but you won't mind it, because you've allowed yourself to get used to a low-fat taste. This is a switch worth making, especially if you drink a lot of milk.

Count All Grams

You hear a lot about keeping your fat intake between 20 and 35 percent of calories, but does that mean every food you eat has to be less than 35 percent fat? Not at all. It means that your fat intake, as averaged out over three days -- or even a week -- should be 20 to 35 percent of your total calories. Some days can be over, if other days are under. Of course, some meals will be over, and others under. It makes sense, then, that some foods will be way over, because other foods are practically fat free.

The easiest way to keep track of all this is to count the number of fat grams you eat. You don't need to do it forever, just long enough so you have an idea of the fat content of foods and when you're close to going overboard. If you consistently eat about the same number of calories, you just need to find out your fat gram limit once. Then, no more calculations, just simple counting.

Remember, however, that this number is the maximum grams of fat allowed per day, on average, if your goal is 30 percent of calories from fat. Ideally, you might want to aim for even less.

Tips For Trimming Fat

To reduce the number of fat grams -- especially from saturated and trans fats -- that you eat, try some of the following hints.

  • Trim all meats of visible fat.
  • Limit a serving size of meat -- including poultry and fish -- to 3 to 4 ounces.
  • Buy lean cuts: those with round or loin in the name (sirloin, tenderloin, top round).
  • Choose select or choice grade cuts, not prime, and save one-third to one-half the fat.
  • Include more fish and poultry (without skin) in place of meat.
  • Cut back on added fats.
  • Choose polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fats.
  • Switch to a diet margarine and reduced-fat or fat-free mayonnaise and salad dressings to truly save fat grams.
  • Cook in nonstick pots and pans, using no added fat. Remember, each tablespoon of butter or margarine you throw in the pan adds about 12 grams of fat, and each tablespoon of oil adds 14 grams of fat. You can also use vegetable sprays such as Pam, or try sautéing with broth, soup stock, or juice.
  • Switch to low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Experiment with reduced-fat cheeses; some brands are better than others. Substitute low-fat yogurt for sour cream, or try a fat-free sour cream.
  • Read the labels on crackers and other snacks. Pass on those with trans fats or that list "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils in the ingredient list. If you're unsure of the fat in breads, crackers, and muffins, use the napkin test: Let the product sit on a napkin or paper towel for an hour or so; if it leaves a grease stain, there's too much fat in it.
  • Snack smart. Munch on pretzels instead of potato chips. Don't dip. Buy low-fat tortilla chips, and dip in salsa instead.
  • Have your salad at the end of your meal. It may take away your desire for rich desserts. If not, try fruit for a satisfyingly sweet dessert.
  • At restaurants -- especially fast-food joints -- beware breaded and fried items. Ask for sauces to be served on the side or not at all.
  • Beware the fat traps at salad bars. Steer clear of cold salads such as potato, macaroni, tuna, and coleslaw; they're usually loaded with mayonnaise.
  • Reducing fat is essential in a healthy diet. Some people are given strict instructions from their doctor to reduce fat or other elements from their diet. In our next section, we'll discuss special needs diets and how to follow and adapt to new dietary restrictions.

Of course, some dietary advice will not apply to everyone. In the next section, we will take a look at some special needs diets and how dietary concerns can change.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

The Basics Of Special Needs Diets

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Tofu is an excellent substitute for meat that  is both low in fat and high in protein.

Special needs diets are often suggested to treat various health problems. If your doctor has placed you on a special diet, don't feel singled out. If you are following a diet prescribed for heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, in particular, you may need to pay more attention to planning your meals, but the advice for you is basically the same advice we all would be wise to follow.

We can't, of course, provide specific diet plans here, as they need to be individualized for particular circumstances. If you have special needs, seek out a registered dietitian (R.D.) to help you plan your meals; your doctor can help you find one. Here is some information to get you started, though.

Cholesterol-Lowering Diet

People refer to this diet as a "low-cholesterol diet," but that's a misnomer. Although a diet to combat heart disease usually limits dietary cholesterol, that's not the focus. The aim is to lower levels of blood cholesterol. A cholesterol-lowering diet starts by limiting calories -- if you need to lose weight -- and emphasizes limiting saturated fat (to 8 to 10 percent of total calories). It may also limit dietary cholesterol to less than 300 or even 200 milligrams per day.

Saturated fats and trans fats are anathema to those with heart disease, because they have a direct effect on blood cholesterol -- even more of an effect than the cholesterol you eat. Saturated fats come mainly from animal foods such as meat, poultry, and dairy products. Important exceptions include the so-called tropical oils -- coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil -- which are vegetable oils but loaded with saturated fat. Check food labels for trans fat.

Besides substitutions, though, there are other heart-saving hints. Eat more fiber, particularly soluble fiber (found in oat bran, legumes, and fruits). And don't overlook garlic. Research suggests it can raise blood levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and lower blood levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. It may also thin the blood so that it's less likely to clot and build up as plaque on your artery walls. Here are other suggestions:

Meat:

  • Choose lean cuts of red meats -- loin, round, tenderloin. Avoid organ meats.
  • Trim all visible fat before cooking.
  • Broil, boil, bake, or roast. Don't fry.
  • Choose poultry. Opt for light over dark meat. Remove the skin.
  • Choose low-fat processed meats (check label for grams of fat).

Dairy:

  • Drink skim, 1/2 percent, or one percent milk or low-fat buttermilk.
  • Choose nonfat or low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese.
  • Limit hard and processed cheeses to part-skim or reduced-fat varieties.        

Breads:

  • Avoid croissants and fat-laden muffins.
  • Buy reduced-fat or low-fat crackers.
  • Limit commercial baked goods and mixes. Bake your own with preferred ingredients.

Soups:

  • Make cream soups with skim, 1/2 percent, or one percent milk.
  • Remove any fat that rises to the surface after cooling.

Vegetables:

  • Eat them without added butter, stick margarine, or cheese sauces.

Desserts:

  • Choose ice milk, low-fat ice cream, sherbet, fruit ice, Popsicles, or sorbet over regular or premium ice cream. Limit serving sizes.
  • Choose angel food cake, ginger snaps, graham crackers, Fig Newtons, animal crackers, or other low-fat cookies. Avoid commercial pastries. Home-baked cakes made with vegetable oil (or applesauce or Nutella) and egg whites instead of whole eggs are also lower in fat and saturated fat.
  • Use cocoa powder in baking instead of milk chocolate.

Fats/Oils:

  • Choose a diet tub margarine over butter or stick margarine (liquid vegetable oil should be listed first in the ingredients).
  • Use vegetable oil (olive or canola preferred) in baked goods and homemade salad dressings.
  • Purchase fat-free or reduced-fat salad dressings.

Other foods can remain the same. For example, most whole-grain breads, cereal, fruit, and juices have no significant restrictions.Low-Sodium DietThis is a diet usually prescribed for people with high blood pressure. Not everyone is sensitive to salt or sodium, but it's considered prudent for everyone with high blood pressure to watch his or her sodium intake.

Though cutting back on salt can help, weight loss is actually the number one dietary step to take to lower blood pressure. Other steps include eating more fruits and vegetables to increase your potassium and fiber intake. Getting enough calcium may also be important.The American Heart Association recommends a daily sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams. This is the amount in about 1 teaspoon of salt and includes table salt, sodium found naturally in foods, and sodium added to foods and seasonings. Here's how to meet that goal:

  • Take the saltshaker off the table.
  • Check labels for salt and sodium in any form.
  • Whenever you can, cook from scratch; limit your use of mixes, which are usually loaded with sodium. Remember, the more packaged and processed a food is, the more likely it is to have sodium added. Plain oats that you cook yourself, for example, have no salt (and you shouldn't add salt when cooking), but instant oatmeal is full of it.
  • Strictly limit pickled, cured, or smoked foods. Especially high in sodium are luncheon meats, salami, and hot dogs.
  • Soups are notoriously high in sodium. Look for reduced-sodium varieties; they taste much better than sodium-free. Better yet, for low-sodium and economical meals to last a while, make your own soups in large quantities and freeze them in individual portions.
  • Avoid packaged vegetables in sauce. Squirt on lemon juice for flavor.
  • One of the biggest hidden sources of sodium is condiments. Ketchup, mayonnaise, and dressings are big culprits. Use them only in moderation. Other infamous salt hoarders include sauerkraut, pickles, soy sauce, bouillon, olives, and tomato juice.
  • Find herbs and spices you like to substitute for the salt flavor you miss. Hot sauce can make you forget salt rather quickly (read the label to make sure it has no added salt). Freshly ground pepper works well, too.

Proper nutrition is simply a matter of staying vigilant. Whether you are at the grocery store or out at a restaurant, it is important to weigh your food options and make the right choice. Now that you understand the basics of nutrition, you will find that making those decisions almost becomes second nature. Not only is it the best thing for your long-term health, but you will also start to feel and see a difference after only a few weeks.ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Elaine Frank, M.Ed., R.D., is vice president of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, a registered dietitian, and an instructor in the Department of Health and Physical Education at Henry Ford Community College.

Jeanette Karwan, R.D., is a registered dietitian and the director for product development at the American Institute for Preventive Medicine.

Susan Male Smith, M.A., R.D., is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant who specializes in consumer health writing. She is assistant editor of the newsletter Environmental Nutrition and writes the "Food News" column in Family Circle magazine. Her writing has also appeared in Redbook, McCall's, American Health, and Women's Health Advisor.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.