Junk Food vs. Healthy Options
Avoiding Healthy Foods is as Bad as Eating Junk Food
What you eat can help you, or kill you. The problem isn't just the bad choices many of us make, but the lack of nutrition from the good choices we avoid.
In a landmark study released by The Lancet in April of 2019, researchers found that a poor diet is responsible for the preventable deaths of 11 million people a year. That's even more than the deaths from smoking tobacco. According to the study, "Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of diet-related deaths (10 million), followed by cancers (913,090) and then type 2 diabetes (338,714).” That's about 22% of all deaths in the year 2017.
Typically we've looked at the problem as something we're actively doing. When we eat foods higher in calories, fat, salt and sugar, they help shorten our lives. Salt raises blood pressure, trans fats clog arteries and sugar increases inflammation while packing on the pounds. But that's only half the story.
What's so incredible about this new study, is that researchers think more than half the problem comes from the nutritious foods we DON'T eat. The lack of healthy antioxidants, vitamins and minerals can be as bad for our health as the damage caused by junk food. It's not enough to avoid the bad stuff, we need to actively seek out good foods.
It's not as difficult as it may seem. Here are five good-for-you foods and ideas on how to prepare them. Click on the links for all the recipes.
Blueberries. Half a cup has only 42 calories, but it's packed with antioxidants that have been linked to a reduction of heart disease and dementia. Fresh or frozen are both healthy options. I like to mix up a bowl of Blueberries and Lemon Cream Sauce for an afternoon snack. When it's cold out, Swedish Blueberry Soup is a wonderful pick-me-up.
Brussels sprouts. A single cup has only 38 calories, but nearly 200% of your daily value of vitamin K. That's the vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium. It also provides 125% of your daily vitamin C needs. You can make Roasted Shallots and Brussels Sprouts with nothing more than a baking dish, olive oil and sea salt. They're also tasty mixed with grapes and cheese for Brussels Sprouts and Grapes Au Gratin.
Tomatoes. A whole 2.5-inch diameter tomato has only 22 calories but it's packed with the pigment-making nutrient lycopene. It's also got vitamins A, C, K, biotin, folic acid, copper, potassium, beta-carotene and lutein. They're often highly processed into sauces, but they don't need a lot of help. I like Baked Parmesan Tomatoes as an appetizer at parties. I'm also a fan of Tomatoes with Buttermilk Vinaigrette and a side of whole-wheat toast for lunch.
Black beans. A cup of black beans will fill you up with 15 grams of heart-healthy fiber and 15 grams of protein. You can pick up a bag cheaply if you don't mind soaking them in advance. Canned beans are OK, as long as you choose the lower sodium options. Mix them with eggs and some vegan sausage for a Southwestern Breakfast Casserole. For dinner make them into patties and enjoy Black Bean Cakes and Salsa.
Salmon. Four ounces of salmon has 25 grams of muscle-building protein. They've also got some of the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, to lower blood pressure and manage heart disease. I love the savory taste of Horseradish Encrusted Salmon. For a dinner party, I like recipes that put salmon with fresh fruit together for a Sweet & Savory Salmon.
There are dozens more options to consider including cauliflower, raw almonds, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes, lentils and asparagus. You can't count on buying these foods already prepared in a healthy way, you've got to do some cooking on your own. Experiment with one recipe a week, and after a year you'll have figured out what you like or don't like from 52 choices. Your life depends on it.
You can read the full study yourself here: Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017
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