Everything we put in our bodies has the potential to help, or harm, our health and longevity. To ensure you are doing more of the former than the latter, steer clear of these less-than-healthy eats.
Pour out the soda. Seriously. Stop. A can, cup or bottle of your favorite soda (or pop—call it what you will) is simply a refreshing serving of empty calories and excess sugar. In short: These beverages add zero value to your health and longevity. Instead, they can shave years off by promoting excess calorie consumption, which leads to weight gain, linked with a variety of chronic conditions, including heart disease. A 22-year study of over 40,000 people found that for each sugar-sweetened drink consumed a day, the risk of coronary heart disease increased by 19 to 25 percent.
Ease up on the empty carbs. Carbohydrates from refined grains are sugar, plain and simple. That starchy white pasta, rice and bread turn to sugar in your body faster than carbs from more fiber-rich foods. Excess sugar can set off a host of problems, such as amped-up insulin levels and weight gain (and all the health issues associated with that). Not all carbs are bad, of course. Gobble up your complex carbohydrates by way of legumes, vegetables and whole grains, which take longer to digest than the refined variety, guaranteeing sugar is released in a slow, steady stream. Make sure to choose whole grains for at least half of all of your grain servings—and you may reduce your risk of age-related problems, like diabetes and heart disease. In fact, people who averaged 3 to 5 whole-grain servings a day had a 26 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes and a 21 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Avoid the drive-through. Think of fast food this way: a yummy and greasy delivery system for trans and saturated fats (unhealthy fats that cause cholesterol to build up and block arteries), putting you at risk for heart disease—and death. In fact, a study in Singapore found that people who ate fast food two or more times weekly had a 56 percent higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease than their peers who abstained from fast food. If, on a rare occasion, you find yourself in a fast-food restaurant, make smart choices. Nix fried sandwiches (and fried chicken on salads). Bypass the quarter-pound burgers with mayo and cheese. Order the kids’ size of everything and hold the soda.
Swap out some high-fat meats. While it’s totally fine to enjoy a sirloin or burger every once in while, eating too much fatty meat ups your chances of heart disease—and may even shorten your life. The proof: when researchers looked at 26 years of dietary data, they found that women who ate 2 daily servings of red meat had a 30 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who ate a half serving or less daily. When you do opt for red meat, enjoy no more than 3 ounces (the size of a deck of cards), and trim the fat before cooking. For the leanest cuts of beef, look for eye of round, top round, sirloin, top loin, tenderloin, flank or chuck. P.S.: That same study suggests that swapping out one daily serving of red meat for fish, poultry or nuts may significantly lower your risk of heart disease: by 24% for fish; 19% for poultry, 30% for nuts.
Skip processed meat. Sausage, salami, hot dogs—no matter what kind of processed meat you like, it’s smart to cut back. A recent European study found that people in the highest category of processed-meat intake (more than 5.5 ounces/day) had a 7 percent greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent great risk of death from cancer than those who ate the least (less than ¾ ounce per day). Why are processed meats so bad for you? They tend to contain a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as additives, some of which may be precursors to carcinogenic changes in the body. The researchers concluded that if everyone ate less than ¾ ounce of processed meats daily (that’s less than 2 servings each week), more than 3 percent of all premature deaths from heart disease and cancer could be prevented.