Eat Well

Smart Food Choices

The Body Benefits of Smart Food Choices
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By: Stacia Jesner

Published: 8/2/2009

You probably don’t need us to tell you that your food choices affect your weight. Eat too many calories (usually found in high-fat, sugary foods) and you gain weight. But did you know that your thoughtful food choices can also improve your mood, boost your energy level and lower your risk of getting a host of chronic diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers? Avoiding the negatives — too many calories and too much saturated fat and sodium — is one half of the solution. Focusing on the positives — in other words, eating the right foods — is the other, for both short-term and long-term benefits. Here’s a look at how different choices throughout the day will affect your body, both in the minutes and hours following eating, and over the course of your life if that choice becomes a habit. 




Breakfast Bad Choice Smart Choices
  Glazed doughnut (approximately four-inch diameter) High-fiber multigrain cereal (1 cup), nonfat plain yogurt (1/2 cup) and blueberries (1/2 cup)
Calories 299 301
Fat: (Saturated fat) 14.3g (4.1g) 3.6g (0.2g)
Fiber: 1.6g 9.85 g
Short-term effects: Sugary foods such as doughnuts may give you a quick jolt of energy, but they’ll also cause blood sugar and insulin levels to spike. Once that initial burst is over, you’ll crash (and feel lousy) — plus, excess insulin will continue to circulate, leaving you hungry and craving carbohydrates. A low-fat, high-protein and high-fiber breakfast keeps you going through the morning and beyond — those who eat a healthy breakfast are shown to make better food choices all day long.
Long-term effects: Over time, putting your body through sugar and insulin spikes can increase the chance of developing diabetes. Additionally, the saturated fat in this greasy wheel will contribute to plaque buildup in your arteries, leading to hypertension, heart attack and/or stroke. Fried foods often have trans fat as well, which research is showing is even more dangerous to heart health than saturated fat. Diets high in fiber help prevent or reduce constipation; specific types of fiber have been shown to lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Mid-Morning Snack Bad Choice Smart Choices
  Medium-sized blended coffee drink Medium Banana
Calories 310 104
Fat: (Saturated fat) 3g (2g) >1g (0)
Fiber: 0g 3.1g
Short-term effects: This may give you a short-lived caffeine and sugar fix, but in addition to the potential “brain freeze” (caused by rapid cooling and rewarming of blood vessels in the palate), you may be looking for real food shortly afterward. By giving your body a real source of nutrition, you’ll keep yourself from getting famished, which in turn means you’ll think more clearly throughout the morning. In addition, bananas contain vitamin B6, which (among other critical functions) helps the brain produce the mood-balancing chemical serotonin. And because B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, your body can’t store it — you need to get it in your diet daily.
Long-term effects: Coffee drinks are a hidden source of calories — people often don’t realize that what they sip through a straw has as many, or more, calories than a food selection. This can lead to unintentional weight gain. Bananas are a great source of potassium, which helps your cells conduct electrochemical messages more efficiently, and plays a key role in the functioning of your muscular and digestive systems as well.  Plus, it’s a bone builder!

Lunch Bad Choice Smart Choices
  Fast-food Chicken Caeser Wrap Tossed spinach salad (3 cups) with chopped tomatoes (1 cup), grilled chicken (1/2 cup) and walnuts (1 tbsp.) with olive oil (1 tsp.) and lemon juice
Calories 650 284
Fat: (Saturated fat) 35g (7g) 14.1g (1.7g)
Fiber:  3g  7.1g
Short-term effects: This high-fat meal can provide you with fuel, but it takes a long time to digest and can make you sluggish, both physically and mentally. Your brain requires carbohydrates, not fat, to function. And if you think you’re doing well in choosing this over, say, a burger and fries, this wrap packs only two grams less fat than that meal. Featuring many components of the Mediterranean diet — which, in addition to reducing heart disease and diabetes, has been shown to improve cognition levels — this lunch will keep you energized and thinking clearly for your busy afternoon.
Long-term effects: High-calorie meals such as these contribute to weight gain and obesity, which in turn carry a host of problems — diabetes, osteoarthritis and heart disease. The saturated fat, in particular, raises “bad” cholesterol levels, which leads to coronary artery disease. Spinach provides many important nutrients, including lutein, which helps prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.  Tomatoes are a source of lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of prostate, breast, lung and other cancers, and has heart-protective effects. Nuts and olive oil add heart-healthy fats to the mix.

Afternoon Snack Bad Choice Smart Choices
  Bag of sour-cream-and-onion flavored chips (1.5 ounces) Air-popped popcorn (3 cups)
Calories 255 91
Fat: (Saturated fat) 12.3 (5g) 1g (0g)
Fiber:  2.25g  3.3g
Short-term effects: In addition to getting greasy finger marks on the report you’re working on, that bag of chips will cause you to feel sluggish and may affect clarity. Popcorn’s fiber makes it a snack that both fills you up and stays with you, making you more likely to last until supper without a second refueling.
Long-term effects: The high fat, calorie and sodium contents increases your likelihood of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. Popcorn is high in cartenoids, a type of antioxidant that may positively impact eye health.

Dinner Bad Choice Smart Choices
  Chain-restaurant Rotisserie chicken (1/4 white), with side servings of mac 'n' cheese and green beans Broiled salmon (3 ounces), brown rice (1/2 cup) and steamed broccoli (1/2 cup)
Calories 680 403
Fat: (Saturated fat) 26.5g (12g) 12.6g (2.4g)
 Fiber:  4g 6.1g
Short-term effects: A heavy meal like this takes quite a bit of time to digest, and much of the blood may be directed to your digestive system to help it break down. Meanwhile, you’ll feel dull and unmotivated. A meal like this can help take the edge off a rough day: Salmon is rich in health promoting omega 3 fatty acids.
Long-term effects: Off-balance meals like this put your body off-kilter over the long run. No protective nutrients (whatever vitamins the beans had to begin with are lost as they sit out) + damaging agents (saturated fat, sodium and too many calories) = an unwell you. Salmon, with its high omega-3 count, contributes to heart health. Additionally, those omega-3 fatty acids help nerve cells communicate with each other, which is an essential step in maintaining good mental health. Brown rice, in addition to fiber, contains thiamin, niacin, iron and magnesium (all of which are stripped away, along with the outer bran, in white rice). Broccoli is an outright superfood, boasting compounds that have been linked to prevention of certain types of cancer.

Dessert Bad Choice Smart Choices
  Chocolate ice cream (1 cup) Dark (70% cocoa) chocolate (1 ounce)
Calories 280 168
Fat: (Saturated fat) 16g (9g) 12g (7g)
 Fiber:  2g  3g
Short-term effects: When chocolate is combined with milk, the health benefits of cocoa are lost. There goes that excuse! Chocolate boosts your mood — it contains compounds that mimic brain chemicals that produce pleasure. Just watch your portion size!
Long-term effects: Dietitians often counsel clients to consume less than 50 grams of total fat per day; this dessert has almost a third of that amount. No matter what benefits the ice cream’s calcium may have for your bones, the fat in this after-dinner treat poses far more risks to your health — and there are healthier sources for bone building. Cocoa, the base of chocolate, contains flavonoids, which seem to have antioxidant properties and are believed to have additional cardiovascular-protective qualities.  A large portion of the saturated fat in dark chocolate is converted in the liver to a monosaturated fat, oleic acid, which is found in olive oil.

Wow Fact
A glazed doughnut has almost exactly the same number of calories as a bowl of high-fiber multigrain cereal with nonfat yogurt and blueberries. So you can eat either one, right? Nope. The cereal choice has about a quarter of the fat — and six times the fiber! Eat the doughnut and you’ll be hungry in less than two hours; eat the cereal and you’ll find you eat less all day long.

GO! Foods For You
Get slimmer starting today, feel great with GO! Foods for You, Cleveland Clinic's Mediterranean-style food program.

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