April 29, 2009

Here are some behavior patterns worth forming.

Don't skip meals

You know skipping meals can leave you ravenous-and may even pack on pounds-but putting off eating could also raise your heart disease risk. Experts at the USDA Agricultural Research Service found that people who ate most of their food between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. had higher cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels than those who consumed three square meals with the same number of calories since night eaters tended to reach for higher-calorie, nutrition-light foods. In addition, your body can only absorb a certain amount of nutrients in one sitting (the rest pass through your system), so you'll get a lot more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants by spreading out your intake than you will chowing down on everything at once.

Fuel up in the a.m.

After not eating for 10 or 12 hours, your muscles have reduced stores of glycogen, the form of carbohydrate they rely on for energy. This can make for a less than optimal morning workout. The solution: Have one or two carb servings-- a few graham crackers or a lowfat yogurt sprinkled with granola--before bed to frontload your muscles with glycogen, and a light breakfast in the a.m. Avoid too much fat or fiber.

Hold the beef

One of the best-kept healthy-eating secrets: Go meat-free just a few days a week to cut your risk of heart disease and trim your waistline. The average American eats 41/2 pounds of meat a week -- twice the healthy amount recommended by the American Heart Association. A filling alternative? Veggie burgers. They're a great source of protein, and most are low-fat, fiber-rich and cholesterol-free.

Dairy dos

Yogurt has been touted for boosting the immune system, but there's another reason it may keep you smiling. A study in the Journal of Periodontology found that people who consumed 2 ounces or more of lactic acid-rich foods, such as yogurt and kefir, had a 60 percent lower risk for severe periodontal disease than those who didn't eat any. Left untreated, the dental condition can cause bleeding, receding gums, and tooth loss. Scientists once believed it was the calcium in dairy products that fostered oral health, but now they say the effect may be attributed to probiotics, beneficial bacteria found in foods with lactic acid. Since dairy products made without probiotics, like milk and some cheeses, don't provide the same protective effect, get at least half of your dairy servings each day from yogurt.

Go with soft goat cheese for better protection against anemia and osteoporosis. Researchers at the University of Granada in Spain explain that goat's milk products can help our bodies absorb nutrients like iron, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium more effectively than their cow-derived counterparts.

Beware of "comfort carbs"

Carbohydrate-rich processed foods (such as cookies, bread and pasta) can relax some people, although how this works is a subject of debate. Conventional wisdom holds that eating simple carbs allows tryptophan -- the amino-acid building block of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin -- into the brain. Others attribute the positive feelings you may get to boosts in blood sugar or the release of endorphins in the brain. Regardless of the mechanism, carbs from processed foods are nothing more than a quick fix.