You are what you eat. We’ve all heard this saying, but do you know why it’s true? Well, one of the most important reasons to eat well is to keep your immune system strong. The immune system is our defender against infection. To do its job, you have to give it the right nutrients to keep it (and everything else in your body) in tip-top shape. If you’re always getting sick, it could be a signal that you aren’t giving your immune system what it needs to keep you safe.
Things like a poor diet (going to the drive-through a little more than you should?), stress (which depletes certain vitamins, like B’s and C’s), a lack of exercise, and bad habits (like smoking and alcohol) all put your immune system in debit status. When you eat healthfully, though, you take back your power to prevent numerous diseases, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and more. Making smart choices can make a difference in how you feel today and may make a difference in how long you live—and live well.
Harvard’s Healthy Eating Pyramid
One way to change your eating habits is to follow an eating plan. The USDA developed its first food pyramid in 1992 and recently revised it. The new pyramid, called My Pyramid, allows you to customize food choices based on how old you are and how active you are in an average day. It offers 12 different eating plans, but it doesn’t differentiate among different types of carbohydrates and proteins.
The nutrition experts at Harvard had a problem with that. In fact, they challenged the new USDA pyramid because placing all fats in the top implied that all fats are bad. We know this just isn’t true. Most unsaturated fats from plants and fish are good, whereas fats from animals (saturated fats) and fats in processed foods (trans fats) are not.
Harvard scientists decided to develop their own pyramid and compare the two head to head. After examining the diets of more than 100,000 adults, they found that men who followed Harvard’s Healthy Eating Pyramid lowered their overall risk of certain diseases by 20 percent, compared to 11 percent for men who followed the original USDA food pyramid. Women lowered their risk by 11 percent with the Healthy Eating Pyramid, compared to just 3 percent for those who followed the USDA food pyramid.
The base of Harvard’s Healthy Eating Pyramid is daily exercise and weight control. From there, the pyramid builds up in order as follows:
• Whole-grain foods at most meals and plant oils (olive, canola, soy, sunflower, and other vegetable oils).
• Vegetables in abundance and fruits two to three times per day. At least 5-12 different veggies a day.
• Nuts and legumes one to three times per day. (Eighteen nuts is one serving. Remember, though, nuts can be fattening.)
• Fish, poultry, and eggs zero to two times per day.
• Dairy one to two servings per day, or calcium supplement: 1,200 mg daily.
• Red meat, butter, white rice, white bread, white pasta, potatoes, soda, and sweets all used sparingly.
• Alcohol in moderation (if appropriate), and daily multivitamin (for most people).
You can find more information about Harvard’s Healthy Eating Pyramid online atwww.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramids.