Healthy Eating

Which is a better choice for protein– meat or legumes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I know we need protein in our diets and that beans are a good source. But I've read that meat is a great source of protein and iron. Which is a better choice?

DEAR READER: Meat is an excellent source of protein and iron, but unfortunately, red meat is also full of saturated fat -- one of the "bad" fats.

Leaner cuts contain less saturated fat, but eating lean red meat still causes you to consume lots of saturated fat. The saturated fat is not always visible: In addition to the layer of fat that may cover a cut of red meat, and any visible fat "marbled" inside the meat, there is plenty of invisible saturated fat. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there.

Which type of tea has the most health benefits?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is drinking tea good for my health? Which type has the most health benefits?

DEAR READER: Several studies have touted the health benefits of tea, but the benefits of particular foods or drinks are hard to prove. The most persuasive type of study to prove that any practice has health benefits is a randomized trial. When I say "practice," I mean a medicine, a surgical procedure, a particular food or exercise routine -- any practice designed in part to improve your health.

How can I cut down the amount of sugar in my diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'd like to cut down on the amount of sugar in my diet. Any suggestions?

DEAR READER: Cutting back on sugar will be good for your health. Not only will it help you manage your weight, it will also help keep heart disease and diabetes at bay. The easiest and quickest way to cut back is to identify the foods and drinks that contribute the most added sugar to your diet. Then limit or eliminate them altogether.

What is the “paleo” diet — is it healthy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter and several of her college friends are on the "paleo" diet. What is that? Is it healthy?

DEAR READER: The paleo diet, short for "Paleolithic" diet, restricts what you eat to foods the hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age ate 10,000 years ago. While the diet doesn't require you to live like a caveman, it does require you to eat like one. Here's an example of what you can and can't eat on the paleo diet:

Is coconut oil healthier than other cooking oils?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Coconut oil is all over the grocery store shelves lately. Is it healthier than other cooking oils?

DEAR READER: I've also noticed that coconut oil seems to be catching on these days. I consulted with Walter Willett, the chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, to get his opinion. Here's what we discussed. Not all cooking oils are created equal. Some are good for your health, while others promote disease. Here is a side-by-side comparison of several common cooking oils:

What are trans fats and why are they bad for me?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I see trans fats listed on food labels, and I've read that the FDA may ban them. Can you remind me what trans fats are, and why they're bad for me?

DEAR READER: Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat. Once upon a time, we consumed only small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats in some meat and dairy products. But by the end of the 20th century, trans fats were everywhere. That's because chemists discovered that they could turn liquid vegetable oil into a solid or semi-solid by bubbling hydrogen gas through it (think margarine). When hydrogen is bubbled through liquid oils, they are called "partially hydrogenated" oils, or trans fats.

Do I need to give up snacking on nuts since they’re high in fat?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I love to snack on nuts, but they're high in fat. Do I need to give them up?

DEAR READER: You most certainly do not need to give up your beloved snack. They are a very healthy food if taken in moderation. I always loved to eat nuts as a kid, but I kept hearing that they were full of fat -- and that fat was bad. But as we've discussed before, there are "good fats" and "bad fats." You need to eat the good fats, and nuts are full of them.

Are there any foods that don’t belong in a healthy diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Are there any foods that don't belong in a healthy diet?

DEAR READER: There sure are -- and like me, you probably eat them now and then. You've heard me say it before: Unhealthy foods are not like poison, where you swallow and then die. They become unhealthy when you have them regularly. An occasional hot fudge sundae won't kill you -- if it did, I wouldn't be here. But a hot fudge sundae every evening is a bad idea.

Is it true that eating late makes you gain weight?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is it true that eating late makes you gain weight?

DEAR READER: I'd heard the same thing for decades, but I wasn't sure it was true. I had to do some research to answer your question. Several recent studies have looked into this question. The results were not unanimous, but most studies show that eating late in the day does contribute to weight gain and other health problems.