Healthy Eating

Am I getting enough iodine in my diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I cook with kosher salt, which doesn't contain iodine. Am I getting enough iodine in my diet? Can I get iodine from other foods?

DEAR READER: Before I answer your question, I'll need to explain a little about the thyroid gland and how it works. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that perches with its wings wrapped around the front of your windpipe, below your voice box. This gland influences the rate at which every cell, tissue and organ in your body functions. It does this primarily by secreting thyroid hormones.

How can I make restaurant meals healthier?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I travel regularly for work, so I have to eat out a lot. Could you give me some strategies to make restaurant meals healthier?

DEAR READER: Eating out can ruin even the healthiest diets. That's because restaurants -- and not just fast-food joints -- tend to overdo the butter, sugar and salt. I spoke to registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition for Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. She assured me that you can enjoy a meal (or several) on the road if you follow a few handy tips:

Should I switch to diet soda to help cut down on sugar?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You often advise cutting out sugary soda drinks. Should I switch to diet soda?

DEAR READER: Sugary soda drinks have no place in a healthy diet. Excess sugar leads to weight gain -- and obesity increases the risk of many serious health conditions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. As I always say when giving dietary advice, I'm talking about a regular practice, not an occasional sin. If you like a non-diet (sugary) drink once in a while, enjoy it.

Should I try a low-fat, low-carb, or Mediterranean diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I want to go on a diet and am trying to decide between low-fat, low-carb and Mediterranean. What do you think?

DEAR READER: Your first two options -- low-fat and low-carb -- are too simple. There are "good" fats and "bad" fats, and "good" carbs and "bad" carbs. You don't want a diet that is low in good fats or good carbs. You want a diet that is low in bad fats and bad carbs.

How can I find the time to prepare and eat healthy meals?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Between my job and kids, I rarely have time to prepare and sit down to a healthy meal. I've had my fill of fast food and energy bars. Any suggestions?

DEAR READER: It certainly is easy to eat badly. For one thing, as you say, many of us have very hectic schedules. Fast food is appealing because it's fast. But fast food is often unhealthy. You don't have to sacrifice nutrition when you're on the go.

What is a list superfoods that support heart health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've written about "superfoods" that deliver a lot of nutritional bang for their buck. Do you have a list of superfoods for heart health?

DEAR READER: Many foods -- from the everyday to the exotic -- are rich in nutrients that help keep heart disease at bay. That's good news, and it's been documented in many scientific studies. My colleagues in nutrition science at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School have published the following list of heart-healthy superfoods. They and I use the word "superfoods" advisedly. Obviously, no food offers anything like perfect protection against any illness.

Does a diet rich in saturated fats still increase heart disease risk?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Here we go again. After years of hearing that diets rich in saturated fats increase the risk for heart disease, I hear a new study says that's not so. What gives?

DEAR READER: I don't blame you for being frustrated. So let me start with the bottom line: Take this new study with several grains of salt. (Incidentally, it still is true that too much salt is bad for your health, so just a few grains, please.) Back in the 1970s and 1980s, you heard a lot about how fat was bad for you.

What are the basics of a heart-healthy diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What are the basic tenets of a heart-healthy diet?

DEAR READER: I once had a patient who had a history of heart disease in his family. When he first came to see me, he was in his late 20s. He knew that having heart disease in his family put him at higher risk for it later in life. He told me he had decided to do something to protect himself: He had consulted a cardiologist.

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.