Healthy Eating

How can I stay motivated to keep up the healthy behaviors you advise?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Eat right. Don't smoke. Stay active. Can you give me some motivation to keep up these healthy behaviors?

DEAR READER: I think I get your message. This column frequently presents information from scientific studies about healthy lifestyle. But information alone may not be enough to change behavior -- and it's hard to change behavior, particularly when you enjoy it. Information doesn't equal motivation.

Can artificial sweeteners help me to avoid weight gain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: For 20 years, I've substituted artificial sweeteners for sugar in my coffee, and switched to diet soft drinks to avoid obesity and the diseases that overweight people are prone to, like Type 2 diabetes. Now I hear that new research says that's a bad idea. What is going on?

DEAR READER: Here's what's not confusing: More than a modest amount of sugar each day is not good for you. Nothing's changed there. The sweet tooth that many of us have (I plead guilty) leads us to eat too much sugar.

What are phytonutrients?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've mentioned phytonutrients in a few recent columns. What are they? And what can they do for our health?

DEAR READER: Let's begin by breaking "phytonutrients" into its two parts. First, "nutrients." These are chemicals in our environment that we need to get inside our body, usually through eating foods that contain them. Nutrients are a necessary part of our body chemistry. Indeed, many are necessary for the life of most living things.

Is it possible to fight chronic inflammation without medications?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've written that chronic inflammation has been linked to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Is there anything I can do to fight inflammation without using medications?

DEAR READER: Inflammation in the body is a double-edged sword. Short-lived inflammation, directed by your immune system at invaders like bacteria or viruses, protects your health.

How can I add whole grains to my diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I know I should be eating more whole grains, but for years I've been eating white bread, white rice and white pasta. I don't know where to begin the switch to whole grains. Can you help?

DEAR READER: Like you, many of my patients and I are making the switch to whole grains. Why? Diets rich in whole grains are linked with a reduced risk of many medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers.

Can certain foods help me combat anxiety?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I suffer from anxiety but would rather not take medication. I already exercise and practice relaxation therapy. Could dietary changes help further quell my worries?

DEAR READER: To help answer your question, I turned to my colleague Dr. Uma Naidoo. She is a psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and a professional chef. She noted that the relationship between food, mood and anxiety is garnering more and more attention.

Does juicing live up to the hype?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Are the benefits of juicing as great as I've heard?

DEAR READER: Juicing -- extracting the juice from fresh fruits and vegetables -- appears to be the latest trend for anyone looking to detoxify, lose weight or just get healthy. But does research support the claims that juicing can reverse chronic disease, jump-start weight loss and "detox" the body?

What should I feed my baby if I need to avoid rice cereal?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You recently wrote about the dangers of feeding rice cereal to babies. Can you tell me more about this? What should I give my baby instead?

DEAR READER: For years, rice cereal has been a go-to food for parents when they start their babies on solid foods. My Harvard Medical School colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, says it's time to change that.

Are the new dietary guidelines good for heart health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Will the new dietary guidelines help keep my heart healthy?

DEAR READER: In late 2015, the U.S. government issued a new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This report helps Americans make healthy food choices. But if you're concerned about having a heart attack or stroke, the advice in the latest update doesn't entirely agree with what many nutrition experts -- as well as the American Heart Association (AHA) -- recommend.

Why do women tend to live longer than men?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard that women tend to live longer than men. Why is that?

DEAR READER: On average, women do live about five years longer than men. In the United States, 57 percent of all who are ages 65 and older are female. By age 85, 67 percent are women. You can see this for yourself in most nursing homes or assisted living facilities in the United States: Women usually outnumber men, and the magnitude of the difference is often striking.