Healthy Eating

What is your advice on the benefits of eating nuts?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I love peanuts, but I try to avoid them, and other nuts, because they are high in fat. But I recently heard that eating nuts might help you live longer. What is your advice regarding nuts?

DEAR READER: Like you, I love nuts -- especially almonds. To be candid, dear readers, Doctor K lacks discipline when it comes to eating nuts. Perhaps it's one of my redeeming vices. However, I've found a solution to my discipline problem, which I'll soon reveal. It's time to put nuts back on your menu. Peanuts are legumes and not officially "nuts."

Is chocolate actually good for the brain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is chocolate really good for the brain?

DEAR READER: It sounds too good to be true, but research has found that certain compounds in chocolate, called cocoa flavonols, may protect brain function. In one recent study, researchers tested the effects of cocoa flavonols in 90 healthy 61- to 85-year-olds with good memory and thinking skills. Participants drank a special brew containing either a low (48 milligrams, or mg), medium (520 mg) or high (993 mg) amount of cocoa flavonols each day.

Could you share some ideas for a healthy, balanced breakfast?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm trying to eat better, but breakfast has me stumped. Could you share some ideas for a healthy, balanced breakfast?

DEAR READER: Eating a small, nutritious breakfast is a great way to jump-start the day. Yet many people skip breakfast because they are in a rush, aren't hungry or are trying to cut calories. That's a mistake because eating a healthful breakfast has benefits. Studies suggest that eating breakfast regularly can reduce the risk of high cholesterol and decrease insulin resistance.

Are ready-made toddler foods unhealthy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I buy lots of ready-made infant and toddler foods for my little one. A friend told me I should make my own foods for my son at home. Are ready-made toddler foods unhealthy?

DEAR READER: Eating salty, sugary foods in childhood can set the stage for childhood obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Therefore, you might assume that foods created for infants and toddlers would be low in salt and sugar.

What are some healthy habits to help manage your weight?

DEAR DOCTOR K: One popular book claims that there are "7 habits of highly effective people." Do people who effectively lose weight and keep it off also have habits in common?

DEAR READER: That's a very interesting question -- and I think the answer is "yes." There are certain "habits" that help, but only if you make a long-term commitment to them. Lasting weight loss demands that you transform your eating and exercise habits. But many other choices you make each day can also make a difference. What follows are several habits that can help people achieve -- and maintain -- their target weight.

Is yogurt a healthy choice for breakfast or as a snack?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is yogurt a healthy choice for breakfast or as a snack?

DEAR READER: You've heard me talk frequently about "good" and "bad" fats, and "good" and "bad" carbs. So it won't be surprising when I say there are "good" yogurts and "bad" yogurts. Here's what I mean. Yogurt -- plain, low-fat yogurt -- is a healthy food. But many yogurt products contain ingredients you could do without, like added sweeteners. So let's talk about what to look for in a healthy yogurt.

Is the food pyramid still accurate?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is a healthy diet still based on the food guide pyramid? Is there a better alternative?

DEAR READER: Twenty years ago, the USDA created its food guide pyramid. This symbol featured fats and oils at the tip and breads and grains at its base, with fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy in between. The pyramid was meant to convey, in a simple illustration, everything needed to build a healthful diet. But the original pyramid, as well as the updated 2005 version, was easy to misinterpret. For example, some people thought the top foods were most important, rather than the other way around.

What are “ancient grains”?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I keep hearing about "ancient grains." What are they? Are they healthier than other grains?

DEAR READER: The term "ancient grains" may be a bit of a misnomer. These grains and seeds are not necessarily older than "modern" grains such as oats and wheat. But they have remained closer to their original form over thousands of years of changing farming practices. Over the past few years, ancient grains have become quite popular.

How do I switch to a plant-based diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm trying to shift to a more plant-based diet and have added more fruits and vegetables to my meals and snacks. What's the next step?

DEAR READER: Congratulations! You've already made some healthy changes to your diet. Evidence continues to mount that a plant-based diet -- rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy plant oils -- may help reduce the risk of many health concerns, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Adding fresh fruits and vegetables, as you've done, is a great first step. The next step is to incorporate more nuts, seeds and legumes into your meals and snacks.

How can I encourage my daughter to choose a healthy lunch?

DEAR DOCTOR K: How can I encourage my daughter to eat a healthy lunch at school, whether she buys lunch or brown-bags it?

DEAR READER: Children need a healthy lunch to refuel after a long morning of working hard. The midday meal also provides energy and nutrients for kids to stay healthy and grow as well as possible. If your daughter is going to buy lunch at school, encourage her to: