Healthy Eating

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:

How much protein do we need in our diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: How much protein do I need? Should I drink protein shakes to make sure I get enough?

DEAR READER: Protein is important for building and maintaining muscle and bone strength. It is necessary for the body's skin and hair cells to grow and repair. It also sends signals to your brain that you are full and have had enough to eat. People in the developing nations who cannot find enough protein to eat develop two terrible and sometimes fatal diseases, kwashiorkor and marasmus.

What are “sugar alcohols”?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have Type 2 diabetes. Many low-carb and sugar-free products contain "sugar alcohols." What are they? Do they count as carbohydrates?

DEAR READER: Type 2 diabetes is marked by elevated levels of blood glucose, or sugar. Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes can lead to serious complications including heart attacks, kidney failure, amputation and blindness. An important part of controlling blood sugar involves making healthy food choices.

Are eggs bad for your health or not?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I hope you can answer this question once and for all: Are eggs bad for your health or not?

DEAR READER: I don't think any medical issue is ever settled "once and for all." New knowledge sometimes modifies or even replaces old knowledge. This surely has happened with the question of whether eggs are bad for your health. I was taught, first by my parents and then in medical school, that you should eat eggs infrequently.

Could artificial sweeteners actually cause 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.