Tips for healthy diets and where to find help

Author: McLaren Flint

Food nourishes the body and feeds the soul. It plays a significant role in our lives because what we eat is closely intertwined with our culture and entertainment, and it impacts our health. 

A healthy diet of whole foods and plant-based foods can provide the nutrition needed for your body to function at its best, and it can also lower your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and risk of developing chronic diseases.

“Food is medicine, so just as with any medication, it's important to consider not only the benefits but also the potential side effects of dietary choices,” said Robert Gildersleeve, MD, McLaren Flint - Internal Medicine Residency Group Practice. “When consumed in excess, foods high in salt, fat, and sugar can wreak havoc on our bodies despite lacking a warning label. They can raise both our blood pressure and our blood sugar while contributing to a myriad of other ailments. 

“While no one can, nor should be expected to adhere to a healthy diet 100% of the time, exercising portion control and reducing the frequency of these foods can minimize their impact on our health.”

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The standard American diet consists of a large amount of meat and processed foods. According to the USDA’s dietary guidelines, women should be getting 25 to 30 grams of fiber, and men should be getting 30 to 35 grams of fiber per day from food. However, 90% of women and 97% of men in the U.S. do not consume the daily recommendation.

Diet plays an important role in overall health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines chronic diseases as conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living, or both. One of the most common chronic diseases is heart disease. One of the major forms of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which is preventable and treatable through diet and exercise. 

“There is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet, as we all have unique metabolic and nutritional needs and goals,” said Dr. Gildersleeve. “The majority of my patients who seek nutrition advice do so to improve their management of various metabolic conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. 

“I typically suggest a plant-predominant diet consisting of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, lean proteins including turkey, chicken, fish, and/or legumes like lentils and chickpeas. Bake, broil, or steam instead of frying to minimize consumption of calorie-dense oils.”

Dr. Gildersleeve recommends avoiding canned foods as excessive amounts of blood-pressure-elevating salt are often added as a preservative. Additionally, he says it is best not to drink our calories as liquids tend to maximize caloric intake while leaving us hungry again all too soon. 

“Over time, our culinary choices can significantly reduce our risk of developing numerous diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, and cancer,” said Dr. Gildersleeve. “While many factors influence the development of these diseases, including some beyond our control such as genetics, diet plays a significant role.”

Knowing what foods we should eat is only half of the equation. Food insecurity and food deserts also contribute to poor nutrition in the nation. Food insecurity is when someone doesn’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. For many Genesee County residents, access to nutritional foods remains elusive due to a lack of funds and transportation, among other reasons. 

“For those residents lacking transportation, delivery services, including Flint Fresh and Meals on Wheels (for seniors), can help overcome that obstacle,” said Dr. Gildersleeve. “For those residents experiencing financial hardship, in addition to the State of Michigan's MI Bridges program, there are many local organizations and churches that provide food resources, including the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, which has a listing of local food pantries.”

To learn more about how food and diet can impact your health, talk to your primary care physician. To view a list of primary care providers accepting new patients, click here.