Comment from Sarah: I've had cancer and am really focusing on my diet now. I've heard that a vegan diet is much healthier for you and could help prevent cancer and other diseases. What do you think?
John Whyte: The AARP New American Diet clearly demonstrates the healthy benefits of a modified Mediterranean diet. Fruits and vegetables are key, but so are fish and nuts. There's also data to support low-fat dairy. This is the diet where there is the most evidence that it helps to reduce the incidence of several different types of cancer.
Comment from Queen: I am on a fixed income and would like to eat healthy on a budget.
John Whyte: There's a belief that eating healthy is expensive. You can, however, still make healthy choices that are within your budget. For instance, tuna fish is quite inexpensive but very healthy. All-natural peanut butter is filled with healthy fats and is very affordable. Eggs are also reasonably priced — and eating eggs up to three times a week is still healthy. It might take a little more work and planning, but you definitely can eat healthy on a budget. And you'll likely avoid the diseases that often are costly later in life.
Comment from Lucy: I have gained 20 pounds since I started intense caregiving for my parents — I know it's partly the way I eat and don't exercise but I think it's also stress. What effect does stress have on my weight — in particular my belly fat?!
John Whyte: It's not surprising that the added stress caused weight gain. It is often related to the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that usually can be very helpful. It provides glucose to the body for energy when there is a stressful situation that requires you to have more energy or to be more alert. However, chronic stress will cause cortisol levels to be high chronically, and this is not a good thing for your body. In this situation, the elevated cortisol levels cause high blood sugar, which will cause a series of other reactions that will cause you to store fat as well as hold on to it, making it very difficult to shed the pounds. That helps explain why stress can actually make you fat.
Comment from Margaret: I'm so tired from caregiving I never seem to have time or energy to go through all the steps of a healthy meal. What are some quick ways to eat well? Do you recommend making a Crock-Pot meal in the morning so it's ready for dinner?
John Whyte: The slow cooker can be a very effective way to eat healthy. The key to eating well quickly is to prepare. Make a grocery list on Saturday or Sunday morning and do all your shopping for the week. Too often, we eat unhealthy food because there's nothing healthy to eat. But if you stock your pantry, refrigerator and freezer with healthy options, you'll be able to eat well quickly.
Comment from Alvinia: I usually walk a lot. Recently I started having much pain in my hip joint and was diagnosed with arthritis in my hip. Any suggestions on what I can eat to help with arthritis pain?
John Whyte: I hope you are seeing an orthopedist or rheumatologist, since we do have effective therapies for arthritis. Swimming can be a great way to exercise when you have arthritis, since it puts less stress on the joint. Depending on where the pain is exactly, using a stationary bike or an elliptical machine might be OK. And don't forget about upper body exercises. A great exercise almost anyone can do is pushups. Start off doing 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening, and see if you can work up to 50 twice a day. That will get your heart pumping, as well as improve bone density.
Comment from Jim: I've heard so many things about different diets — Atkins, South Beach, etc. It's hard to know what you are and aren't supposed to eat. Can you clear up the confusion?