Adding Unhealthy Food to a Healthy Diet Weakens Results

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We hear all the time that people try to eat healthy diets and look after their hearts through lifestyle changes. That’s wonderful. While 75 percent of your body’s cholesterol comes from your liver, 25 percent comes from your diet. Diet and exercise make a huge difference in your overall health and wellbeing.

Many of us think that we can balance out unhealthy foods with healthy foods and reap the rewards of a healthy diet. Instead of fries, we enjoy our cheeseburger with a salad and feel better about our meal. Or, when enjoying a big, healthy salad, we treat ourselves to a side of fries thinking the salad can cancel it out. It makes sense. But, new research shows it might not be as straightforward as we think.

The Mediterranean diet is well known for its health benefits. It’s great for the heart and cognition. However, new research shows that people who eat Western foods along with a Mediterranean diet might see fewer benefits.

Eating a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains may positively affects a person’s health,” said Dr. Puja Agarwal, a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College. “But when it is combined with fried food, sweets, refined grains, red meat and processed meat, we observed that the benefits of eating the Mediterranean part of the diet seem to be diminished.”

The study included 5,001 older people in Chicago and watched them between 1993 and 2012 with cognitive checkups every three years. The researchers saw that the less Western food people ate, the better their cognitive skills and health were.

Western diets may adversely affect cognitive health,” said Dr. Agarwal. “Individuals who had a high Mediterranean diet score compared to those who had the lowest score were equivalent to being 5.8 years younger in age cognitively.”

It’s not surprising that the people who stuck closest to the diet had the best outcomes. But, learning that the people who were “in the middle of the pack” didn’t do better is a disappointment. There is no doubt that swapping vegetables in for fries is a healthy choice. You cut out calories and add in vitamins. But, you might not see the benefits of the veggies if you’re not making larger changes overall.

We often write about incorporating healthy foods into your diet to aid your health. From your comments on our social media, we know that you do eat healthily. But this study shows that incorporating healthy foods into a diet while also “cheating” might not cut the mustard. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Dr. Agarwal summed it up simply. “To benefit from diets such as the Mediterranean diet, or MIND diet, we would have to limit our consumption of processed foods and other unhealthy foods such as fried foods and sweets.”

Banner image: Vincent Rivaud via Pexels
February 19, 2021

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