At the end of 2022, as holiday potlucks and cookie exchanges came to an end, we took a look at diet and wellness research to find the most valuable lessons for eating and living well in the new year. We coupled those with the time-honored lessons — red meat in moderation, plants in abundance — to bring you these top seven tips. We hope you find them as useful as we do.
Diets are out. Mindful eating is in.
Ever shocked by how much popcorn you can put away at the movies? That’s because you’re not eating with intention. The latest research about healthy eating is less about staying away from certain foods and more about eating with awareness, listening to internal and external cues and honoring the food and where it comes from. In “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life,” authors Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh discuss the successful practices of mindful eating, which include eating without distraction, engaging your senses, serving modest-sized portions and eating slowly to avoid overeating. The more mindful of an eater you are, the more likely you are to make healthful choices, too.
Buy a juicer already.
Drinking your fruits and vegetables is one of the fastest and easiest ways to get those beneficial nutrients into your system. And the array of colors, textures and flavor combinations are endless. While smoothies are usually what spring to mind, they are often loaded with sugar — even the ones you make at home — but juice made from leafy greens like spinach and kale or hydration-centric foods like celery and cucumber offer endless health benefits. (The chlorophyll alone strengthens your immune system and helps control inflammation). And you can add herbs, fruit (pears or green apples are good choices) to add zing. Need inspiration? The editors at America’s Test Kitchen recently published a new cookbook, “The Complete Guide to Healthy Drinks” (America’s Test Kitchen; $28), and it’s full of 160 foolproof recipes, including dozens of juices. Among the standouts: ATK v5, a combination of whole tomato, watercress, spinach, celery and carrot that’s fresher and far less salty than the canned stuff.
Eat more fermented foods.
A diet rich in fermented foods — think kimchi, pickles, yogurt, kombucha — enhances the diversity of microbes in the gut and reduces signs of inflammation on a molecular level, say researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine. And we know that a healthier gut makes for a healthier body (and likely a healthier brain). In a clinical trial, 36 healthy adults were assigned to a 10-week diet that included either fermented or high-fiber foods. The two diets resulted in different effects on the gut microbiome and the immune system, with the fermented foods diet showing decreased levels of 19 inflammatory proteins in blood samples. One of these proteins, interleukin 6, has been linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and chronic stress. By contrast, none of the inflammatory proteins decreased in participants who ate legumes, seeds, whole grains, vegetables and other other high-fiber foods. The gut microbes were also unchanged. Ready to make that kombucha?
What you eat can impact your mental health.
Why is your therapist asking you about your diet? Because there’s an emerging field of research called nutritional psychiatry that suggests there is a relationship between the foods we crave and our overall mental health. Not surprisingly, studies show that the sugar-laden and often high-fat foods we find comforting when stressed — pizza, cake, burgers and fries — are the least likely to make us feel better in the short- or long- term. The sugary stuff worsens your body’s regulation of insulin, impairs brain function and may worsen depression. And cumulative evidence shows that a diet rich in fatty foods impairs cognitive function and increases the vulnerability to anxiety. Overall, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and fermented foods is the way to go.
Go ahead, have a second cup of joe.
For a long time, the jury was out on whether coffee was good or bad for your health. But the latest research, published last year in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, confirms what most of us java heads have been waiting to hear: Coffee may actually save you from an early death. Using data from nearly 450,000 adults, the study found a possible association between coffee consumption — two to three cups per day — and decreased early death, not to mention possible protection against Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, liver disease, heart attack and stroke. Researchers found “significant reductions” in the risk for coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and stroke associated with drinking coffee, whether it was ground, instant caffeinated or decaffeinated. Ground, caffeinated coffee consumption lowered the risk of death the most — by 27 percent. Prior studies have also shown a link between black coffee and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and prostate cancer. Drink up.
Eat more plants.
This is not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change that is backed by science to be better for the body and the environment. Plant-based eating is nutrient-dense and packed with fiber, healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. It is not vegan or vegetarian; you can still eat eggs, fish, chicken — even beef, in moderation — and dairy products, but about two-thirds of your meal should come from legumes, nuts and non-animal sources. Need ideas? Start with savory Ligurian socca with kale and tomatoes or sweet potato curry with eggplant, chickpeas and herb chutney. Swap out the meat in your favorite tacos for mushrooms or Baja-style cauliflower. Or whip up colorful, veggie sushi hand rolls.
In the end, it’s all about balance and awareness.
In October 2021, the American Heart Association updated its dietary guidelines for the first time in 15 years. The committee called for eating more plants, of course, and limiting salt, red meat and processed foods. Don’t drink alcohol? Don’t start. But, from there, the advice was less about what specific food to eat or avoid and more about watching overall patterns in the choices we make, both for our hearts and for overall health. Rather than a one-size-fits-all rule, it left room for personal and cultural needs and preferences. The guidelines, published in the AHA journal Circulation, encouraged Americans to look for patterns in their eating. Changing one thing — sweetened full-fat yogurt to a low-fat variety with less sugar; halving the pasta or white rice on your plate for an extra serving of vegetables — will have a lasting impact for years to come.