April 7 is World Health Day, and one crucial way to recognize it is to change the way we eat.
High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers can be prevented at every meal. For instance, a diet rich in nutrients from fresh vegetables and fruits can help prevent heart disease, according to a recent report from the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition. Still, less than one in three Americans meets the minimum recommended three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day.
The Organic Center reports that adding four more fresh fruits and vegetables to the average daily diet, and dropping just 10 calories, can limit weight gain and increase overall nutrient values by between 68 percent and 79 percent.
Here are five steps for healthier, more nutritious diets.
1. Support family farmers. They produce the more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables in the United States, from apples to zucchini. Buying more from local farms -- and less processed food from supermarkets -- can improve health and support local producers.
2. Choose whole grains. Whole grains have much more nutrients per calorie than white flour products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends whole grains make up half of all grain intake. Unfortunately, white flour is the main ingredient in most breads, including wheat bread, multigrain bread or oatmeal bread. Look for 100 percent whole wheat bread and other products.
3. Eat out less. Many American chains serve portions up to eight times bigger those recommended by USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Not only does this encourage overeating, but restaurant and take-away food is also generally less healthy than home-cooked food. Eating more meals at home is an easy way to manage portions while getting more nutrient-dense foods.
4. Buy and grow organic. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that organic fruits and vegetables repeatedly had equal or greater nutrient content than the same conventional produce. The Environmental Working Group publishes an online shopper's guide, recommending which produce is the most important for consumers to buy organic.
5. Eat close to home. Fruits and vegetables lose nutrients as they age. Fresh spinach stored at room temperature can lose 100 percent of vitamin C in less than four days. Buying more local food can make sure consumers get the most nutrients per dollar.
If you eat wisely, you'll have a lot to celebrate next year on World Health Day.