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Top 10 Nutrition & Exercise Questions Answered

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Collage of walking coffee and organic produce images

When it comes to diet and exercise recommendations, there’s a lot of confusion out there. Which foods are good for you and which ones should you avoid? How much exercise do you really need?

The truth is, research is always evolving. What’s considered healthy today, might be deemed unhealthy tomorrow. So how can you make the best choices? Dr. Jacob Wolf, ND, a naturopathic doctor at University Hospitals Connor Whole Health, shares the latest research.

COFFEE: GOOD OR BAD?

Coffee is considered healthy by the latest research. It’s a great source of antioxidants and studies suggest it lowers the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. “You can drink too much coffee, however,” says Dr. Wolf. “Four to five cups is the daily maximum for most people to reap the benefits without the jitters.” For maximum benefit, coffee should be black with no added sweeteners.

8 GLASSES OF WATER A DAY?

The amount of fluid needed varies from person to person and from day to day – there is no magic number for optimal hydration. “Listen to your body,” advises Dr. Wolf. “If you’re thirsty, drink something. If your urine isn’t clear or very light yellow, you need to hydrate.” Choose beverages without added sugar and increase your fluid intake during periods of intensive activity or exercise, when you’re outside in the heat, and if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

FRUITS & VEGETABLES: FRESH OR FROZEN?

Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh, maybe even more so since they’re frozen at the peak of freshness. “The big thing you need to watch out for is added salt and sugars,” says Dr. Wolf. “Read the labels and only buy frozen produce that is free of any additives.”

IS ORGANIC PRODUCE BETTER?

Choosing organic produce can reduce the risk of exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, but it comes at a price. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you eat the whole item (berries, lettuce, apples, grapes, peppers etc.), choose organic. If you’re peeling it before eating (pineapples, bananas, onions, melon), then conventional is probably okay.

IS LOW FAT ALWAYS HEALTHIER?

“Dietary fat is a category that’s changed a lot in recent years. In the 90s, fat was bad. Now we’ve totally changed our tune and fat is good,” says Dr. Wolf. “Although low-fat can be beneficial in some instances such as dairy, we need fat in our daily diet to be healthy.” Good sources include nuts and seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil. Even getting some fat from a piece of grass-fed steak is better than getting the same amount from a cupcake or a donut.

“And beware of anything labeled as fat-free,” says Dr. Wolf. “This usually means that a whole bunch of chemicals, sugars and artificial ingredients have been added to make it palatable.”

SUGAR VS. ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

Ideally, you shouldn’t be using sweeteners at all. However, it’s generally better to use a small amount of real sugar or honey instead of an artificial, calorie-free sweetener. Recent research shows that artificial sweeteners can raise your insulin levels and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They can also change the bacteria in the gut, negatively affecting both digestion and bowel movements.

YOU CAN’T GET ENOUGH PROTEIN FROM A PLANT-BASED DIET

False. “Even vegans have plenty of options for dietary protein,” says Dr. Wolf. “There are beans, tofu, nuts and seeds – and all fruits and vegetables have a little bit of protein. Vegetarians and pescatarians have even more options to increase their protein intake, with fish, dairy and eggs.” And beware of meat alternatives, which often contain chemicals and other additives, including high sodium and sugar levels. Eating beans or a lean piece of chicken or fish is a much healthier choice.

WILD-CAUGHT VS. FARMED SALMON

Salmon is a good dietary choice in general whether it’s wild or farm-raised. “We used to say that wild-caught is always better than farm-raised,” says Dr. Wolf. “But now, the question is more challenging. With increased pollution in our oceans, there are some concerns about chemicals and microplastics in wild-caught fish, whereas farm-raised fish may contain more healthy fats because their diets can be manipulated. My advice is to find the highest quality salmon available and make it a regular part of your diet.”

BREAKFAST: THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY?

“People who are more active earlier in the day will benefit from ‘fueling’ up in the morning. And children should always eat a well-balanced breakfast so they have the energy to focus in school,” says Dr. Wolf. “However, with busy schedules and the rising popularity of intermittent fasting, breakfast is the meal many adults choose to skip. This is okay if you eat appropriately and get sufficient calories later in the day. It’s always good to avoid late-night eating, as some studies show that digestion slows at night and may signal the body to store more fat,” he adds.

10,000 STEPS A DAY? REALLY?

Similar to fluid intake, the optimal number of steps per day is different for every person. Some newer research suggests that for people under the age of 60, approximately 8,000 steps a day may be sufficient, whereas individuals over 60 should aim for somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 daily steps. “You should look at it as more than just steps,” says Dr. Wolf. “What’s really important is active time – everyone needs a certain number of minutes spent in moderate or vigorous activity based on their age, which can include a variety of activities.”

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At UH Connor Whole Health, we take the whole person into account, addressing the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect an individual’s health. This includes exploring diet and nutritional needs.

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