We often measure the value of our diet based on physical signs like losing or gaining weight, but according to Sherry Ross, MD, author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Health, these fluctuations only provide short-term clues. If scales are the only way you review your diet and lifestyle choices, she says it's time to shift your thinking and consider the potential long-term impact the foods you eat have on your health and life span.
"One in four women die of heart disease [yet] 80% of the causes can be prevented through healthy eating and positive lifestyle choices," she says. Ross argues that three of the biggest health concerns women face—heart disease, breast cancer, and obesity—can be tackled with preventative measures. Yes, science suggests that a few crucial food swaps could lower your risk of developing these issues later in life.
Don't delay—ditch these five foods and drinks from your diet for a long and healthy life.
Concerned about breast cancer? Ross says it's crucial to examine how much animal fat is in your diet. "Studies show that premenopausal women who ate diets high in animal fat had a 40% to 50% higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who ate less animal fat," she points out.
Research suggests other high-fat animal products like full-cream milk might also have adverse health effects. "Red meat and high-fat dairy intake may increase levels of estrogen which may also increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence and survival," she says.
While Ross admits that more research is required on the exact correlation between animal fat intake and breast cancer, she believes the existing evidence should be enough to encourage a diet change: "We do know that animal fat is associated with a host of adverse medical conditions."
Food Swap: Swap high-fat cuts of red meat for lean chicken or turkey breasts. Some cuts of beef like the top sirloin and flank steak are also relatively lean. Bolster your side salad with legumes and other sources of protein such as tofu to feel fuller for longer.
Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
Not all oils are created equal. While most experts agree that olive oil is a relatively low-risk option, Ross says one type should be stripped from your diet: partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. This can be found in "stick margarine, snack foods, deep-fried foods, and prepared baked foods like cookies, pies, and doughnuts," she explains.
If you see "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on a food label, "that means some trans fat is present, even if the label says zero trans fat," says Berkeley Wellness. A diet rich in trans fats has been shown to increase your risk of heart disease and raise your good and bad cholesterol.
Food Swap: Partially hydrogenated oils can be easily hidden in processed foods, so when possible, prepare your own meals at home. If you are concerned about packaged food, Mayo Clinic recommends checking the ingredient list rather than relying on fat-free claims.
We hate to break it to you, but even casual drinking has been linked to adverse health issues. "It has been found that having two or more drinks a day increases the chance of developing breast cancer as much as 41%," says Ross. "Removing alcohol, even one to two drinks a few times a week, from your diet has immediate effects within days on blood sugar, water retention, blood pressure, weight loss, energy level, emotional stability, sleep changes, and pulse rate."
Food Swap: If the thought of going "dry" sounds too drastic, consider cutting out alcohol during weekdays. Make fruit-infused water so you have something flavorful and hydrating to sip on.
"Fast foods are packed with sodium, which affects water retention and increases blood pressure and heart rate," says Ross. If you struggle with self-control, consider this next time you go to a drive-through: "Highly salty foods starts to negatively affect the healthy functioning of blood vessels within 30 minutes." Thankfully, she says removing high-sodium foods quickly reverses the negative effects.
Food Swap: If you crave salty foods, Keri Glassman, MD, suggests you might be dehydrated. Instead, she recommends reaching for "calcium-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, almonds, tofu, and sesame seeds."
If you do want to indulge your salty craving, Ross says there are certain foods to be cautious of: "Processed and prepared foods like pizza, soups, and deli meats are loaded with sodium." She recommends limiting your salt intake to 1500 milligrams or 3/4 teaspoons per day.
Bad news for hot-dog fans: Scientists and health professionals are certain that processed meats are carcinogenic. Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer analyzed over 800 studies and came to the conclusion that processed meat should be classified as a "definite" cause of cancer.
A 2011 analysis also found that people who ate the most processed meat had a 17% higher risk of developing bowel cancer. The bottom line: Ross recommends cutting meats like "bacon, sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami, and processed deli meats" from your diet now, to live a longer, healthier life.
Food Swap: Searching for a healthier lunch alternative? Wilmot Cancer Institute dietitians Joanna Lipp and Sue Czap recommend trading deli meats for chicken, tuna, or hard-boiled eggs for added protein.
Have you eliminated any of these foods from your diet?