This Father’s Day, help dad cook up a healthier diet | TheUnion.com

This Father’s Day, help dad cook up a healthier diet

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union

Close up of man grilling food on barbecue

Father's Day will be celebrated this coming weekend and for many families that means gathering together to enjoy a meal. This year why not give the men in your life the gift of better health by helping them make small diet changes that can improve their health in a big way.

"Statistics show that nearly all Americans could benefit from making small changes in their eating habits," says Noel Slaughter, RD, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. "Whether it is lowering your blood pressure, reducing cholesterol or getting to a healthier weight – improving your diet can help."

The importance of a healthy diet rings especially true for men, who, research shows, are at higher risk for certain diseases (including heart disease) and are more likely to make unhealthy or risky choices when it comes to their health.

So where to start in the quest toward a better diet for yourself or for the men in your life? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, start by putting away the salt shaker.

HHS research shows that 90 percent of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended.

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The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to 2,300 mg per day, which is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of salt. In addition to decreasing added salt, keep an eye on the sodium levels found in processed foods.

Canned soups, cheeses, lunch meats, chips and some condiments can all be loaded with salt.

"More than 75 percent of the sodium Americans eat comes from processed and packaged foods, or foods from restaurants," Slaughter states. "When shopping for processed and packaged foods, it is important to choose carefully by reading the nutrition facts label."

When cooking at home, Slaughter recommends using fresh herbs rather than salt to add flavor. "Fresh herbs are rich in phytochemicals, which can help fight inflammation while also boosting the flavor of your food, allowing you to use less or no salt."

Using unprocessed, natural ingredients can also enhance the quality and flavor of dishes. Look for opportunities to include fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables – both as part of meals and as snacks.

Try to select a variety of colors when shopping for produce and don't be afraid to try something new.

"The different colors of fruits and vegetables indicate they are high in different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants," Slaughter explains. "Eating a variety of colors ensures you are getting a range of all of these nutrients your body needs to thrive."

Another strategy for improving your diet is to pay attention to the method you are using to cook your food. Baking is better than frying. Poaching in broth or wine is better than cooking in butter. And – good news for any man who enjoys firing up the barbecue – grilling is one of the best methods to produce food that is tasty and healthy.

"Grilling foods is a great way to add tons of flavor to your meal without adding fat," says Slaughter. "Grilled foods also tend to require less cooking time, which allows the food to retain nutritional content that may be lost when foods are overcooked. Grilling a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, is a great way to increase your intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that may help reduce the risk of disease."

The American Heart Association recommends grilling as part of a heart healthy diet and offers these tips:

Fish: Salmon, trout and herring are all high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and can be prepared easily on the grill.

Lean meats: Grill chicken, ground turkey, and beef or pork that are "loin" or "round" cuts to decrease fat.

Vegetables: Try grilling vegetables like asparagus, zucchini, peppers or tomatoes. Top with fresh cilantro or basil for added flavor.

"Many of the chronic diseases affecting males in the US are diet-related," Slaughter says. "Making small changes can make a big difference for a healthier future."

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