In addition to getting enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains throughout the day, focus on protein in the morning, says Dr. Rekha B. Kumar, an attending endocrinologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. Packing your breakfast with protein will keep blood sugar and some “hunger hormones” more stable throughout the day, helping to control your appetite. Egg-white omelets, Greek yogurt, and protein shakes are examples. Dr. Kumar also advises against too much sugar, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Consuming excess sugar leads to a condition called insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, a fatty liver, and cardiovascular disease. It has also been associated with cirrhosis, neuropathy, kidney disease, general inflammation, and cancer.
A diet with less red meat will lead to a host of benefits if you replace the calories with whole plant foods, says Dr. Shilpa Ravella, a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Your blood cholesterol levels will drop, and you’ll decrease your risk of chronic diseases, including top killers like heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
One easy-to-follow diet that avoids red meat is the Mediterranean diet, a plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet that is full of “healthy” fats like nuts and seeds and is clinically proven to decrease our risk of developing heart disease, says Dr. Altaf Pirmohamed, site director of cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Focus on eating vegetables cooked in olive oil and natural spices, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats,” he says.
Dr. Alessio Pigazzi, chief of colorectal surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medicine, agrees, noting the diet’s benefit to colon health as well. What you eat can cause inflammation in your bowels and gut, and inflammation is a predisposing factor for colorectal cancer development. Researchers have identified the main food substances that cause inflammation in the body and may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer: Sugar, animal fats, and red and processed meats. There isn’t one specific vegetable that is a magic cure-all for a healthy colon. It’s more about eating a variety of nutritious foods and focusing on a colorful, plant-based diet. “The best diet — and I’m a little bit biased because I’m Italian — is probably a Mediterranean diet on steroids,” says Dr. Pigazzi. “We need to increase the consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and berries and try to keep the amount of red meat and animal fats to an absolute minimum.”
Need some inspiration? Check out these healthy and delicious vegetarian soups and stews from Emilie Berner, chef and coordinator at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital’s Chef Peter X. Kelly Teaching Kitchen.