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PF Quick Hits: It's Not Too Late to Cut Out Junk Food (But What About Cheese?)
Plus, why grip strength is an indicator of overall health and how you can improve it.
Let me tell you about one of the lowest moments in my life: it was a night many years ago, when I sat alone in an empty, suburban parking lot, eating Nachos BellGrande from Taco Bell after a flight delay on a work trip.
It’s not that I find eating alone sad—but eating in your car, surrounded by a half-empty, aging strip mall in an aging suburb, eating some of the unhealthiest fast food imaginable, feels interminably sad.
I was tired, I was hungry and I just wanted to eat. That’s often been a recipe for me to turn to fast food. Early in my career, I was working a schedule that required me to get up at 4 a.m. every day, so in my 20s, I ate fast food frequently. I’ve gotten better over the years. While I still occasionally eat fast food, I’ve drastically improved my diet and try to focus on eating healthier, while still allowing myself a few treats (and few alcoholic beverages, as I’m having a glass of red wine as I write this).
If you’re struggling with your diet, as I have in the past, there’s good news: new research shows that switching to a healthier diet can still benefit you later in life. A recent article in the Washington Post summarized this massive research study, which spanned two decades:
No matter how old you are, or how much junk food you consume, it’s never too late to start undoing the damage caused by a poor diet.
That’s the message from scientists who study how our food choices affect our life spans and our risk of developing diseases. They have found that people can gain sizable health benefits at any age by cutting back on highly processed foods loaded with salt, sugar and other additives and replacing them with more nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, lentils, seafood and whole grains.
The exciting thing about this study is that most of the people were over 60. Making the dietary changes later in life, according to the study, can still have a big impact on reducing your chance for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Yes, But What About Cheese?
If you love cheese like I do (it’s really gouda, zing), I’ve got even better news for you: it’s possible that cheese can be a part of a healthy diet, per a recent article in Consumer Reports:
As much as we love cheese, though, we’re a little afraid of it. When people talk about their fondness for cheese, it’s often in a guilty, confessional way, like “Cheese is my weakness.”
But “cheese is packed with nutrients like protein, calcium, and phosphorus, and can serve a healthy purpose in the diet,” says Lisa Young, RD, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. So if Stilton makes you swoon or you always want more Parm on your pasta, know this: Research shows that even full-fat cheese won’t necessarily make you gain weight or give you a heart attack. It seems that cheese doesn’t raise or reduce your risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and some studies show it might even be protective.
Consumer Reports looked at the effects of eating cheese on various aspects of health, including cholesterol, the gut, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. They found positive signs from research that eating cheese actually can have several health benefits.
A few caveats: you’ll want to eat it in moderation, as part of a healthy, balanced diet (for example, a Mediterranean-style diet). And you’ll want to focus on natural cheeses, not processed cheese. So if it comes in a bag or can, or it’s American “cheese,” steer clear.
The #DeadHangChallenge Spotlights the Importance of Grip Strength
The fitness community on TikTok has been discovering dead hangs: the act of hanging from a bar. It’s a great exercise to loosen up your back, shoulders and spine, and improve your grip strength.
Most of the videos I’ve seen focus on people talking about how good dead hangs feel, and how they can actually feel the decompression in their spine. But one thing I think they’ve missed is the importance of grip strength, which can be an indicator of your overall health. In fact, research shows poor grip strength is correlated with health issues, like heart disease and cancer.
If you’d like to test you grip strength, dead hangs are a great place to start. See how long you can hang from the bar. If you’re interested in learning more, check out my recent TikTok video below.
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