Doctor advises eating 'close to nature'

Blue Cross and Blue Shield do. campaign
A still from an ad in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota's "do." campaign.
Screengrab via YouTube

If you live in Minnesota, you've likely seen this happy man in the red vest dancing across your television screen:

Read the post-show takeaway

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His dance moves are courtesy of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota's "do." campaign. The campaign is designed to motivate Minnesotans to be healthier by moving — even if it's just a little bit. Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently teamed up with the cities of Bloomington, Edina and Richfield to improve the health of those cities by "making the healthy choice the easy choice."

The Heart of New Ulm is another Minnesota initiative aimed at improving the health of an entire community — and it seems to be working. Since 2009, "among the program participants, 981 people have lost a collective 7,961 pounds," reports Eating Well. "And very preliminary results show a 24 percent reduction in heart attacks after 15 months of the project."

Community health initiatives like these are the focus of the "Connecting to Transform Communities" conference. One of the keynote speakers, Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, joins The Daily Circuit to discuss what communities can do to create healthier futures.

THE TAKEAWAY: Look for the short ingredient list.

Katz focused on nutrition, and said it's not true that economic status keeps people from eating healthy foods. More often, he said, ignorance is to blame.

"We looked at the barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption ... We found that price was just one of many. They didn't know what to do with vegetables, the places they shopped they weren't necessarily fresh. If you buy Cheese Doodles, they always taste exactly like you'd expect. But if you buy a peach, it may be sublime or it may taste like plastic. The same with tomatoes. So if people spend their hard-earned money on a peach that tastes like plastic, they never buy another peach.

"I think we need practical strategies to help people trade up. ... Can you buy better cereal? Yeah. You just need to know what it is. Can you buy better cereal without spending more money on it? Yeah. Same with bread, crackers, chips, beverages, you name it. Pasta sauce, salad dressing. ... That can add up to make the difference between avoiding chronic disease or succumbing to it.

"What should you eat? We can make that enormously complicated, and we shouldn't:

"Eat close to nature, as many foods as possible where the ingredient list is one word. You're not going to go wrong with broccoli or blueberries or salmon. Those foods are the best.

"Trade up your choices. One easy way is to pick foods with a short ingredient list. They're less processed, there's less hidden mischief in them.

"In terms of cutting down sugar, what I recommend to my patients is take it out of foods where it matters the least. There are pasta sauces on every supermarket shelf in the country that have literally more added sugar than ice cream topping. Who's pouring sugar over their pasta intentionally? So get rid of that. Get it out of salad dressings, get it out of breads and crackers and chips. And if you take gram after gram of sugar out of your daily diet, you actually rehabilitate your taste buds. You become more sensitive to sweet and you prefer less of it. You can go a long way toward the solution with that.

"Foods direct from nature: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, lean meats, organics dairy is good, whole grains, I like.

"In terms of artificial sweeteners in diet soda: I don't like them, because they're intensely sweet. They may offer a short-term advantage over sugar in regular soda. But they keep your taste buds craving intensely sweet food. And by growing your sweet tooth into a sweet fang, they will conspire against you. Because you'll tend to prefer your food sweeter and you'll seek out foods that have sugar, maybe even without realizing it. So I would say you want to get away from those."