The real lesson of the Women's Health Initiative study is this: if you don't change much, you don't improve much. Small changes in diet don't have much effect on preventing coronary heart disease and cancer. But bigger changes in diet and lifestyle may prevent heart attacks in almost everyone. In our studies, we found that people who already have heart disease or prostate cancer may slow, stop or even reverse its progression just by making intensive changes in diet and lifestyle. The more people changed their diet and lifestyle, the more improvement we saw.
You have a spectrum of choices. If you're at high risk or are trying to reverse heart disease or prevent the recurrence of cancer, you probably need to make bigger changes in diet and lifestyle than someone who just wants to lose a few pounds and is otherwise healthy. If you just want to lower your cholesterol, weight or blood pressure, begin by making moderate changes. If that's enough to achieve your goals, great; if not, then consider making bigger changes.
An optimal diet for most people is low in refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour, alcohol) and high in complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy products); low in fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats, and high in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon), and low in animal protein and high in plant-based proteins. Walk more. Love more. Meditate. Quit smoking. If you indulge yourself one day, eat more healthfully the next. If you're a couch potato one day, exercise a little more the next. Studies have shown that those who eat the healthiest diets are the ones who allow some indulgences. It's not just about living longer, but living better. These are diet and lifestyle changes that make you feel good. To the degree you move in a healthful direction on this spectrum, you're likely to feel better, look better, lose weight and gain health.