Foods for Ailments: A Doctor's Shopping List
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Foods for Ailments: A Doctor's Shopping List

Find out what top docs pick up at the grocery store.

Portion patrol

What are the best foods to help prevent such illnesses as cancer, heart disease and diabetes? To find out what doctors feed their own families, LHJ went grocery shopping with five specialists from the Mayo Clinic.

The expert: Maria L. Collazo-Clavell, M.D., an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes, is married to a cardiologist and has three children, ages 12 months, 8 years and 10 years.

A few of the things in her shopping cart:

  • Onions, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, red and green peppers: "We try to eat salad often."
  • Skinless chicken breasts and pork chops: "Leaner cuts of meat are healthiest."
  • Baked potato chips: "Lower in fat than regular chips; good for snacking."
  • White bread with added fiber: "My kids don't like whole wheat, so this way they get the fiber they need."

A growing problem: "Servings have gotten out of control, and that's contributing to the rise in obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Years ago, soda came in eight-ounce bottles, and now it's not uncommon to see vending machines with sixteen or even twenty-ounce bottles. Appropriate portion sizes are key to a healthy diet."

Downsizing: "I used to buy enough meat to feed up to six people, but that's too much for two adults and two kids. Many people are surprised when they see that a three-ounce serving of meat is only the size of a deck of cards."

Must-have food: "Low-fat milk. Adults and kids today don't get enough dietary calcium."

Added incentives: "It takes a little extra effort to sell healthy things to my middle child. I sometimes sprinkle sugar on top of strawberries, for instance -- whatever it takes to get her to eat fruits and vegetables!"

Little indulgences: "We do buy bacon or sausage, but have it only a couple of times a month as a treat. We also buy ice cream, although we serve only one scoop and rarely use toppings."

Bottom line: If you want it, eat it -- in moderation."

Foods that help prevent cancer

The expert: Clinical nutritionist Peggy Menzel, R.D., L.D., and her husband, oncologist Edward Creagan, M.D., nearly always do their food shopping together. Both are vegetarian.

A few of the things in their shopping cart:

  • Tomatoes: "They're loaded with lycopene, a type of antioxidant."
  • Carrots: "A great snack with zero fat."
  • Peanut butter: "We buy the natural kind, which is not hydrogenated. It's better for your heart."
  • Juice: "Look for one hundred percent juice, not juice cocktail, because there is no added sugar."
  • Shredded mozzarella: "Cheese is high in fat, so we use it in moderation."

The value of veggies: "A plant-based diet is of greatest value in decreasing the risk of cancer," says Creagan. "Best bets for cancer-fighting foods include vegetables, fruits, fish and whole grains, legumes and other high-fiber, low-fat foods."

Her must-have food: "I eat at least one apple every day. They are rich in pectin (a soluble fiber) and also in flavonoids and polyphenols, which may protect against cell and tissue damage, cancer, cardiovascular disease and cataracts."

His top pick: "Bananas are one of the first things I put in the cart. They are high in fiber and potassium, and they're easy to carry for lunch or snacks."

Bread winner: "We buy bread that's very high in fiber -- one slice has three to five grams, so a single sandwich provides more fiber than many Americans get in a day. Generally speaking, you should aim for about thirty-five grams of fiber daily," says Menzel.

Smart food: "There is some evidence that the fatty content in fish may be a factor in retaining memory and mental sharpness," says Creagan.

His favorite vice: "Lime-flavored tortilla chips."

Her rationale: "At least they're lower in fat than potato chips. Fat-free pretzels, baked chips and low-fat microwave popcorn are other good snack choices."

Pill power: "I take one multivitamin, 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E and one baby aspirin daily," says Creagan. "You can debate the value of supplements, but the evidence suggests more benefits than risks."

Bottom line: "People are living longer than ever, so the choices we make today will impact our quality of life for years to come," says Creagan. "Read the label; your health depends on it."

Eating for a healthy heart

The expert: Cardiologist Sharonne Hayes, M.D., has a 6-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. Hayes and her husband, also a cardiologist, stopped eating meat seven or eight years ago (their children still eat it occasionally); they eat seafood once or twice a month.

A few of the things in her shopping cart:

  • Avocados: "Relatively high in calories, but loaded with the 'good' fat -- monosaturated -- which lowers cholesterol."
  • Walnuts: "There is some evidence that nuts lower risk of heart disease."
  • Basmati rice: "More fiber than regular white rice."
  • Frozen vegetable burgers: "Convenient and good for you."
  • Romaine: "When it comes to lettuce the rule is, the darker the leaf, the more vitamins it has."

A motivated shopper: "My father had his first heart attack at forty-nine. If you have that kind of family history, you need to do virtually everything else right, and that includes eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day."

Must-have food: "Lentils, and legumes in general, are high in protein and fiber, and fat free. Plus, they're versatile and taste great."

Quality over quantity: "I like cheesecake, but I'm picky about it. If I'm going to eat it, I'm going to have the best cheesecake in the world. That way, a tiny slice satisfies me."

Kid stuff: "Right now, my daughter would rather have an artichoke than a hamburger. I know that when she gets a little older, she's going to make some unhealthy choices. But I hope that after a few years of eating badly, she'll go back to wanting healthy foods."

Bone booster: "Three or four years ago, I started thinking more about calcium. My family drinks a lot of milk, but I don't. Instead, I drink orange juice with added calcium, eat yogurt once in a while and take calcium supplements."

Fat facts: "It's important to minimize fat intake for heart health and weight control. When you do choose a fat, get the least saturated option, which is better for your heart. The more solid it is at room temperature, the more saturated it is. For example, soft margarine in a tub is lower in saturated fat than stick margarine."

Bottom line: "I tell my patients that you don't have to give up everything you love. It's not about shunning foods that are bad for you. It's about choosing foods that are going to improve your health."

Heading off hypertension

Instead of a shopping list, Brooks Edwards, M.D., a cardiologist who also serves as medical director of, refers to a handful of recipes printed out from the clinic's Web site. Edwards and his wife, a pediatrician, have three children, ages 8, 10 and 13.

A few of the things in his shopping cart:

  • Lemons: "I buy them because they're good for a quick shot of flavor. Healthy food does not need to be bland."
  • Tuna steaks: "Fish is healthier than many other main courses."
  • Deli turkey: "I buy the plain kind. Mesquite and other flavorings typically add a lot of sodium."
  • Pasteurized eggs: "Unlike most eggs sold in supermarkets, pasteurized eggs have been heated to kill salmonella bacteria."

Say no to salt: "Over fifty million people in the U.S. -- almost one out of four -- have high blood pressure, which can damage arteries and increase the risk for heart problems and stroke. A good guideline is no more than 2,400 mg of sodium per day."

Must-have food: "Low-fat yogurt has a number of benefits. In a clinical study, people who ate a diet high in a combination of low-fat dairy products and fruits and vegetables had greater reductions in blood pressure than people who emphasized fruits and vegetables alone. Yogurt is also a good source of protein and calcium for our family of poor milk drinkers."

Fish fans: "We buy fish because we all like it, and it's healthy. Today I'm getting tuna; it looks fresher than the salmon, which is another one of our favorites. We often grill it outside and serve it with artichokes and fresh bread."

Sweet treats: "My kids love frozen dessert bars. I buy fudge pops or frozen-fruit bars, which usually have less fat and calories than ice cream."

Bottom line: "The devil is in the details. Having a salad for lunch may not be as good as it sounds if it's a taco salad in a deep-fried crisp with a ton of high-fat meat in the middle and gobs of sour cream on top. You can't eat that and say, 'I only had a salad.'" --Sharlene K. Johnson

Foods to add to your grocery list

The healthy grocery list

All of our Mayo specialists buy the following foods. Add them to your shopping list:

Apples Bananas Baby carrots Tomatoes Prewashed, bagged salad greens A variety of fresh or frozen vegetables Legumes Oatmeal Skim milk Orange juice with added calcium Olive oil