Eat baby carrots, whole grains are best and more nutrition news you can use

Healthy fruits and vegetables
What's the best route to a healthy lifestyle? (Getty Creative)

We are what we eat. It’s not just a cutesy catchphrase: What we put in our bodies affects our health and longevity. The Nutrition 2024 conference, hosted by the American Society for Nutrition, presented the latest research studies on food. Here’s what we learned. Add baby carrots to my shopping cart ASAP!

🥕 Snacking on carrots is great for you

Here’s one more reason to pack your lunch bag with carrots and hummus. Eating baby carrots three times a week significantly increased skin carotenoids. These phytonutrients, which are the pigments responsible for the bright colors in carrots and other veggies, are linked to a slew of health benefits, like better skin and stronger immune function.

🍽️ Eating well in your 40s can help you age better…

Those who follow a healthy diet beginning in their 40s are 43% to 84% more likely to maintain good physical, mental and cognitive health as they age. Researchers found that eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats is key — so, if you want to make a diet shift, no matter what your age, center your plate around these foods.

🥬 …but eating healthy earlier in life may be the best choice

Want to ace Wordle every morning? Look at what’s on your daily menu. Eating a healthy diet from youth to middle age can keep your brain sharp. Researchers in the United Kingdom found that those with high-quality diets — which included fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — had better cognitive abilities and a lower risk of dementia.

🍞 Why whole grain is best

You may have heard that whole grains are better for you than refined, but do you know why? They’re actually more nutritious: Whole grains retain significantly more nutrients than the refined kind, which lose 50% to 80% of major minerals during processing. Want the most nutritional bang for your buck when it comes to grains? Go for whole grains like whole wheat flours, quinoa, barley and farro.

🧁 Eating ultra-processed foods means a greater risk of death…

Ultra-processed foods are defined by heavy industrial processing and usually include things like extra oils, fats and sugars — which means, typically, they’re much less nutritious than their less-processed counterparts. (Think packaged cakes, cookies and those brightly colored cheese snacks.) The study, which looked at data from more than 500,000 Americans over the last 30 years, found that those who ate more of these ultra-processed foods had a 10% more likely chance of dying than those who ate less. The worst of the worst? Processed meat (like hot dogs and sausage, which is classified as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization) as well as soft drinks, which had the strongest ties to this increased mortality risk.

🥫 …but not all processed foods are bad

And now, the flip side.

While too many ultra-processed foods in one diet contributed to an increased risk of death, researchers presenting at the conference also looked at how eating minimally processed foods may not be enough. To show this, researchers compared two typical Western menus — one emphasizing minimally processed foods and the other ultra-processed foods — and found that the less processed option was over twice as expensive and had a shorter shelf life, it didn’t offer any additional nutrition.

Confused? It’s actually pretty simple: The researchers pointed out that certain foods that are considered “ultra-processed,” such as liquid egg whites, raisins and unsweetened applesauce, may actually contain many healthy properties, despite their classification. So, while you should skip cake and cookies (most of the time) it’s totally OK if certain processed foods remain on your plate.