The Executive Health Program at Mayo Clinic partners with YPO to provide health and wellness education and content that is relevant to busy CEOs who prioritize being on the top of their game and their health. Internationally renowned, Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to clinical practice, education and research, providing expert, whole-person care to everyone who needs healing. At Mayo Clinic, the needs of the patient come first. 

Busy people — like you — have time to eat a healthy diet. 

“Don’t underestimate your ability to make changes,” says Dr. Donald Hensrud, an internal medicine physician who specializes in healthy living and nutrition with the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program.   

When Hensrud and his colleague Dr. Warren Thompson, also an internal medicine physician within the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program, lay out the facts to support healthier food choices, participants in the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program pay attention and make changes.  

“People who eat a healthy diet are more likely to live longer lives and be free of heart disease, cancer and diabetes than people who do not,” says Thompson, whose practice focuses on preventive medicine.  

Here’s more motivation. People who follow a healthy diet, and who get good physical activity, sufficient sleep, limit alcohol (one drink a day or less), do not smoke and keep weight within normal limits, can expect to live 12 to 15 years longer than those who do none of these things.

Yes, 12 to 15 years.

The benefits of making healthy food choices are immediate, too. 

“Over and over, we hear this from patients. When they eat better, move more and weigh less, they feel much better. A healthy diet can improve the quality of life right away,” says Hensrud.   

What is the best diet plan?

Numerus studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is among the healthiest options. It’s based on the traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, where there is a low incidence of heart disease. The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.

Another proven approach is the Mayo Clinic Diet, which was developed by Hensrud and others including Thompson. It is based on the concept that consuming generous amounts of low-energy dense foods, such as vegetables and fruits, will enable people to achieve satiety at a lower calorie level and manage weight more effectively. These same plant-based foods will help to improve health long term.

“The Mayo Clinic Diet is more than a diet; it is a lifestyle approach that can help you maintain a healthy weight for the rest of your life,” says Hensrud.    

Other weight loss or diet approaches can be beneficial, too. Keep in mind, a plant-based diet is preferred to an animal-based diet, particularly one that emphasizes red meat. In general, a diet that is too low or too high in carbohydrate is not as healthy as a more balanced diet. 

“Please remember that while weight is a good indicator, it’s not the most important one,” says Thompson. “Health is the most important goal. Often when people decide to start moving more and eating better, they get frustrated when they don’t see immediate results, or they aren’t losing weight rapidly. I’d encourage those people to not focus as much on weight. Even if one is not losing weight, eating well and exercising makes a big difference. 

“Even when people are overweight or mildly obese but eat well and exercise, they live longer than people who are thin and eat a poor diet and are not fit,” he continues.

What to eat?

Hensrud and Thompson recommend a well-balanced diet that emphasizes:

Vegetables and fruits: Incorporate vegetables of all types and colors. Craving sweets? Opt for fruit. 

Whole grains: Options include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, oatmeal, popcorn and whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers. Look for breads, cereals and pasta with a total carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio less than 10. 

Legumes: This includes beans, lentils and snap peas. These foods are low in fat, high in fiber (that fills you up) and contain no cholesterol. A good source of protein, legumes can be a healthy substitute for meat.

Foods with healthy fats: Choices include olive oil, salmon, avocado, avocado oil and nuts. 

These foods are best minimized, as they increase the risk of mortality: Refined grains, red meat, processed meat, sugary beverages including soda and fruit juice, and unhealthy fats, such as coconut oil and palm oil. Cookies, doughnuts, pastries, ice cream and red meat are all sources of unhealthy fats.

Getting started  

As a business leader, you may have some challenges — a packed schedule and eating out frequently — to consider as you make changes in your food choices. Start by making small changes that you can sustain and build from there.

Here are some starter tips: 

Start in the morning: Breakfast can be the easiest meal of the day to change. Switching from bacon and eggs to a whole grain cereal with non-fat or low-fat milk with a piece of whole grain toast is a great start.

On the go: Keep fruit or nuts in your computer bag so you always have healthy snacks available.

Eating out: Eat a healthy snack before going to a restaurant, where it can be very difficult to select health options.  

Limit alcohol: Enjoying carbonated or flavored water can decrease alcohol consumption 

Eat what you enjoy: Eat more of the healthy foods you like, rather than trying to eat healthy foods that aren’t your favorites.

“Living a healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthy diet, is among the most important things we all can do for long-term health,” says Hensrud. “Grab an apple instead of a candy bar. Skip the red meat entrée. Don’t order dessert. We all have time to make these changes.” 

Both Donald Hensrud, M.D., M.S., and Warren Thompson, M.D., provide wellness and nutrition counseling to patients in Mayo Clinic’s Executive Health Program.  Both are board certified in internal medicine and have special interests in nutrition, obesity and preventive care. Additionally, both conduct Lifestyle Medicine consults, which can be requested as in the Executive Health Program. 

As a leading authority on the health needs of CEOs and business leaders, the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program is proud to share this message from our team. For more information on what the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program can do for YPO members, companies, forums and chapters reach out through YPO Connect Mayo Clinic.