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Fixin' Healthcare

Monday, January 02, 2006

Which Diet?

The “diet time” of the year has arrived. Most people come out of the holidays with the feeling they ate too much and exercised too little. Perhaps the scale has “jumped up” a few pounds. A sense of panic sets in with thoughts of dieting, joining a gym or jogging. Urgency is a prevailing mood.

The stimulus and motivation for action is good. To begin now rather than later is good. However, steady and consistent action produces results. Patience and persistence win every time. Start physical activity slowly and build up as your body tells you, but push a little more each day. Develop a detailed plan for each day and stick to it. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

There are a wide variety of diets, each advocating some element of truth. Each may be partially right but the diet and the results cannot be sustained. Calories, carbohydrates, fat grams and protein are isolated as the “key to success”. The usual thoughts about a diet are cutting back, doing without, depravation, not eating and starving. Everyday I see people who tell me that in the past when they wanted to lose weight all they had to do was reduce their eating. “Now, it doesn’t work. My metabolism is shot or nonexistent”. The more Americans attempt to diet, the more overweight they become.

The perception about metabolism functioning poorly is correct as far as it goes. At least people recognize that metabolism is at the core of the problem. Metabolism is the energy-producing and structure-building function of the human body. It is a complex and highly sophisticated biological function; a furnace, an engine and a factory. The objective is to achieve a normal metabolism, which will result in optimum health status and a desirable body weight. Achieving that objective requires giving the metabolism the proper fuel and building blocks (raw material), increasing physical activity, adequate sleep and managing stress.

Think of a diet as an eating program. Eating foods and drinking water that the metabolism needs to do the job required. It is not just a matter of carbohydrates, protein and fat, it is vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients (i.e. leutin, lycopene, carotenoids). This complex mixture of nutrients is contained in unprocessed food that our ancestors ate for hundreds of thousands of years. Lean protein (low in saturated fat), vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts and water are the basis of a healthy diet and there are lots of choices to provide for variety.

People are correct when they feel their metabolism is functioning at low level. Highly processed foods contain excess calories without the proper nutrients for the metabolism to function as needed. And, highly processed foods contain substances that directly interfere with proper functioning of metabolism. Excess sodium, excess sugar (usually fructose from corn syrup), excess omega-6 essential fatty acids, saturated fat, chemically altered fats, chemicals (i.e. artificial sweeteners) and drugs/medications have become major aspects of American life.

Chemically altered fats (vegetable oils) were created to avoid the elevation of low density (bad) cholesterol resulting from saturated fat in the diet. The altered fats did not protect from elevation of low density cholesterol and they lowered high density (good) cholesterol. Many obese people will have elevated liver enzymes associated with fatty infiltration of the liver. The British Medical Journal recently reported on obese children with fatty liver and cirrhosis.

Plan to eat whole (unprocessed) foods and avoid highly processed food in that order. Use that body of yours; it was built to move. Make a contribution to the needs of others and enjoy life.

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