Reducing calories, carbohydrates and fat might lower your weight, but in the process, you actually might be missing out on the very nutrients that help prevent obesity and diet-related degenerative diseases. Some of today’s popular diets eliminate or ignore foods that contain an abundance of nutrients essential to keeping our bodies at their very best — the dietary equivalent of shooting ourselves in the foot with every pound we lose. So if you’re ready to move beyond mere loss of poundage and into optimum health, the following tips will lead the way.
Melanie Polk, R.D., director for nutrition education for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), says, “The greatest harm done by the fad diets derives from the odd combinations of foods they recommend. They urge people to cut back to a greater or lesser degree on the fruits and vegetables that have been shown to prevent chronic disease. Long-term health is sacrificed to short-term weight loss.”
According to the AICR, diets rich in vegetables and fruits provide the best protection against cancer. Recently, an AICR-established expert panel reviewed 247 studies investigating links between cancer and consumption of vegetables or fruits. Seventy-eight percent of those studies showed vegetables and fruits help prevent cancer, and none suggested that foods might promote cancer.
In contrast, no studies suggest commercial red meat (beef, lamb or pork) has any cancer-preventive properties, and many studies link grilled, cured, smoked and processed meats to increased risk of some cancers.
Drastically cutting carbs also may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. According to Harvard experts in a 2002 Journal of the American Medical Association study, diets including whole grains and an abundance of fruits and vegetables can provide substantial protection against heart disease.
Studies comparing meat-based low-carbohydrate and plant-based low-fat diets indicate the low-carbohydrate diets may produce greater weight loss initially, but beyond six months, the plant-based approach works better. Data from the National Weight Control Registry indicates that people successful in maintaining long-term weight loss eat carbohydrate-rich diets in which fats on average provide only 24 percent of calories. A recent research review published in The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found the scientific evidence strongly supports reducing dietary fat, not carbs, as the optimal method for preventing obesity.
We’re not saying you should load up on chips, fries and white bread. Do limit the unhealthy carbohydrates — just don’t view carbs as the enemy and their elimination as The Answer to all your health questions. We know you want to maintain a healthy weight, or you wouldn’t be reading this article. Here are a few proven actions that will help you improve your health and prevent degenerative diseases.
A nutritionist and herbalist based in Phoenix, Don Matesz heads the holistic nutrition program at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Tempe, Arizona. He and his wife, Rachel Albert-Matesz, co-authored The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet and Cookbook (See Bookshelf, Page 55). To learn more about the book, visit www.herbsforhealth.com and select “Products.”
Breakfast at home
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts and the University of South Carolina found those who skip breakfast had a 4.5 times greater risk of obesity than people who regularly consumed breakfast at home. Breakfast skippers also consumed more total daily calories than breakfast eaters. But grabbing a breakfast biscuit for the road isn’t the answer: The studies revealed that people who frequently ate breakfast out had more than twice the risk of obesity as people who breakfasted at home.
Eat at least three meals daily
The previous study also found that people who ate four or more meals or snacks daily had a 33 percent lower risk of being overweight — corroborating previous findings in favor of smaller, more frequent meals. In 2001, University of Cambridge scientists confirmed research indicating that people who eat small amounts of food more frequently also tend to have lower levels of blood cholesterol and fat.
Plan a plant-rich diet
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends two-thirds or more of the food we eat come from vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts, and only one-third or less come from animals. Humans appear designed for a plant-dominated, omnivorous diet, and the preponderance of research indicates people eating traditional plant-dominated diets, such as those of Greece and Okinawa, experience much lower incidences of obesity and degenerative diseases.
Prefer vegetables and fruits to other plants
Cutting-edge research links osteoporosis, muscle loss and several other age-related diseases to too much acidity in the body from a diet low in fruits and vegetables. A diet containing at least 65 percent vegetables and fruits by weight promotes a more alkaline system, which may prevent or lessen these diseases. Vegetables and fruits also contain the highest levels of antioxidant vitamins, minerals and other natural compounds that prevent damage by cancer-causing agents or interfere with growth and reproduction of cancer cells.
Choose whole grains
Many studies have found that people who eat whole grains instead of refined grains have lower risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Whole grains provide disease-fighting chemicals — fiber, oligosaccharides, vitamins, trace minerals, phenolic acids, lignans, phytoestrogens and phytates — that are lacking in refined grains. Soaked, sprouted or fermented whole-grain products offer even more benefits.
Snack on nuts
People who consume nuts regularly have lower risks of cardiovascular disease, according to many excellent studies. Nuts contain unsaturated oils and other compounds beneficial to health. However, nuts pack more calories than other plant foods — 400 calories per half-cupful — so exercise moderation if you wish to reduce stored body fat.
Eat wild-caught fish several times weekly
People who eat fish regularly enjoy a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and several cancers. Wild fish, which contains less total fat and more omega-3 oil than farmed fish, is especially beneficial. Many studies link omega-3 oils to improved cardiovascular and nervous-system health and inhibition of cancer cells.
Eat skinless poultry or meat from wild or 100 percent grass-fed animals instead of commercial meats
Experts recommend these meats over conventional, grain-fed red meat. Poultry or pasture-fed meats contain less total fat and saturated fat, and more omega-3 oils than feedlot-fattened beef. One hundred percent grass-fed meats also contain three to five times more conjugated linoleic acid than commercial meats, a substance which preliminary research suggests blocks cancer growth.
Minimize milk products
Some experts believe American mass-market milk products are linked to allergies, cardiovascular disease, and prostate and ovarian cancer, among other ailments. A Harvard study of 72,337 postmenopausal women found no evidence that daily use of dairy products prevents osteoporosis. Some non-dairy calcium-rich foods include bok choy, kale, collards, parsley, sea vegetables, and canned salmon and sardines with the bones.
Limit dietary fats and oils
Gram for gram, fats and oils contain up to 45 times more calories than vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes or lean meats, and at least 95 percent of excess dietary fat becomes body fat. Some research links cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer to diets rich in common vegetable oils, such as corn oil. Flax, olive, coconut and unrefined canola oils have favorable fatty acid profiles and documented health benefits, but provide 40 to 45 fat calories in every teaspoon, so use them lightly, according to your caloric requirements.
Dark chocolate — yes!
Dark chocolate may help you ward off degenerative diseases if you eat it without the refined sugar or fat found in candies and recipes. Dark chocolate’s Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) rating for antioxidant power exceeds many vegetables and fruits. Try adding defatted, unsweetened cocoa powder to a fruit-sweetened smoothie, or dip pitted dates in melted unsweetened baker’s chocolate, refrigerate until firm and enjoy.
Drink green tea
Green tea drinkers appear to experience lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity because of the high polyphenol content of tea leaves. Green tea polyphenols taken with meals inhibit absorption of excessive iron that promotes harmful free radical activity. The polyphenols act as antioxidants, lower cholesterol, and may inhibit thrombosis (blood clots in blood vessels) and increase your metabolism to ward off obesity. Research published in 2000 also links green tea consumption to greater bone mineral density, reduced arthritis and prevention of cataracts.