I recently had the opportunity to go to the elementary school to help share some ideas on how to eat a healthier diet. I was impressed with the knowledge of the youngsters regarding making good food choices. When I came back to the hospital I visited a patient just out of surgery. She had a large bag of potato chips and a 12-pack of coca cola at her bedside. So, it occurred to me that it might be a good time to review some diet advice for adults too.
We continue to have an obesity epidemic in this country. The CDC reports that about 35% of the population is obese and that over 65% are overweight based on a body mass index (BMI) of over 25 as overweight and over 30 as obese. Obesity is treatable but it takes a change in lifestyle and a change in the way we eat.
Many people will recognize that they need to lose weight and will start on a healthy diet of about 2000-2500 calories a day. This will generally cause them to stop gaining but it will not lead to weight loss. Weight loss will require lowering calorie intake to about 1200 to 1500 calories a day.
The American diet is loaded with foods and drinks that have no nutritional value and just provide calories in the form of fat and sugar. For example, the supersized soft drinks can provide well over 300 calories with zero nutritional value. Foods like potato chips, pretzels, Cheetos, and other processed foods out of a bag have very little nutritional value while being very high in calories. When a person consumes excess calories in sugar and fat the body naturally takes those calories and stores them as fat. In order to lose weight, fat has to be burned. Fat can produce an amazing amount of energy. A person has to burn 3500 calories more than what they consume to be able to lose one pound of fat. Exercise helps burn fat, but exercise without diet changes is seldom successful for weight loss.
People who are trying to lose weight would have the most success if they could eliminate or at least significantly reduce the empty calories from carbohydrates. Protein in the diet is healthy. Protein provides the substances that are needed to preserve and build muscle. Protein can be found in beef, pork, fish, cheese, yogurt, nuts, eggs, beans, and tofu. Dairy products are a good source of calcium and protein. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals without many calories.
Portion control is a concept that our culture seems to have lost sight of. It is not uncommon to go to a restaurant and be served enough French fries to feed a whole family. When the 12-ounce can was introduced it was reported to have two servings. Today a soda serving for one person can have 32 ounces. It is not so bad to have a small piece of chocolate or a small piece of cake sometimes. But having large servings frequently is a problem. Supersizing is a problem especially when it is a sugary drink, French fries, or breaded fried foods.
Water remains a healthy beverage. It has no calories and no nutritional value but our bodies are about 65% water so proper hydration is important. Most other beverages have calories. White nonfat milk is a good option since it provides relatively low calories while also providing calcium and protein. However, chocolate milk has the nutrition of white milk but nearly twice as much sugar.
We make choices about what we eat every day. Unfortunately, foods with high concentrations of calories and low nutritional value are being consumed in large volumes. Choosing foods that are in their natural state, not processed, and have nutritional value will help control weight and promote health. Your diet is very important in helping you stay healthy my friends.
By: P. Michael Shattuck, M.D. – Community Health Network Family Physician