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Published: September, 2013; Vol 10, Num 4


Getting Your BMI in Shape (Part II)



Dietary Habits That Make a Difference

In part I of our series, we looked into BMI, calories, exercise and fat in our diet. In part II, we examined the role of sugar and carbohydrates. Now, in part III, we report on antioxidants and the combined impact of sugar and fat. In the final part, we will recommend dietary habits for life.

What is the newest information on antioxidants?

Antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains and some meats, poultry and fish. They have always been a mainstay of human diets, but typically, modern-day diets contain far fewer amounts.

Antioxidants help the body handle free radicals, molecules produced when the body breaks down ingested food or encounters environmental hazards such as radiation or smoke. Background radiation is everywhere and penetrates our bodies. And until relatively modern time, fire-cooked food and associated smoke were persistent parts of human consumption. Tobacco smoking and air pollutants induce free radicals as well.

Free radicals damage cells and may play a role in the development of cancer, heart disease and other diseases as well. Although the precise mechanisms are still under investigation, cranberries, pomegranates, red bell peppers, grapes and red wine (in moderation) appear to be particularly effective at controlling free radicals and disease.

Also, a variety of vitamins and minerals, mostly found in fresh fruits and vegetables, is an important protection against bacteria and viruses that cause more common sicknesses. Roughage, the dietary fiber and cellulose that makes up the bulk of many fruits and vegetables, also plays an important role in digestion.

Today, most North Americans eat far fewer fruits and vegetables than was typical before the widespread adoption of commercially-processed foods and carry-out eating. Generally, five to nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables is recommended. More is even better.

Managing caloric intakes

Body fat is the obvious evidence of a high BMI which, in turn, is closely associated with metabolic syndrome (heart disease and diabetes). However, the connection between a high BMI and metabolic syndrome is complicated and varies from person to person. Indeed, it is not uncommon for persons with low or normal BMIs to develop serious disease.

Genetics is part of the issue, but one we cannot control.

We can control total calorie consumption. While food shortages often plagued society in other times and places, today, even most underprivileged people (in the developed world) have access to plenty of food on a regular basis (though in so-called "food deserts," much of it is unwholesome). Many of us consume more calories than we really need, and this contributes to weight gain.

Another piece we can control is the source of our calories. Calories from sugar, for instance, should generally be kept to a minimum because sugar consumption has a strong association with increased metabolic syndrome (see part II) as well as weight gain. Some fat sources are not associated with weight gain despite their calories (plain, low-fat yogurt is an example) while some no-fat, low-fat or low-calorie products produce weight gain despite their lack of calories (diet soda,for instance). "Low fat" processed food often contains ingredients that boost weight gain.

The real goal is to shift the dietary balance to "good" fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) from "bad" fat (cutting back on saturated while eliminating trans). By achieving a proper balance among fats and limiting carbohydrate and sugar intake from processed food, cholesterol levels can usually be kept at acceptable levels without the need of medication (statins). Your BMI will move toward the normal range as well. Keeping a food journal is a practical way to monitor your food intake and assess how best to make changes.

Next month: dietary habits for life.

[Steve Clark]