There are definitely some very specific “trends” with relation to “diet and what to eat and not” and some do have foundation and scientific basis – however, be careful of the ones that sound “too good to be true" as they usually are.
Never before have the statistics on obesity been so high in New Zealand, with more than half of the adult population being either overweight or obese. Looking at this, we find that the New Zealand pattern is similar to the USA, with around three meals per week being cooked in the home. Since the trend of frequently eating out is expected to continue, strategies to improve the diet are essential and must address our food choices when eating out, preparing and organising meals.
Researchers have found a lot of people are consuming far too many carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potato, bread, sugar) and too little protein (such as meats, fish, nuts and seeds). For health professionals seeing these people, this is of real concern – especially as new research shows that some of our major health risks may be initiated by such diets.
Let’s look at this more closely. A too higher carbohydrate intake produces too much insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas when we eat sugar or foods that release sugar upon digestion, such as carbohydrates. Insulin enables our cells to absorb glucose from the blood. The cells process the glucose to make the energy they need to function. However, if you eat too much sugar or carbohydrates in proportion to your protein intake, your pancreas will pump out too much insulin. This can have many harmful effects.
The pancreas may, over time, become fatigued and no longer able to produce insulin, leading to diabetes. The high level of insulin causes insulin resistance. This means there is so much insulin in the blood that the cell receptors may become exhausted or may not be produced in as great a number. The cells then become unreceptive or resistant to the effects of insulin.
When cells become resistant to insulin, they lose energy and messages are sent out, which makes the pancreas produce more insulin. This increases the levels in the blood, or hyperinsulinaemia, which leads to more resistance. This is a problem because insulin causes the body to store carbohydrates as fat and stops fat being used as a source of energy production. So the high levels of insulin being produced by the over-consumption of carbohydrates (or eating the wrong type of carbohydrates) will not only make you fat but keep you fat. This may be one major reason why some people are not able to effectively reduce their total body fat levels.
Many practitioners who work specifically with fat loss, are finding that when they are “measuring” people’s total muscle mass, this is coming up well below the optimal amount for their height and weight. This is of major concern, as we now know that maintaining a “positive” or active muscle mass is essential for good health, as well as longevity. Muscle mass is considered by experts as our number one biological marker for aging. To maintain an active muscle mass and stay anabolic (building of healthy cells), we need to consume more calories from low fat protein sources and less from carbohydrates. Typically, lean-body cell mass but especially muscle mass, declines with age. From young adulthood to middle age, the average person looses three kilograms of lean body mass per decade. This rate of loss accelerates after the age of 45.
Muscle is a key determinant of metabolic rate. A higher metabolic rate will typically result in more kilojoules being consumed per day and a greater control over body fat mass. To achieve long-term weight control, muscle mass must be adequate. As well as this, a progressive reduction in basal metabolic rate is a recognised characteristic of the ageing process and diminishing muscle mass may be largely responsible for this.
So what can we do to address these issues?
Have a close and honest look at your own diet and exactly what you are and aren’t eating. To get your metabolism working, you need to eat regularly. Don’t think that because you may be carrying extra fat, you need to eat less – in fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth!
It is ideal to eat smaller, more frequent meals, so your metabolism keeps working all day. Don’t leave breakfast too late after rising, and then consider eating each two and a half hours during the day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner should consist of a good portion of protein (about the size of your own palm), a smaller carbohydrate and a big salad or lightly cooked vegetables (but not potato or other starchy veggies). You should have snacks to keep your blood sugar levels up and your metabolism working. Ideally, theses should consist of protein only. A handful of almonds, an egg or a portion of a delicious protein bar are good choices. Eating out for dinner is easy – choose a steak, fish or chicken with vegetables. An oil and vinegar dressing is a good choice.
Cut out simple carbohydrates – lollies, sugar, white flour products, soft drinks etc.
Drink more water – but ideally not at a meal, as this dilutes digestive enzymes. Get a sipper bottle so you can accurately monitor how much you are drinking, and sip on this constantly throughout the day – ideally no less than two litres a day.
Exercise is essential and the more you do, the more fat you will burn. Any “movement” that produces resistance (rowing, swimming, weights etc) will also help to increase muscle mass – so long as your protein intake is adequate. If you are not used to doing exercise, seek the advice of a professional trainer. Always remember – any exercise you do, you will benefit from so start off realistically and work up from there.
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