How to Reduce the Risk of Nutritional Diseases

Published May 1, 2005

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of diseases related to poor nutrition. Rates of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and obesity are all rising rapidly. No changes to public policy are likely to control or reduce spending on medical care so long as this epidemic continues.

In this column, public health scientists Alice and Fred Ottoboni describe simple dietary and lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce the risk of modern nutritional diseases and, at the same time, improve one’s health and sense of well-being. These suggestions are reprinted with permission from the Ottoboni’s 2002 book, The Modern Nutritional Diseases and How to Prevent Them (Vincente Books Inc., [email protected], ISBN 0-915241-03-X).

Calculate Your Body Mass Index (BMI)

The number you obtain for your BMI will tell you whether you are normal, overweight, or obese. It is important that you know your BMI because, as discussed in Chapter One of The Modern Nutritional Diseases, overweight and obesity are serious risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes.

Calculating a BMI is confusing because the formula uses meters for height and kilograms for weight. We believe everyone should know their own BMI; thus, we used some arithmetic to convert kilograms and meters to the more familiar pounds and inches. The BMI calculated by using the following directions is exactly the same as that calculated from weight in kilograms and height in meters:

Multiply your body weight in pounds by 704.5, and divide this product by your height in inches squared. As an example, one of us (Fred) weighs 150 pounds and is 68 inches tall. To determine his BMI on a calculator (or by hand), multiply his body weight, 150 pounds, by 704.5. The product is 105675. Then, calculate his height squared (68 x 68), which gives the number 4624. Now, divide 105675 by 4624. The result, 22.85, is Fred’s BMI. If you follow this example on your own calculator and get the same result, you are ready to calculate your own BMI. Overweight is a BMI between 25 and 29.9; obese is a BMI of more than 30.

If you are seriously overweight, and particularly if you are obese, it is very important to consider changing your dietary habits. You should work with your doctor to coordinate dietary changes with your state of health and particularly with any prescription drug usage, because healthy diets are known to reduce the need for certain prescription drugs.

Review Your Current Food Habits

The average American diet is seriously flawed. After calculating your BMI and examining your current food habits, plan the appropriate changes in your diet.

Individuals of Normal or Slight Overweight

Barry Sears’ book, Enter the Zone (New York, NY: Regan Books, HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), is a good starting point and an ideal model to use for evaluating your current dietary program. For older people, Sears’ The Anti-Aging Zone (New York, NY: Regan Books, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999) provides additional information relating nutrition to the aging process.

The balanced diet formulated by Sears (40 percent carbohydrate calories; 30 percent protein calories; 30 percent fat calories) is not only an excellent maintenance diet but also a sensible weight-loss diet for people with only a few extra pounds to lose.

The Omega Diet: The Lifesaving Nutritional Program Based on the Diet of the Island of Crete, by Artemis P. Simopoulos and Jo Robinson (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999), provides valuable information for a review of the essential fatty acid component of your current diet. It shows how to limit trans fats and excess omega-6 fatty acids and how to balance essential fatty acid intake. Simopoulos follows a basic plan similar to the 40:30:30 plan of Sears, but with a stress on the essential fatty acid component of the diet.

Next issue: Continue to review your food habits, and then plan a healthful diet by zeroing in on carboyhydrates.