How to Reduce the Risk of Nutritional Diseases

Published June 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 taken 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) and appear here with the authors’ permission.

Review Your Current Food Habits

Overweight and Obese Individuals

If you are obese, coordinate weight reduction plans with your physician.

It would prove of great value for you to read Enter the Zone (Barry Sears) and The Omega Diet (Artemis P. Simopoulos and Jo Robinson) to compare your current diet–the diet that brought you into the overweight or obese category–with a diet that fosters and supports normal, healthful weight.

Sears’ 40:30:30 diet plan will result in a gradual weight loss; thus, you must have patience. If you are excessively obese, the loss may be too slow to provide you with immediate health benefits.

For very obese people, Dr. Robert C. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, a diet very low in carbohydrates, and Michael R. and Mary Dan Eades’ Protein Power are excellent starting points for planning weight-reducing diets. Read the section on high-protein (low-carbohydrate) diets in Chapter Six of The Modern Nutritional Diseases.

Plan a Healthful Diet

After you have evaluated your current diet and determined what needs correcting, it is time to plan the changes you want to make. Unless you are among the fortunate few who are already following a 40:30:30 program, you will need to learn more about the macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids) and nutritional supplements. See Chapters Four through Eight of The Modern Nutritional Diseases for more information.

Zero In On Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are critical components that determine whether a diet is healthful or unhealthful. This is because carbohydrates are metabolized to glucose; glucose stimulates release of insulin; and insulin directs conversion of excess calories (primarily from sugar and starch) to body fat and cholesterol.

1. Familiarize yourself with the glycemic indices of carbohydrate foods. This will tell you how rapidly they are converted to glucose. Avoid foods with high glycemic indices. A sampling of glycemic indices and sources of information about them are given in Chapter Five.

2. Consume no more than 40 percent of your daily calories as carbohydrates. You cannot be healthy if your carbohydrate consumption is unknown and out of control.

3. Eliminate candy and soft drinks (liquid candy).

4. Eliminate the use of table sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrates, which include dry cereals, breads, and other bakery products. Reserve sugar-containing desserts as rare treats on special occasions, but only when part of a 40:30:30 balanced meal.

5. Appetite (hunger) cannot be controlled unless carbohydrates, in the form of sugar and starch, are controlled.

6. Do not use sugar substitutes. Even though they are not carbohydrates, they behave like carbohydrates in stimulating insulin production and promoting synthesis of body fat and cholesterol.

7. Obtain your dietary carbohydrates primarily from fruits and vegetables. Use low-glycemic whole grain foods, and even these only sparingly.

8. Substitute apples for bread. For people who consider a meal incomplete without a slice of bread or a dinner roll, try quartered or sliced apples as a satisfying and healthful substitute. They are a good bread substitute because their flavor compliments all kinds of foods, from breakfast eggs to dinner steak, and they have the added advantage of being available year round.

Zero In On Proteins

Unlike glucose (carbohydrate) and fatty acids (lipids), protein is not stored by the body. It is required to make muscle tissues, hair, nails, tendons, hormones, enzymes, antibodies, and a wide variety of valuable biochemicals. Regular intake of good quality protein is necessary for optimum health.

1. Protein, primarily from meat, fish, eggs, or cheese, should constitute 30 percent of the calories at every meal.

2. Do not exclude animal proteins from your diet plan, if possible. Animal proteins are more efficient sources of amino acids than are vegetable proteins. In addition, they contain certain valuable nutrients that are present in limited quantity or not found at all in vegetables.

Zero In On Lipids

Dietary fats perform valuable and necessary functions in the body. They are much more than merely fuels to provide energy. Mary G. Enig’s Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol contains important and factual information about dietary fats that every person who is interested in a healthful diet should know.

1. Dietary fats cannot make excessive body fat or cholesterol unless accompanied by excessive carbohydrate intake.

2. A variety of lipids, including saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and essential fatty acids, should constitute at least 30 percent of your diet. Do not exclude from your diet whole eggs, full-fat dairy products, and reasonable amounts of fat from beef, lamb, chicken, or pork.

3. Control your omega-6 fatty acid intake by reducing to a minimum products that are based on or contain vegetable seed oils, including salad oils, shortenings, and margarine. Instead, use virgin olive oil, butter, lard, and coconut oil.

4. Control your trans fat intake. Trans fats are unhealthful fats. They occur primarily in refined vegetable oils, vegetable shortenings, and products labeled as containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

5. As a general rule, learn to read food labels so you are aware of the contents of products and can control what you eat.

6. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for life, but an excess of omega-6 fatty acids is detrimental to good health. For optimum health the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be less than 4-to-1. Improve your omega-3 intake by including 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of alpha-linolenic acid (flax oil) and 600 to 1,000 milligrams of EPA+DHA (fish or fish oil) a day. Fish oil supplements are especially important for people who do not eat cold water fish at least several times per week. The Omega Diet: The Lifesaving Nutritional Program Based on the Diet of the Island of Crete, by Artemis P. Simopoulos and Jo Robinson is a good reference for planning a healthful essential fatty acid program.

7. It is extremely important to remember that an imbalance of essential fatty acids and an excess of glucose-forming foods (sugar and starch) are two of the most important nutritional causes of the modern nutritional diseases.

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