The Sensible Diet

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With the various diets flooding the market out there, each claiming to be "the right one" or "the best diet" for health, the public, including some healthcare providers themselves, is confused. The controversial Adkins diet, the South Beach Diet, Hollywood Diet, and the various other you-name-it-diets, provide choices that only add to the dilemma. Some of the too-detailed and complex "formulas" are hard to remember and impractical. Others are expensive. Some are even downright unhealthy and dangerous, in the long term.

The Adkins diet, for instance, allows you to eat all the pork, beef, eggs, cheese and creamy sauces (which are all very rich in saturated fats) as much as you want, with basically no calorie-ceiling, so long as you severely restrict your carbohydrate intake. It argues that eating carbohydrates is the reason for the weight gain that weight-conscious people are battling against. But weight control is only half of the story, as far as a healthy lifestyle is concerned. The Adkins diet neglected to focus on the adverse health effects of such high-fat, high-cholesterol intake, as they relate to the increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Controlling the weight is only one of the essential factors towards a healthier body.

Double-edged Sword

I fully agree that eating a lot of carbohydrates (like white rice, refined sugar, pasta, bread, and especially sweets, which, strictly speaking, should include non-diet soft drinks!) could easily add pounds to your weight and inches to your waistline, which is unhealthy. Compared to proteins and fats, carbohydrates are more easily and rapidly metabolized by the body to generate energy. However, advocating a high-fat diet instead is, to me, almost as ridiculous, unhealthy and unsafe as encouraging people to smoke marijuana or shabu instead of cigarettes.

High Fat Diet is Deadly

There is no longer any doubt that diet rich in saturated fats causes and speeds up arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which is responsible for heart attack, stroke, leg gangrene, besides hypertension (high blood pressure), premature aging, etc. When we ingest red meat (pork, beef, etc), eggs and dairy products every day as our "normal" meals, the saturated fats in them increases the fat and cholesterol contents of our blood. These thicken the consistency of the blood, causing it to adhere (like a thick coat of paint) to the inner wall of all the arteries in our brain, neck, heart, abdomen, legs, etc. As time goes by, this "fat/cholesterol paint" makes the coats on the walls of the arteries thicker and thicker, like the junk that clogs our kitchen sink (pipe) drain. This leads to continuous reduction of the inner caliber of the arteries, which eventually blocks off, shutting the circulation to vital organs as the brain, heart, etc. This condition is called "ischemia" (lack of blood) which deprives the cells, tissues and organs of the vital oxygen and nutriments carried and supplied by the blood. If ischemia happens in the heart, it causes angina pectoris (chest pains), or myocardial infarction (heart attack), and, in the brain it leads to cerebral infarction (stroke).

The Flawed Theory

The theory behind the Adkins diet is, to my mind, and in the minds of experts in cardiovascular nutrition and physiology, flawed in this respect. What the chronic (long term) effects of this high-fat and high-cholesterol diet on the human body are unknown and remain to be seen. It is at the present very controversial because it goes against the current medical knowledge we have about the health dangers of animal fats and cholesterol in our diet. While it may be effective in weight reduction (by severe reduction or abstinence from carbohydrates), the Adkins diet may well cause more harm to the body and its cardiovascular system as pointed out by a significant segment of the scientific community.

The Non-meat Proteins

The high protein feature of this diet would not have been objectionable if the proteins in them were not derived from red meats that are loaded with saturated fats and cholesterol. If the proteins in them came from fish, legumes (dried beans and peas), tofu and soy-bean products, nuts, whole wheat, barley, rye, then the high protein component of the Adkins diet would be healthy. For one thing, the protein from fish contains a lot of omega 3 fatty acids, which have been found to be a mild blood thinner and cardio-protective. The fat from fish is excellent for our total body health. Together with vegetables and fruits, and some nuts and high-fiber foods, fish is ideal as the main source of protein and fish oil.

Two Distinct Issues There are two separate and distinct issues (and goals) in the Battle of Diets: weight control and cholesterol/triglyceride control, for the achievement of over-all optimum health and maximum longevity possible, where cardiovascular integrity plays a major role. So, it is not enough to achieve and maintain a normal body weight by dieting. It is equally important, if not more, to have normal serum cholesterol/triglyceride level, a normal blood pressure (which level has now been set at 110/75, instead of the old ceiling of 120/80), normal blood chemistries, and a well-conditioned body. Over-all Strategy

Besides eating the right diet to maintain normal weight and cholesterol/triglyceride level, the strategy towards a healthier lifestyle should include abstinence from tobacco, daily regimented physical exercise (the simplest and effective one of which is walking), stress management with behavioral modification, psychological and philosophical reinforcement, moderation in alcohol intake (a glass or two of red wine with dinner is encouraged among people who enjoy them), a satisfying employment or hobby, a general positive outlook in life, and regular activities which involves family and friends.

The Chua Diet

Considering the available scientific data today, I strongly feel that the most sensible diet includes a lot of fish and a small to moderate amount of other sea foods (preferably not fried, and not oily in preparation, or with a lot of mayonnaise or butter), plenty of green leafy vegetables, fruits, tofu or other soya bean products, some nuts and beans, as low-salt as your taste could tolerate, and as little white rice as possible (especially for those who are overweight). A daily multivitamin-mineral supplement (all in one pill) is essential. The healthy diet should minimize, or exclude, red meat and eggs, except during holidays, when you may indulge a little bit. However, if you can, abstaining from red meat and eggs will even be better. With this diet, the main source of protein is fish and other non-meat items listed earlier. For snacks, if desired, raw cucumber, celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, jicama or sinkamas, other fruits (except avocado and coconut, which are high in fats) are healthy in-between meals. Diabetics and those who require special diets should consult their physician for the appropriate diet for them.

Let's Fight This War

Besides the proper quality of food, the right quantity of the daily calorie intake is also very important. Weighing yourself once a week (same day, same time, preferably naked or wearing the exact same outfit) will monitor your weight properly and guide you, whether to cut down on the total calorie intake or maintain the same. Drinking a tall glass of cold water before each meal distends the stomach some, which induces the appetite center in the brain to be satisfied sooner, and thus help reduce the total calorie intake. But diet alone, without the over-all strategy I outlined above, will not optimize your goals for a healthier lifestyle that will ward off, or dramatically lower your risk of, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and provide you a happier, more productive life, and a maximum longevity possible.

While our individual war against unhealthy lifestyle and bad habits is not easy by any means, it is one we cannot afford not to wage. Our health, happiness and our life literally depend on it. I, therefore, sound this clarion call to all of you out there: let's put on our full battle gear today, join forces in this crusade, and fight this good war. After all, this is nothing but self-defense.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.