“It’s all about balance.” Geri Zatcoff writes on finding balance in nutrition and exercise to achieve optimal health and vitality at any age. Articles by Geri Zatcoff are available online. If you wish to use the articles or portions of them, please contact Geri.
by Geraldine Zatcoff, M.S.Ed., M.S., C.N.S.
Nutrition is everywhere these days; magazines, newspapers, television. Bits and pieces of data from studies are sensationalized in dramatic headlines when, quite often, the information is unsubstantiated. Here’s what you need to know about the five hot topics in nutrition today.
Low-carbohydrate diets: Look at any of the popular low-carbohydrate diets including Atkins, South Beach and the Zone and you will find one common thread. They all limit calories by restricting the intake of a particular nutrient. One of the things that Dr. Atkins taught us is that we all have a carbohydrate or sugar tolerance. Each of us is bio-chemically unique and will respond differently to different amounts of carbohydrate. You must find out what your tolerance is. Get rid of the sugar and refined carbohydrates in your diet and practically anyone will lose weight. Cell membranes are composed of fat and protein, not carbohydrate. Fat is the body’s primary energy source, not sugar. Athletes are another issue altogether. Most of us are not athletes. The important thing to remember is that sugar (or any nutrient for that matter) gets converted to fat quite easily if the amount of calories you take in exceeds what you expend. The body stores glucose in two places; in skeletal muscle and in the liver. Once those reservoirs are filled, sugar gets converted to fat and sent to the depot. We all know where that is!
Weight Loss: Which brings us to weight loss. Why is it easier to take weight off than to keep it off? Because most of us don’t bother to go the extra and most difficult step that would ensure long-term, permanent weight loss. That step is behavior modification. Immediate gratification is rampant in our society and that is deadly when it comes to food, especially when one is overweight. Even Dr. Phil is talking about it. Those of us in the field of nutrition have long known that if you don’t deal with the issues (and feelings) associated with overeating, and there are always issues, permanent weight loss will elude you.
Physical Activity: Which brings us to physical activity, or more rightly stated, physical inactivity. Funny isn’t it that two-thirds of our population is overweight and less than 20% of us exercise on a regular basis. People that diet lose weight. People that exercise keep it off. People that exercise are happier, have more energy and less degenerative disease than those that don’t. The single most important thing you can do (besides giving up sugar) is to add moderate physical activity into your daily life.
Qxidative Stress: You probably have heard the term “free radical”. It’s not the old hippie living next door. High school chemistry taught us that oxygen molecules always travel in pairs. A free radical is an oxygen molecule that has been separated from its partner. There are a number of reasons for the production of free radicals. Toxic chemicals in our air and water, the increased consumption of oxygen during exercise and even burning food for fuel produces free radicals. In fact, most of the degenerative diseases plaguing us today including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and some forms of cancer have been correlated with oxidative stress. What can you do? Increase you consumption of vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits contain phytochemicals that protect cells against oxidative damage. Supplementation with antioxidants such as selenium and vitamins C and E can also be helpful. However, always seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist before you begin such a regimen.
Anti-Aging: Eating to slow down the aging process is another popular topic these days, especially among some doctors like dermatologist Nicholas Perricone (The Wrinkle Cure). Oxidative stress that damages the cell membrane in skin cells, for example, causes wrinkles. If it happens in cartilage, you get arthritis. Nutritional heavy hitters like salmon (omega-3 fats) and blueberries (phytochemicals like anthocyanins), have been shown to protect cell membranes from oxidative stress. When the cell membrane remains in tact, not only does the cell live longer, it replicates perfectly over and over before is dies. Keeping the cell membrane protected also protects the DNA inside the cell from oxidative damage that could lead to cancer. That’s anti-aging at the cellular level.
So, what’s the best advice? If you want to feel better and look younger, listen to your mother and eat your vegetables. Limit sugar and refined carbohydrates. Eat the foods you love, but eat them in moderation. And remember, physical activity is the key to successful, permanent weight loss.
Printed in the Healthy Living Supplement, January 2004, The Minuteman Newspaper, Westport, CT.