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Dare to Be 100; 99 Steps to a Long, Healthy Life




Excerpted from
Dare to Be 100; 99 Steps to a Long, Healthy Life
By Walter M. Bortz II, M.D.

The driving principle behind the new food labels is to increase your ability to understand what really goes in your mouth. Of course, labels are not guarantees. It is still up to you to be smart enough to know the few basic steps to healthy nutrition and the incentives to use them.

Clearly you need to get in the habit. As you look at a food selection, you need to pay attention not only to the price, but also to the label: What really is it that you are buying? You need to revise your shopping habits to include another step that evaluates the nutritional value or danger of the components of every meal. Being an informed purchaser and provider is being responsible. And a knowledgeable gourmet is far preferable to an ignorant one.

A secondary benefit of the new labeling regulations should be that the food industry will embark on a program to give you healthier food. A recent survey of food producers indicated that 70 percent are currently doing research on ways to make their products healthier. After all, it is not the outside of the container that is important, it is the inside. Any incentive to help you consumers become more food smart is clearly beneficial. Even Mother would agree to that.

Know When to Eat

When you eat is just as important as what and how you eat. The standard American meal pattern consists of a cup of coffee for breakfast, a sandwich and a soda for lunch, and then a mound of food for dinner. This gorging meal pattern would do a lion proud, but is it right for you?

There is a fund of knowledge that says a gorging meal pattern raises cholesterol levels. Thirty years ago Clarence Cohn at the University of Chicago fed some volunteers a diet eaten as one meal, others a diet of meals spaced through the day. The results showed that the nibblers had lower cholesterol values. From these findings, Cohn extrapolated that this may be a reason why women, at least early in life, have lower cholesterol levels than men-they tend to be grazers, whereas men tend to be gorgers.

After a meal containing carbohydrates, those potato, fruit, or cereal calories are preferentially used as the body's fuel. But three hours later the body turns to burning its fat as fuel. By eating frequent carbo snacks, you limit this traffic in fat, and thereby protect against higher cholesterol levels.

A more studied reason to have a grazing diet also concerns carbohydrates. If you dump the majority of your calories into your system at one time of day, you impose a heavy instantaneous metabolic burden. Your digestive enzymes and hormones, particularly insulin, have a lot of major work to do in a short time interval. Their response is, with luck, precisely tuned to the challenge, but if there is any oversquirt, say of insulin, then the rise in blood sugar after a big meal is overcompensated for and the result is a rapid drop in blood sugar, called reactive hypoglycemia.

The body is comprised of a whole set of intersecting and complementary functions, which vary over the twenty-four-hour span. You function best when these cycles are mellow, shallow, and frequent, instead of experiencing a single jolt, after which your body spends the remainder of the day trying to catch up.

Of course, the fact that small meals taken throughout the day are better for you than infrequent monster meals does not mean that a Thanksgiving extravagance is harmful. Holidays are holidays. Enjoy. It is the months and years of extra indulgence that are dangerous. So to eat right, learn to be a nibbler.

Know Food and Body Calories

A calorie is a piece of energy. Strictly defined, one calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree. A piece of pie at 300 calories, if fully burned by a machine, would raise the temperature of 300 liters of water by 1° C. Of course, you only care about how many calories you need to run your body. Just like any machine, just the right number makes you run the best. However, you should keep in mind that you need calories not just to run your machine, but also to help you grow and repair.

As you age, your calorie needs seem to decrease. Sixteen percent of people over 60 eat fewer than 1,000 calories a day. Is this because they are getting older or because they are less active? Probably both, but mostly because they are less active. As a young person, you may require two or three times as much food and energy as you do at older ages. Clearly, then, if you continue to eat the same amount at older ages as you did when you were young, you will get fat. The fat content of older people's bodies is higher than that of younger people, both because of the calorie excess and because the muscles have deteriorated from decades of underuse.

You should be interested in both the calories in your food and the calories in your body. Having more calories in your body in the form of fat is valuable to your survival only in two extremely rare situations-prolonged starvation and extreme cold. A fat person will outlive a lean one in these situations only.

It takes about a calorie per minute just to keep your basic machinery running, or about 1,500 calories a day. Of course, everyone's needs differ, and your calorie need could go up to 5,000 calories per day if you are very active. This energy must come from food. How well you manage this energy transaction determines how efficient your weight control will be. And remember that you absorb virtually all of the calories you eat.

It is critical to know, too, that a pound of body fat (mine, yours, beef) contains 3,500 calories. This means that in order to gain a pound of fat, you must over some span of time eat 3,500 calories more than your body needs. Conversely, when you seek to lose a pound of fat, you must eat 3,500 calories less than you need to maintain a constant weight.

For example, a 60-year-old woman of moderate activity may require 2,000 calories per day to maintain her weight, but she is ten pounds too heavy and desires a calorie restricted program. To go really slowly on the diet, she takes in 1,800 calories per day, 200 calories a day less than she needs. This means it will take seventeen or eighteen days for her to lose one pound, or six months to lose all ten. But better slow than never.

The new food labels help you to understand better the energy content of what you feed yourself. In 1993, 68 percent of Americans (55 percent of doctors) were overweight. A few of them will make 100, but your chances are much better if your belt is notched in.

Be Fat Alert

Fat is the most energy rich of the three foodstuffs; it yields 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrate and protein yield 4 calories per gram. Therefore, a food that contains fat has much more caloric energy content than one with little or no fat. One large Snickers bar has as much fat (200 calories) as 50 apples or 120 potatoes. All foods are fattening, but some more so than others. Because of its richness, it is said that fat makes you fat. It is possible to become fat on carbohydrates, but the basic rule is that it is the fat in your diet that makes your waistline bulge.

Fat is the way your body stores extra calories. A person who is thirty pounds overweight will hold 100,000 extra calories in those fat depots. It sounds like a lot, and it is. For that reason, it is important to have a long time line in designing corrective dieting. On average, older women's bodies contain about 45 percent body fat. It should be only 25 percent. Older men's body fat is 35 percent of weight. It should be only 15 percent. It has been calculated that every pound of excess body weight over ten costs you one month of life.

The American diet currently gets 37 percent of its total calories from fat, while the recommended proportion should be 30 percent max. Perhaps even more important is the type of fats ingested. Fat is classified according to how saturated or unsaturated it is. These terms refer to the chemical nature of fat, whether it has a full complement of hydrogen atoms (saturated) or a relative lack of hydrogen atoms (unsaturated). Fundamentally, saturated fats are solid, and unsaturated fats are liquid. Nevertheless, they all contain the same amount of caloric energy. Ultimately, the critical distinction between the two is that the effect of saturated fat on raising blood cholesterol levels is more dramatic.

Therefore, although fat is calorically rich, it is the saturated fats that are bad for your cholesterol. Saturated fats are found predominantly in the animal sources of meat and milk products. The National Research Council recommends that no more than 10 percent of daily calories come from animal fat sources.

Ancel Keys, one of the pioneer nutritionists in the cholesterol field, devised a formula that predicts the effect of a given dietary fat on cholesterol levels. Most important are the animal saturated fats, which are harmful; next in terms of importance are the unsaturated vegetable oils, which may even help lower the cholesterol; and least important is the actual cholesterol in our diets, which, again, raises the blood levels. The NRC recommends no more than 300 mg total cholesterol per day, usually found in egg yolks. The wise intake for eggs seems to be no more than four per week.



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