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Archive for November, 2011

November is Nutritional Awareness Month!

With the holidays approaching, it is appropriate that the wellness focus for November is nutrition and diet. Of course, we want to be able to enjoy the holiday feasts, and can by remembering moderation and physical activity. It may take a little more will-power, but you can still savor your holiday favorites and avoid an unhealthy crash diet on January 1st.

Everyone’s heard it a million times – eating nutritious and being physically active is the key to maintaining a healthy weight. Yet, we’re all seeking the next fad diet that will somehow help us lose weight and stay fit by watching Grey’s Anatomy marathons and eating chips and dip, cookies, and ice cream. Right? Unfortunately and fortunately, our bodies don’t work like that. A nutrient-filled diet keeps us from illness and disease, improves mental functioning, enhances mood, and gives us energy. Exercise is important for very similar reasons.

On the subject of dieting, every person has a different ideal weight and a different basal metabolic rate (BMR). A person’s BMR is influenced by several factors, including: age, gender, current weight, activity level, muscle-to-fat ratio, and heredity. Personal BMR also changes as these variables change.

The way our bodies regulate the balance of caloric intake and energy expenditure is quite amazing. Each year, a typical adult consumes about 900,000 to 1 million calories. If you subtract the amount of calories one generally expends in a given year from this amount, you are left with a difference of 1% or less. This means that most people could make the long-term, healthy changes they want by merely taking a 15 minute walk each day or eating a few bites less at each meal (both equal to about 100 less calories that get stored as fat per day). This could be a great key-point to remember this holiday season. Enjoy your favorite foods, but don’t take that extra helping, or opt for a brisk walk after dinner each night. Making these small, consistent changes over a long period of time is what will make a difference. According to the “set-point hypothesis”, everyone has a body weight “thermostat” that adjusts our metabolism and eating to maintain weight. Starvation often results in a plateau over time as the BMR lowers to accommodate the minimal caloric intake. Short periods of overeating, like around the holidays, cause an increase in fat cells (adipocytes), which tends to increase feelings of hunger in the lateral hypothalamus. Also, when a person decides they want to lose that weight, the depleted fat cells actually arouse hunger and the body is confused as it tries to replenish the adipocytes. Furthermore, weight cycling (pattern of repeated weight gain and loss) is unhealthy and hinders the body’s goal of homeostasis.

The concept of the food pyramid has been hammered into our heads since grade school. There is good reason for this. For example, in several heart studies, its been found that poor nutrition is a leading factor of heart disease. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean meats is ideal. In addition, limiting fats and sugars, avoiding saturated fats, and eliminating trans fats is the other part of the nutrition equation. Consuming more of the good and less of the bad makes it so the body has the nutrients it needs to protect and repair itself; plus, proper nutrition gives the body sufficient energy to live well each day. In fact, our body needs 46 nutrients to remain healthy. Thus, paying attention to the Food Guide Pyramid is important to ensure we receive these 46 nutrients on a regular basis. (Visit the link above to get a calculated estimate of the daily needs!)

Many people get the idea that carbs are bad. This is not necessarily true. Its which carbohydrates you eat that make the difference. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a tool that rates carbohydrates based on how quickly the body converts them to sugar, from 1 to 100. Foods closer to the 100 mark cause the most rapid rise in blood sugar. This may be appealing due to the surge of energy; however, this energy surge will usually quickly turn to increased fat storage, lethargy, and even more hunger! Foods that rate lower on the GI take longer to convert to sugar, resulting in a more constant state of blood sugar and energy– which is when the body performs at its best. These foods lower on the GI are lower in calories and fats, rich in fiber, nutrient-packed, and often contain antioxidants. So, take a look at a Glycemic Index and be sure to add the lower rated items to your next grocery list!

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