Shaping up in 2016 with renewed diet and fitness practices

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD

Portrait of Vesanto Melina
• At this time of year, it can be invigorating to renew our diet and fitness practices. This might involve shedding a few pounds, eating more veggies, gaining muscle strength and posting regular dates for exercise on the calendar.

One goal might be to get in shape. Belly fat or visceral fat (meaning fat in and around body organs) is far more dangerous to health than subcutaneous fat (the fat you can grab). Belly fat doesn’t simply sit there; it actively releases hormones and inflammatory chemicals that can increase insulin resistance, blood cholesterol, blood pressure and the tendency for blood to clot. Visceral fat releases free fatty acids that travel to the liver and increase the production of “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The best way to get rid of belly fat is to cut calories – especially from refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour products and unhealthy types of fat – and to increase exercise.

Refined carbohydrates, especially sugars, are primary drivers of belly fat. When high carbohydrate foods are refined or processed into sugars and starches, they lose roughly 80 percent of their fibre, vitamins and minerals and about 95 percent of their phytochemicals. In populations consuming excess calories, the damaging effects of refined carbohydrates are even more pronounced. Liquid sugar is the worst culprit, as the calories from liquids do not register with the appetite control centre the way solid calories do so total calorie intakes increase. Fructose is even more concerning than glucose because high levels of intake quickly exceed our body’s capacity to handle it and it is quickly converted to fat. Fructose in fruit is provided in smaller amounts that the body is better able to manage.

Last year, the media had a field day after research was released suggesting there was no association between saturated fat and heart disease. Headlines swiftly vindicated beef, bacon, butter and brie. As it turns out, the results were oversimplified and misinterpreted. Expert panels were convened and the verdict is crystal clear: “Saturated fats are not off the hook.” Strong evidence from clinical trials show saturated fat increases LDL-cholesterol and has a negative impact on cardiometabolic risk. The most recent recommendations from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend a dietary pattern that achieves 5-6 percent of calories from saturated fat for the management of heart disease.

Noted below are some of the most health-oriented steps you can take. Just enjoy whatever level you can achieve and keep your focus on a goal.

Replace refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour products) with unrefined carbohydrates (from legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits).

Reduce the saturated fat in your diet. Rely mainly on whole foods such as nuts, seeds and avocados for fat.

Engage in physical activity at least six days a week. Choose a mix on different days that improves your strength, aerobic capacity, endurance, flexibility and balance.

Build a support network that helps you stay on track with health, good nutrition and fitness. It is important to become part of a supportive community.

After living in Langley for the past two decades, BC dietitian Vesanto Melina is thrilled to be returning to Vancouver to live at the new cohousing community on 33rd Ave. (vancouvercohousing.com) www.becomingvegan.ca, vesanto.melina@gmail.com

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