By Michael Goodman, M.D.
“You are what you eat” applies here!
Would you like to be walking around at menopause (or any time, for that matter!) 40 pounds overweight, developing ambulation difficulties due to the extra strain on your joints, with atherosclerotic plaque narrowing your blood vessels and elevated glucose levels slowly souring your kidneys, vision and further adding to your coronary artery burden?
Keep avoiding the gym and eating large portions of a simple carb- and meat-based diet, snacking on sugary/carby stuff, and I can guarantee a life expectancy well less than your more healthy neighbors, and more hassles during the years before you finally succumb.
Even if you have been dietarily indiscreet and exercise-challenged most of your life, it is never too late to teach us old dogs new tricks; even change relatively late in life will prolong both total years and quality of life during those years.
This short article will review how you should eat and offer a surprisingly easy way to change eating patterns that actually will melt away the pounds!
What to eat; what to avoid? Not many surprises here.
The good: Convert for the most part to a plant-based and Mediterranean-style diet. This means significantly decreasing animal fats and simple carbohydrates. “Good stuff” includes complex carbs such as fruit and vegetables (preferably fresh); nuts and seeds, preferably raw or roasted; whole grains via cereal (hot or cold); salads; fully whole-grain breads; (preferably brown) rice; pasta; legumes (all types of beans, including soy bean products like tofu and tempe).
Fish and shellfish are great, but be aware that most shellfish is relatively high in cholesterol. Good protein sources certainly are again the legumes; poultry, but better without the skin, and white meat has less cholesterol than dark; most fish, but watch how you prepare it (same with chicken). You’re sort of defeating the purpose if you deep-fry it!
Meat? Try to avoid the fattier cuts (yellow = fats/cholesterol) and limit red meat to only once or twice a week. Pork is OK, but the same thing as beef: the ribs, bacon, etc., are no-no’s; stick to loin fillet and chops. Lamb generally has a lot of fat. Substitute oil (especially the mono or unsaturated oils like olive, safflower, nut oils, vegetable oils) for butter and margarine, using only a tiny bit of butter if you must for flavor.
Use low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Eggs are a good protein source, but the yolks are high in cholesterol, so try using only half of the yolks (two eggs but only one yolk) or get rid of the yolks altogether. Try to limit yolks to only two to three per week.
Believe it or not, one to two alcoholic drinks per day appear to be more health-preserving than none. Red wine may be the healthiest, but I’m speaking of alcohol in general here. Chocolate? Actually, dark chocolate (65 to 75 percent cacao content) is not bad, and far healthier than milk chocolate, or chocolate/sweet filling combos. But, enjoy it in moderation.
The Bad: Simple carbs: sweet stuff and refined flour (which means doing away with deep-fried/breaded, bread/cake/bagels/rolls except occasionally) plus potatoes and white rice.
The Ugly: Fats, fats, fats! Refined sugar; high-fructose corn syrup. Big meals!
Here’s the really important part: As important as what you eat is how you eat it, specifically, portion size and number of times you eat throughout the day. Most of us tend to eat at “mealtimes,” and eat till we’re full, right? What I’m advocating is a different pattern of eating, one that is healthier for your body and will burn off more calories.
Calories are units of weight; calories are lost only by muscular action and the intestine is one heckuva long tube surrounded by thin muscular bands that propel food through this tube toward a rendezvous with the destiny of your toilet bowl. The more meals you eat, the more calories you expend, the thinner your waist line.
If you take in the same amount of calories in three large meals per day as you do in five to six smaller meals, you will increase your caloric expenditure by 50 percent, which for most women will lead to a weight loss of a half-pound to 1 pound per month. (Plus, you will never become hypoglycemic!) The less cholesterol you ingest, the less plaque you build inside those coronaries.
So, how do you do this? By developing a different pattern. Instead of eating at mealtimes, and eating until you’re full, try eating when you begin to notice you are hungry, and eating until you are no longer hungry. This is done by having your refrigerator at home, fridge at work, carry-along small cooler, etc., filled with pre-packaged small portions of salads, veggies with hummus, nonfat yogurt, fruit and leftover chicken or other meat (smaller than a deck of cards).
Load up on small-serving-size mini-meals, and have them stored everywhere. When you eat out, automatically remove half from your plate into a takeaway container; have sandwiches cut in half and each half wrapped separately. Take half home or with you to eat later when you are hungry again. Eat five to seven mini-meals per day as a routine.
But, don’t get too carried away. Treat yourself occasionally; you don’t have to be too severe. If your everyday pattern is what I’ve described, there’s no harm in breaking the pattern here and there. A large meal on occasion won’t kill you, but I think you will find that, if you follow my guidelines, you’ll not feel terribly comfortable when you sit down for a big one …
— Michael Goodman, M.D., operates the Caring for Women medical practice in Davis.