September 11, 2017

Good health is an essential. It is necessary for a prosperous and flourishing society. The greatest influences on our well being and health are factors such as education and employment, housing, and the extent to which community facilitates healthy habits and social connection. 

Making healthy food choices is one important thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease—the leading cause of death of men and women in the United Kingdom.

According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million adults in the U.K. have at least one form of heart disease—disorders that prevent the heart from functioning normally—including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, heart defects, infections, and cardiomyopathy (thickening or enlargement of the heart muscle).

Simple guidelines when preparing meals to assist with a healthy heart are:

  • Balance calories to manage body weight
  • Eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, including a variety of dark-green, red, and orange vegetables, chickpeas, beans, and peas.
  • Eat seafood (including oily fish) in place of some meat and poultry
  • Eat whole grains—the equivalent of at least three 1-ounce servings a day
  • Use oils to replace solid fats.
  • Use fat-free or low-fat versions of dairy products.

 

“A calorie is a calorie” is an oft-repeated dietary slogan, and not overeating is indeed an important health measure. Rather than focusing on calories alone, however, emerging research shows that quality is also key in determining what we should eat and what we should avoid in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Rather than choosing foods based only on caloric value, think instead about choosing high-quality, healthy foods, and minimizing low-quality foods.

  • High-quality foodsinclude unrefined, minimally processed foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains such as chickpeas, healthy fats and healthy sources of protein
  • Lower-quality foods include highly processed snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined (white) grains, refined sugar, fried foods, foods high in saturated and trans fats, and high-glycemic foods such as potatoes.

There isn’t one “perfect” diet for everyone, owing to individual differences in genes and lifestyle.

Does quality count?

One study analyzed whether certain foods were more or less likely to promote weight gain. This type of research examining specific foods and drinks allows us to understand whether “a calorie is a calorie,” or if eating more higher-quality foods and fewer lower-quality foods can lead to weight loss and maintenance.

  • In a study of over 120,000 healthy women and men spanning 20 years, researchers determined that weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and both processed and unprocessed red meats. The researchers concluded that consumption of processed foods higher in starches, refined grains, fats, and sugars can increase weight gain.
  • Foods shown to be associated with weight loss were vegetables, whole grains, fruits, chickpeas, nuts, and yogurt.
  • Researchers did not discount the importance of calories, instead suggesting that choosing high-quality foods (and decreasing consumption of lower-quality foods) is an important factor in helping individuals consume fewer calories.

Managing Nutrition

With the proliferation of macronutrient-based diets over the past several decades, from low-fat to low-carbohydrate, discussion of the three main macro nutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats – has become standard when talking about optimal diets. Researchers have begun comparing these “macro nutrient management”-style diets to one another in order to determine which is most effective, but thus far evidence is largely inconclusive.

  • After one year, weight loss was greater for women in the Atkins diet group compared with the other diet groups.
  • This study also examined secondary outcomes focused on metabolic effects (such as cholesterol, body fat percentage, glucose levels and blood pressure), and found that those for the Atkins group were comparable with or more favorable than the other diet groups.
  • There was no significant difference in weight loss among the various diets.
  • This study does raise questions about about long-term effects and mechanisms, but the researchers concluded that a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diet may be considered a feasible recommendation for weight loss.
  • The study followed 800 people over 2 years, assigning subjects to one of four diets: Low-fat and average-protein, low-fat and high-protein, high-fat and average-protein, and high-fat and high protein.
  • Researchers concluded that all of the diets resulted in meaningful weight loss, despite the differences in macro nutrient composition.
  • The study also found that the more group counseling sessions participants attended, the more weight they lost, and the less weight they regained. This supports the idea that not only is what you eat important, but behavioral, psychological, and social factors are important for weight loss as well.

Researchers first implemented a low-calorie diet to produce weight loss, then examined whether protein and glycemic index impacted weight loss maintenance.

  • The study population was made up of nearly 800 overweight adults from European countries who had lost at least 8% of their initial body weight with a low-calorie diet. Participants were then assigned one of five diets to prevent weight regain over a 26-week period: A low-protein and low-glycemic-index diet, a low-protein and high-glycemic-index diet, a high-protein and low-glycemic-index diet, a high-protein and high-glycemic-index diet, or a control diet.
  • The low-protein-high-glycemic-index diet was associated with subsequent significant weight regain, and weight regain was less in the groups assigned to a high-protein diet than in those assigned to a low-protein diet, as well as less in the groups assigned to a low-glycemic-index diet than in those assigned to a high-glycemic-index diet.
  • These results show that a modest increase in protein content and a modest reduction in the glycemic index led to an improvement in maintenance of weight loss.



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