Each day is Valentine’s day

Dear readers, on February 14th, St. Valentine’s day, many are exchanging gifts and greeting cards with their partners and you can almost feel the festive-like atmosphere, mostly in shops, malls and restaurants.

Valentine's or not..

Valentine’s or not..

It’s an engineered occasion, designed and advertised solely for commercial purposes  (what’s called a  ‘hallmark holiday’) – to make us feel we actually want to celebrate this strange day and to make us, above all, collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars on greeting cards and associated gifts.

St. Valentine’s day is by no means a new date in the calendar – indeed it goes back hundreds of years as a romantic occasion – what’s been a vexing recent development is this global commercialization of the holiday, intended to have us buy outrageously expensive cards with stock photos and cheesy messages someone else thought of so we wouldn’t have to. Continue reading

Diabetes and weight – what is the link?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the link between being overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes? Can diabetes be prevented or cured somehow?

Dear reader: First of all it is worth pointing out that diabetes is a chronic condition. For most types (except gestational type) this chronicity means that once it occurs, it stays for life – this is not a disease we can effectively cure with our present knowledge but we can quite successfully manage it.

Before I go into your question, let me first explain the diabetes landscape and basic mechanisms behind it as Type 2 is not the only game in town.

Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
The danger of diabetes lies in a condition called Hyperglycaemia – raised blood sugar level – which is a common result of uncontrolled/undiagnosed diabetes, which over time causes serious damage to the body, especially to blood vessels and nerves.

Food choices affect our health

Diabetes has its types and these differ in both the ways they start and the ways in which we manage them.

Type 1 Diabetes

This type had previously been known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes. Here, our pancreas gland becomes deficient in insulin production and there is simply no longer enough of it to properly regulate our blood sugar levels. Management requires daily administration of insulin and this type cannot be prevented with our current understanding as the cause is not known although we do think it is due to the self-inflicting damage to pancreas (process called “auto immune response”). Continue reading

6 myths about healthy eating and weight loss

Dear readers: After receiving many of your questions related to weight loss, diet and healthy eating, I have realized that there are several misconceptions about dieting, which are bound to affect your diet plans. I think now is the good time to talk about some of the most common advice, which you will hear the minute you announce that you’ve decided to lose some weight or to change your diet habits. I am not saying that all these are completely devoid of truth, but even with a grain of truth in it, a proper interpretation is in order.

One of the first things you’ll probably hear is that you shouldn’t eat after 6 pm or 7 pm or 8pm, or generally in the evening and at night.

Dieting is riddled with myths and fads

Of course, there is no magical cut off time after which you must not eat or else…
What matters in your weight loss plan are your total calories you eat and not really when you do it. What’s true here is that most of us tend to eat more calories in the evening times during dinner or snacking after dinner. In this regard, it makes sense to limit the calories at night if you are one of those who eat more later in the day.

The next word of advice you’re likely to hear is that “eat smaller but more often” myth.

Just because some people eat like this naturally, and stay thin, doesn’t make it a rule for everyone. People who naturally eat like this tend to answer their body’s call and not some strict timing and schedule. Do not eat on the clock but rather listen to the signals the body sends. Eat when you are hungry and don’t wait for a specific time because then you might be too hungry and overeat.
Normally, whichever way works for you, be mindful of the calories to avoid eating too many. Continue reading

Tricks to avoid extra calories

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m trying hard to balance my weight but it doesn’t always work. Are there some tips and tricks to help me in my struggle?

Dear reader: Having a healthy weight and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is a challenging task for all of us.

In today’s fast-track world we certainly need a few tricks up our sleeve to be able to stand our ground when eating is concerned and not give in to many calorie dense food pleasures, which end up adding tons of calories to our daily intake increasing our weight and chances for long term health problems like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke.

Switch to water!

First of all, think of water!

Water is life and we are all told this repeatedly but it is also a good way to help you lose 2 – 3 kilos in 6 months! That’s what the research shows and what all of us can try – simply switch from other beverages (sodas, alcohol etc.) you drink each day to water and you will see the results. This trick of course works only if your other eating habits do not compensate for the calories you are saving by drinking water. This also works with calorie free beverages but since some studies have linked these beverages to a paradoxical weight gains and increase in triglycerides, it is best and certainly healthiest to stick to water. Continue reading

Skipping your meals – how bad is it?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m on a diet, but it sometimes turns into no-food scenario for hours and hours after which I feel nervous and weak. How bad is it to skip meals?

Dear reader: Delaying or skipping meals is among the worst things you can do in your diet.  It causes your blood sugar levels to fall, even beyond optimal limits and this in turn causes you to feel cranky and nervous.
When the blood sugar is low this condition is called Hypoglycemia and it is usually mild but it can become severe and even life-threatening.

Hypoglycemia is often caused by glucose-lowering medications such as insulin, sulfonylureas or glinides but in case of skipping your meals this too can be the culprit for the condition. It deprives you of the needed carbohydrates and other nutrients and causes your blood sugar to drop, sometimes to dangerous levels.

Never skip your meals – rather, plan ahead and eat healthy

As I said, if the hypoglycemic state becomes severe, it may cause seizures, loss of consciousness and even coma. These grave consequences are usually the result of a combination of factors like anti-diabetic medication, vigorous exercise and too little or no food and rarely happen just if you’ve skipped a few meals, but this doesn’t say skipping meals is something you should tolerate.

For your note, symptoms of hypoglycemia could include the following:

Fiber-rich foods – your allies in healthy weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I wish to lose some weight and I know fiber is important part of a good weight-loss plan. My diet so far has not been very healthy and I am trying to improve it. Which foods do you suggest as a good source of fiber?

Dear reader: Nutritional super foods, rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other health preserving compounds are all around us. And yet, we succumb to advertising and our own cravings for sugars, greasy junk food and the simple fact that fast food is easier to acquire, it’s more readily available and in truth, it is often cheaper.

Colorful salads are a sure shot when it comes to fiber-rich food

The first step is to become aware of these things and understand that in the 21st century, eating healthy presents a real challenge and asks for will power.

The magic word in today’s healthy diet which attains and maintains a healthy weight and good shape is, planning.

I say that in any weight loss plan, a strategic goal has to be Attain and Maintain.

To Attain and Maintain, you need proper tools, one of which is dietary fiber.
Fiber absolutely has to be on your daily menu – it not only helps in weight loss by keeping you fuller for longer and by regulating your bowel movement, it helps regulate cholesterol levels and ratios in the blood, preventing both weight gain and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes etc.

To help in your planning, here are some fiber-rich (super)foods you could include in your everyday meals: Continue reading

Eating healthy while traveling – is it possible?

Dear readers, recently I was traveling to Kazakhstan and had to take connecting flights totaling in almost 15 hours of travel time (including some 6 hours of waiting in Frankfurt for my connection to Almaty).

During this travel, I was trying to really see what would it take to maintain a healthy diet and if such a thing is at all possible.

Airports may lure you into breaking your healthy diet promise

One thing that happens is that the longer we travel, the more tired and sleep deprived we become and the more tired we are the less likely we are to make a healthy choice when it comes to food and drinks. Parts of our brain in charge of rational decisions and planning (pre-frontal cortex) become fatigued and emotional parts (like amygdala) take over, indulging to cravings for sweets, junk food and sodas. Also, fatigue changes our hormonal balance and potentially disrupts hormonal release sequence and that too can lead to altered decision making towards food and could modify our bodies’ fat-conversion processes. One thing to remember is that tired people who don’t get enough of sleep eat on average 500 extra calories a day.

Also, if you are on a weight loss diet, you have probably been consciously avoiding certain foods and drinks, willing yourself to opt for healthier options. Your will power gets depleted after repeated situations in which you have to say ‘no’ to a tasty sandwich, a salad dressing, an ice cream or a soda.

In airports, you may suffer total will depletion or what Dan Ariely in his latest book “The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty” calls Ego Depletion where you finally succumb to temptation and buy a sandwich, breaking your dietary habit “just this once”.

So why do I say that airports are so perilous for a healthy diet?
Continue reading

What is Syndrome X?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the Syndrome X? I have heard I may be having it – what to do if that’s so?

Dear reader: Syndrome X, more commonly known as the metabolic syndrome and also known as the insulin resistance syndrome is characterized by a clustering of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

This syndrome is among the very common ones in the modern times mostly due to our changed dietary and activity habits and yet, many people have never heard of it and many people (especially people over 50) have it – and, many live their lives without knowing it.

Metabolic syndrome is silent but dangerous

This syndrome presents a serious threat to health.

As I explained, it is a congregation of high-risk factors and if you have this syndrome, you have a much higher risk of a heart attack or stroke as well as of developing diabetes, liver and kidney disease.There’s also evidence that older adults with this syndrome could be more likely to have problems with their memory.

These risk factors most commonly include:

  • Excess intra-abdominal fat (belly fat – the apple shape). This excess is present if a waist size is 101.5 cm (40 inches) or more for men or 90 cm (35 inches) or more for women;
  • Insulin resistance (High fasting blood sugar measure);

And one or more of the following:

  • Elevated triglyceride levels in the blood;
  • Decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL – the “good” fat or good cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)

So, you have a metabolic syndrome (the syndrome X) if you have three or more of the above-listed risk factors.
Continue reading

Protein and weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo:  I am currently on a weight loss diet – I am trying to make it a healthy one. I’ve heard lots about carbs and fat but what about protein?

Dear reader: Very often, while trying to lose some weight, people obsess around planning their carbs, counting calories, avoiding fats and forget about a very important part of every healthy diet – protein.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and they are not just an essential ingredient for a healthy weight loss, they are also essential for our bodies serving as building material for growth and repair and as a fuel source in times of need.

Turkey meet is high in protein and low in calories

Without protein in your diet, you run a risk of overeating, which, coupled with eating fast is one of the leading causes of weight gain and obesity.

If you overeat on a high-fat, low-protein diet, weight gains may be slower to show but you will be gaining more fat and you will be losing more muscle down the road.The weight as such needs to be considered in a broader perspective, beyond just the BMI (Body Mass Index) or the number on the scale – it is what makes up your total weight that counts the most – whether it is fat or lean muscle; and without protein in your diet, you will be leaning towards more fat and less muscle.

Whether or not you are trying to lose weight, remember that 10 – 35 % of your daily food intake should be lean protein. For men, this comes up to about 56 grams of protein every day and for women, 46 grams to avoid deficiency. Athletes, pregnant women and children may require more, to satisfy their increased demands for building blocks. Continue reading

Effective strategies for weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: What are some of the strategies to loose weight in a healthy way? I am not looking for instant results but something long term.

Dear reader: Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight is no easy task these days. We live fast, eat fast and when weight is concerned – most people want to lose it fast, which is not a healthy way to go about it.

A few facts first:

Eat slowly and limit your portions

Our digestive system has several ways in which it talks to the brain to crank our appetite up or down. This conversation is a continuous process and it involves hormones made in the gut and by the cells that store fat, and it also involves nerve signals, especially the vagus nerve, which runs from the digestive system to the brain.

There’s a hormone called Ghrelin, which gets dispatched from the stomach into the blood to go to the brain and flick the hunger switch on – this is how we start to feel hungry. We respond by eating a meal and during this process our stomach and intestine produce hormones called Leptin and Cholesystokinin to tell the brain to start feeling full.

Vagus nerve is also involved as there are stretch receptors in the stomach, which register the stretch as the stomach fills with food and/or liquids. The stretch signals also tell the brain to feel full.

Continue reading

Are you a fish fan? You should be!

Dear Dr. Mo: I keep reading and listening about how fish oils are good for your health. I’m not really a fish fan but should I reconsider?

Dear reader: What you’ve been hearing and reading about  is correct. Fish contains oils that are rich in polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are also called a “healthy fat.” People whose diets are rich in omega-3s seem to have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

Now, why is that?

There are several good things that omega-3s do for our bodies.

Like eating fish – great! That’s awesome news for your heart and wits

They help to reduce high blood pressure and high blood pressure is one of the most dangerous things for our overall health.

They guard platelets from forming clots in the blood and clots may lead to heart attacks and strokes.

They help to regulate blood fat levels and keep them within limits by raising HDL also called the “good cholesterol” and lowering triglycerides. This helps to prevent buildup of dangerous plaques on the walls of blood vessels, and plaques may cause angina and lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Another important effect they have is protection against dangerous and even lethal heart-rhythm disorders that can result in cardiac arrest – I’d even say that this may very well be the most important health benefit of Omega-3s. Continue reading

Coping with Hypertension

Dear Dr. Mo: How to cope with high blood pressure, walking or resting?

Dear reader: First of all, you have a high blood pressure or Hypertension, if you have a sustained elevation of resting systolic reading of at least 140 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) or a diastolic reading of at least 90 mm Hg, or both.

Swimming could help to reduce high blood pressure

The top number in your blood pressure reading is the systolic pressure. It reflects the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps – it is generated by the heart as a pump and the larger its output, the higher the systolic pressure.

The bottom number is the diastolic pressure. It is the measure of the pressure in the arterial tree in between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxing and it depends on the total peripheral resistance to the blood going out of the arteries into the veins and back to the heart.

High blood pressure is a common condition in which the force the blood exerts against your artery walls is high enough to eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease. Heart has to work harder and harder as blood pressure rises above normal limits and over time, this weakens the heart. It also injures the arteries, which then become susceptible to plaque formation and atherosclerosis in them. At times, high blood pressure may rupture the artery leading to bleeding and strokes.

Blood pressure measurement is one of the most important measurements for any doctor to take in order to determine your health status. Many people have elevated blood pressure, which increases as we age or develop certain health conditions. The trouble is, that if left unchecked, our bodies quickly adapt to elevated values as we go about our daily lives unaware of a serious health problem slowly evolving inside of us – until a big symptom occurs – a heart attack, a stroke, a kidney failure, eye sight problem or internal bleeding.Undiagnosed and untreated elevated blood pressure is among the biggest and most serious threats to our health, both short and long term. Continue reading

Ordinary foods that keep you healthy

Dear Dr. Mo: Which foods should I always include in my diet to improve my health and why?

Dear reader: It goes without saying that good dietary habits are good for our health – but what is not often emphasized enough is just how good that is.
It has been widely recognized by medical community that by simply increasing your daily consumption of fruits and vegetables you are lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes – and when I say lowering I mean really lowering it by 50 to even 70%!

Bananas are a nutrient powerhouse

There are of course other benefits too: an antioxidant called Lycopene in tomatoes, watermelon and red grapefruit is linked to protection against breast and prostate cancers, chances of developing kidney cancer are greatly diminished by frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables and fiber rich foods keep your intestines work properly preventing constipation, intestinal illness and help control your weight by keeping you fuller for longer.
We all have different appetites, habits and tastes but vegetables and fruits should be an integral part of our daily diet and many adults need roughly two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables per day.

Here is my selection of some ordinary foods, which I consider rich in all the nutrients you need to turn your daily diet into a health promoting and health protecting habit. Continue reading