Here’s Why You’re Really Gaining Weight

Dear Dr. Mo: Could obesity be contagious?

Dear reader: Obesity is of course not infectious per se but it’s well known to be ‘socially contagious’ and in that sense your question is spot on – eating habits of eating companions or groups exert significant influence on us; and we are mostly unaware of this fact.

Social contagion

Social contagion

One is more likely to be overweight if one has a lot of friends who are overweight and a very good way to gain weight is to have lunches or dinners with other people, especially if they are overweight.

On average, if you grab a meal with a friend, you will eat about 35% more than what you would eat if you were eating alone.

If you are eating in a group of 4, you will eat about 75% more and in groups of 7 or more people, you will probably eat 96% more! Continue reading

Stop With the Gluten-Free Already!

Dear Dr. Mo: Is gluten-free food generally a healthier option?

Dear reader: The trouble with gluten-free products is that they tend to have a health aura around them, which sometimes blinds people from seeing what they’re really eating.

There is nothing necessarily healthier about gluten-free bread or cookies or pasta or any other food you can think of. Often, if one took a closer look at the label, the product would likely be lower in protein and fiber than a non gluten-free alternative.  The catch is that the calorie counts remain the same or similar but because we may think that being gluten-free automatically means healthier food, we may eat more of it.

Many people who eat gluten-free foods say they think they’re healthier and also many believe it will help them lose weight but be cautious of this trap as you may actually be gaining weight by eating more and by eating foods with more fat, more sugar, less protein etc.

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What is Glycemic Index and how to use it to eat healthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I am trying to lose some weight and improve my diet. Is there a way to shop around for good foods that will load me with less sugar and help me eat healthier?

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Dear reader: The total amount of carbohydrates we consume (with a meal or with a snack) mostly determines what happens to our blood sugar levels right after we eat. But, it’s not just the absolute amount of carbs that’s important – the food itself also plays a big part. So, for example, a serving of white bread or white rice has almost the same effect as eating pure table sugar— it produces a quick, high spike in blood sugar. On the other hand though, a serving of something like zucchini, beans or squash has a slower, smaller effect.

Strategically picking good sources of carbs can help us control our blood sugar and in most cases, our weight although I don’t want this to sound too simple. The levels of our activity, age, sex, overall health and metabolism and genetics are all important parts of the equation.

Okay so let me give you one good way we can choose our foods: we can use the glycemic index (GI) to know how much any given food boosts blood sugar.

The glycemic index gives us the effect a certain amount of specific food would have on blood sugar as compared with the same amount of pure glucose. This means that a food with a glycemic index of say 20 boosts blood sugar only 20% as much as pure glucose would. One with a GI of over 90 acts almost like pure glucose.

Glycemic index is easy to use, just choose foods with a low(er) index rather than higher whenever you can. Here’s the breakdown: Continue reading

Fiber and health

Add fiber-rich foods to your daily diet

Dear Dr. Mo: I am looking to improve my diet and fiber comes highly recommended as something to eat daily. What is it and where to get it from? How much is enough?

Dear reader: The reason fiber is highly recommended as a part of any healthy diet is simple – it is really good for you.

Previously, it was thought that fiber was a significant factor in preventing colon cancer but as it turns out, most of the evidence show that fiber has no such effect in prevention of this disease.

Still, fiber has many other good effects, for which it is considered a must-have in our everyday diets.

So, what does fiber do for us?

Fiber helps prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes (by improving insulin resistance), constipation and diverticulitis (an intestinal problem). It helps to regulate cholesterol levels by slightly reducing the “bad” LDL cholesterol. And last, but certainly not the least of good effects is the increase of the bulk of foods making us feel fuller for longer – that’s another way fiber helps us in avoiding overeating and being overweight.

What is fiber and where to get it from?

Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate form found in plant foods.There are two types of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble Continue reading

What is Diet Anxiety and what can we do about it?

(Diet) Anxiety may overshadow but can be recon with

(Diet) Anxiety may overshadow but can be recon with

Dear Dr. Mo: Whenever I think of starting a diet, I begin to feel strong anxiety and I fear that I will fail – so I keep putting it off. I’m not having hopes of becoming any super-model looking person but I still cannot bring myself to start my diet. What’s happening to me? 

Dear reader: Losing weight can sometimes become an overwhelming pressure, imposed on us more from the outside than coming really from the inside.

True, we do want to look fit and feel good about our body because this is good for our health but it is the nature of our modern society, which favours skinny looking, (almost) anorexic appearance augmented further by computer programs to unrealistic shapes, that pressures us to achieve the unachievable – and to ultimately, fail.

Humans are the only animal capable of thinking about and more importantly, imagining the future and this unique feature we owe to our frontal part of the brain, the one whose level of development and complexity is so uniquely human. This ability is also responsible for anxiety.

Anxiety is the product of our fear of future and because we are able to imagine our futures, this can cause us to be frightened – to feel anxiety.

One thing that’s very well known to psychologists (but not to most other people) is how bad we are at imagining our futures: the more distant an event is in time the fuzzier it will look in our mind’s eye and the more it will be painted by our present thoughts and feelings (we are thus unable to escape the present – this is called ‘presentism’). The problem is that we won’t know this and will think that the way we imagined it is exactly the way it will happen – and alas, it won’t. Continue reading

The 5-second rule – can you eat food you dropped on the floor?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’ve been told that if I dropped my food on the floor and picked it up within 5 seconds, it would still be safe and clean to eat –

Food gets contaminated immediately

Food gets contaminated immediately

bacteria didn’t have enough time to jump on it. Is that true?

Dear reader: To answer your question on the so called ‘5-second rule’ simply, this rule is not correct and NO, no small amount of time can pass to still allow us to pick the food up from the floor and safely eat it – germs free; and I mean no amount of time – not even a millisecond, or even less than that – not even a nano or a piko or however unimaginably small amount of time you want to use as a yard stick. Continue reading

On prebiotics and probiotics – what labels won’t tell you

Dear Dr. Mo: I would like to know more about prebiotics and probiotics, especially in treating specific conditions – I found it difficult to find information on their applications and effects different strains of probiotics may have.

Probiotics can be found in yogurts

Probiotics can be found in yogurts

Dear reader: In response to your interesting question about use and effectiveness of probiotics, I’ve been browsing the dairy sections (containing yogurts, kefirs and alike) of some popular supermarkets here in Vancouver, BC to actually see what are the health claims the manufacturers (are allowed to) put on their probiotic-containing products.

To my surprise I was unable to find any concrete or revealing claim, which would help a person (patient or clinician for that matter) decide which product to choose and whether or not this particular probiotic product is a right choice for a potential medical condition. Most claimed to support or improve a body function but not to treat a condition/disease. 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

Sleep, health and weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I am looking into some weight loss programs and I am trying to work out my strategy to come back to my healthy weight. My work sometimes requires giving up on sleep and I tend to be too tired too often. Should I also consider better sleep as part of my weight loss strategy?

Dear reader: What an insightful question! Many of the dieting programs focus heavily on dietary habits and the types of foods we eat, when we eat them and how much. This is rightly so because to attain and maintain a healthy weight, we require a careful selection of healthful foods and a balanced way to eat them. We should also be mindful of our calorie total– don’t go below 1200 calories a day to avoid driving your body into starvation mode.

Sleep is a big part of your healthy weight

Dieting programs also focus on exercise, again rightly so because you need a way to burn through a few hundred calories a day in order to lose about 500 grams a week – which is the pace I’d recommend.  If you cut out 500 calories a day, every day, you’ll be losing about 500 grams of weight a week.

What most dieting programs don’t talk about, and I think they should, is a major component of our health – sleep.

If we don’t sleep well and don’t get enough of it, our health suffers and it becomes increasingly difficult to curb the appetite and control our weight. Being overweight deteriorates our health in both the short and the long run.

Disrupted sleep patterns disrupt the circadian rhythm and increase sleep deprivation, which in turn increases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
There are two of these hormones that regulate our appetite and feelings of hunger and fullness – leptin and ghrelin – and both are directly affected by how much sleep time we give ourselves. Continue reading

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

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.

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The danger in sweetness

Dear Dr. Mo: I love sweet foods. I am slightly overweight but nothing serious and I try to control it. I’ve heard that fructose can cause heart disease and is bad for the health. Now I know fructose is found in fruit so how can this be true?

Dear reader: Let me begin by saying that two predominant sugars in our modern diet are glucose and fructose. Our cells need sugars (carbohydrates) to extract energy form them. Virtually every cell in our body can use glucose to get that energy.

With fructose however, the story has a little evil twist – only the liver cells can get energy directly from fructose metabolism and this is where the trouble starts for us.

Fructose in fruit is not the one to worry about. Fruit is good for your health

Fructose in liver undergoes a series of metabolic changes and one of those changes is that the liver uses fructose to create fat!

So when you think of fructose think of fat as well.Feed your liver with enough fructose (especially in today’s fast diets which unfortunately abound with sugary foods and beverages) and gradually, very small droplets of fat will begin to accumulate inside the liver cells – such a process of fat build up is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, virtually unknown before 1980 and affecting a large number of adults and 80-90% of those who are obese or have diabetes.This goes to say that what’s changed in the past few decades has not been us physically, but our life styles and especially our diets and I don’t mean extra fruit intake but all the sweet foods and drinks we manufacture.
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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