A large part of maintaining a healthy weight is striving for a balanced diet that is low in calories and rich in nutrients. A 'balanced' diet is one that includes a blend of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, meat products or protein, and dairy products. Health Canada provides guidelines for the daily requirements of each food group, which are dependent on a person's sex and age. Special requirements are provided for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. To view these guidelines, click here.
Food nourishes your body and gives you the energy you need to get through the day. Healthy eating is an important part of good health and is also important in reducing the risk for many chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis (loss of bone density), and some forms of cancer. Healthy eating may also have the added benefits of helping to boost your immune system, helping to ward off tiredness or fatigue, protecting your teeth and gums, and can even help to increase your concentration and reduce feelings of stress or anxiety.
Generally, processed and prepared foods are higher in calories yet not usually richer in nutrients. Additionally, these foods often have high salt and sugar contents, which can cause health problems when consumed in high quantities. To eat healthy, you should look for foods that are low in fat but high in fiber, and that are full of minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants (like vegetables are). It is important to avoid foods that are full of salt or sugar. Drinking plenty of water each day (8 glasses is best) helps keep your body hydrated and your kidneys working properly. Keep in mind that alcohol and coffee do not count and actually dehydrate your body. Controlling the portion size of the food you eat is important, especially as most restaurants serve food that is two or three times the portion size that we need. Consider eating only half of what you are served and taking the rest home for another meal, or sharing your meal with a friend. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats are all great for you to eat but remember that even healthy foods can become bad for you if you eat too much.
Another part of maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle in general is the striving for inclusion of daily physical activity. Exercise is essential for maintaining not only a healthy weight, but also for boosting metabolism, promoting mental alertness, and preventing illness. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology provides guidelines for physical activity; to view these, click here.
Regular physical activity is an important part of good health and it is especially important when losing weight or maintaining your current healthy weight. Physical activity increases the amount of calories that your body uses, which, when combined with a healthy diet, decreases weight. It also reduces your risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, helps reduce blood pressure, and may reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity everyday, so get out there and go for a walk if you can!
Body mass index, generally speaking, is the ratio of a person's height to his or her weight, which determines one's percentage of body fat. There are guidelines that use the body mass index to determine whether a person's weight is within the healthy range for that person's height. Guidelines are also provided for determining whether one's weight is considered to be in the overweight or obese range. To see whether your weight is healthy for someone of your height, please click here and enter your height and weight.
Cardiovascular disease refers to a class of illnesses that involve blood vessels and the heart. It is the number one cause of death around the world, claiming more lives than any other disease. Ischemic heart disease is the most common type of cardiovascular disease in Canada, affecting both men and women equally. This refers to problems with blood circulation to the heart, which could result in the blockage of arteries. A partial blockage can cause angina (chest pains) and dyspnea (shortness of breath). A complete blockage can cause a heart attack. Alternatively, strokes are caused when there are issues with circulation to blood vessels in the brain. There are many other types of cardiovascular disease and your doctor can provide specific information.
Hereditary predisposition affects your risk for cardiovascular disease, but other factors increasing your risk include smoking, lack of exercise, unhealthy eating, high cholesterol or blood pressure, too much sodium in your diet, and stress. Cardiovascular disease can affect men and women differently: men are more likely to develop heart disease earlier in life while women are more likely to become affected around menopause. Women with type 2 diabetes have eight times the risk of heart disease than women without diabetes. By increasing your level of exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding tobacco, heart disease and stroke can be prevented.
For more information, please click here to visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation's website.
There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce any insulin, a hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood. About 10% of diabetes sufferers have type 1 and it is usually found in children and adolescents. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin or the body cannot effectively use the insulin that is produced. Type 2 diabetes is usually found in adults. If not properly treated, diabetes can cause heart, kidney, and eye disease, impotence, or nerve damage. Risk factors for diabetes include being overweight (especially in the abdomen), being a member of a high-risk group (First Nations, Latin, Asian, South Asian or African descent), having a parent or sibling who is diabetic, having high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or being diagnosed with schizophrenia. While many people with type 2 diabetes show no symptoms, other diabetes sufferers may have unusual thirst, a need to frequently urinate, weight loss or gain, or extreme fatigue. Lifestyle changes may help prevent or slow type 2 diabetes from developing. This includes ensuring you engage in regular physical activity, maintain a healthy diet and healthy weight, and control your blood pressure.
For more information, please click here to visit the Canadian Diabetes Association's website.
The term 'metabolic syndrome' is used to help identify people who are at risk for developing diabetes and heart disease. Other problems associated with metabolic syndrome include kidney and liver problems, along with obstructive sleep apnea, polycystic ovary syndrome, and increased risk of dementia in the elderly. While there is no single definition of metabolic syndrome, criteria from the World Health Organization involve high insulin levels with at least two of the following: abdominal obesity (involving a BMI of 30 or higher, or a waist circumference of 37 inches or more); cholesterol panel with a triglyceride level of 150 mg/dl or higher, or an HDL cholesterol below 35 mg/dl; or blood pressure of 140/90 or higher. The main features of metabolic syndrome include insulin resistance, hypertension (high blood pressure), cholesterol abnormalities, and an increased risk for clotting.
Metabolic syndrome is quite common, with approximately 20-30% of the population in industrialized countries living with metabolic syndrome. It is present in approximately 22% of people who are overweight and 60% of those who are obese. Genetics and the environment both play important roles in the development of metabolic syndrome. A family history of type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and early heart disease can greatly increase the chance of developing metabolic syndrome. Environmental factors, including low activity level, sedentary lifestyle, and progressive weight gain, can also increase an individual’s chance of developing metabolic syndrome. The risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases by up to 45% in adults who gain five or more pounds per year. Obesity is likely the greatest risk factor, but other risk factors include post-menopause in women, smoking, having a high carbohydrate diet, and lack of physical activity. Lifestyle modification can play an important role in preventing or delaying metabolic syndrome; this can involve weight reduction through proper diet and exercise.
To learn more about metabolic syndrome, please click here.