Counting calories is the cornerstone of weight loss. It’s also one of the tools that will help you to keep weight off once you hit your goal weight. We count calories burned when we exercise too. In fact, it’s all about calories when people discuss weight and fitness. Experts say that energy balance is a crucial part of battling obesity but if the goal is heart health then you may now want to seriously consider emphasizing the nutrition value of the foods you eat.
A recent editorial, featured in the journal Open Heart, argues that similar to the recommendation that we not smoke or that we stop smoking, simple and focused nutrition can yield dramatic health improvements. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the nutrients that the experts recommend. Studies show that if you can get people to eat a serving of nuts, use olive oil and eat fish regularly, their overall risk of death from all mortality causes and from heart disease will improve within several months.
If you get people to kick their daily soda and sweetened drink habit then they will likely lose weight and probably experience a lowered risk of developing diabetes type 2. If you can get those same individuals to eat a handful of nuts, like walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts daily, or if you can get them to use about four tablespoons of olive oil daily, their risk of a heart attack and stroke will be significantly reduced. The experts consider nuts superstars when it comes to lowering people’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Getting most people to eat just two servings of nuts daily could cut 90,000 deaths from heart disease in the United States.
The study’s experts looked at the Action for Health in Diabetes trial (Look AHEAD) which involved 5,000 middle-age men and women diagnosed with diabetes type 2, and noted that despite a low calorie diet and increased activity, mortality associated with risk of cardiovascular disease was not dramatically reduced, despite weight loss in most of the participants. What does appear to lower heart risks? These focused food changes.
The study’s authors also suggest that doctors should modify their current standard lifestyle recommendations, which typically include a simple statement of “eat less and exercise more,” and instead offer simple nutrition recommendations:
- Eat a handful of unprocessed nuts daily
- Use olive oil in salad dressing everyday
- Cook with healthy oils daily
- Cut out soda and replace it with water
- Eat fruits and vegetables at every meal
- Use herbs and spices instead of salt
- Eat whole grains
- Eat legumes, beans and seeds as part of a more plant-based diet
If food choices becomes the cornerstone of a discussion with your doctor, then you may feel less pressure to target a specific number of calories daily, which seems to really stress people out. This type of nutrition advice also translates to the whole family. Instead of one person being on a diet, the new meal rules can simply emphasize the Mediterranean style of food choices and cooking, allowing everyone to enjoy tasty, nutrient-dense foods that are more likely mainstream and also available if you choose to eat out. Most restaurants will have olive oil available for your salad dressing, you can easily find grilled fish on most menus and you can find nuts in most foodmarts.
I personally think most of us also need to work on portion size when it comes to these nutrient-dense foods, since large amounts of healthy food can also cause weight gain. That being said, this concept of quality food driving your daily menu plans has a clear health benefit.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”