Eating the Right Kind of Protein

A rock formation in Barbuda! (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A rock formation in Barbuda! (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

A balanced diet consists of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fruits and vegetables to provide you with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

Proteins are considered essential nutrients for the human body. They are one of the building blocks of body tissue, and can also serve as a fuel source. The body needs protein for growth and maintenance. Aside from water, proteins are the most abundant kind of molecules in the body.

There are many sources of protein: grains, legumes, nuts, seeds as well as animal sources such as meats, dairy products, fish and eggs. Vegetarians and vegans can get enough essential proteins (amino acids) by eating a variety of plant proteins.

A recent study from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (published in JAMA Internal Medicine) shows people who eat more protein from plants and less from animals may live longer even when they have unhealthy habits like heavy drinking or smoking.

If you like to eat animal protein then you should avoid processed red meat and choose fish or chicken instead.

The Harvard researchers followed more than 130,000 nurses and other health professionals over several decades. Half of the participants were getting at least 14 per cent of their calories from animal protein such as meat, eggs and dairy and at least four per cent from plant protein sources such as pasta, grains, nuts, beans and legumes.

The researchers noted that previous studies have indicated eating fewer starchy foods and more protein can help people manage their weight, blood pressure, sugar and blood lipids. But the Harvard study shows animal protein is deadlier for individuals who were obese or heavy drinkers.

The researchers found that meat eaters with an unhealthy lifestyle and higher mortality risk tended to eat more red meat, eggs and high-fat dairy than the fish and poultry eaters favoured by those with a healthy lifestyle.

The new study also found that meat eaters with a healthy lifestyle tended to consume more fish and poultry, while those with an unhealthy lifestyle and higher mortality risk – such as those who were overweight and drank at least one alcoholic beverage per day – tended to eat more red meat, eggs and high-fat dairy.

The authors say the study cannot prove that the type of protein people eat directly influences how long they may live. It’s also possible that the eating and lifestyle habits of health-care workers (participants in this study) might not be representative of the broader population of adults.

The real risk of mortality from animal protein also appears largely tied to processed meat, such as bacon, salami and hot dogs.

The take-home message here is to eat specific healthier plant-based foods such as fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and non-starchy veggies. Avoid dangerous plant-based foods such as French fries to soda to white bread and white rice. And pursue a healthier life-style.

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!

How Schools Teach our Children to be Fat

A beautiful view of the mountains in Canmore, Alberta. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A beautiful view of the mountains in Canmore, Alberta. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

“Our children are getting fatter. They eat more and move less,” says Diane Kelsall, MD, deputy editor, Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ April 7, 2015), in an editorial titled, “How schools teach our children to be fat.”

The editorial goes on to say that nearly 85 per cent of children aged three to four years meet activity levels recommended in Canadian guidelines, but this falls to only four per cent in teens.

Unfortunately, most of our overweight or obese children will not outgrow their weight problem. That means they develop adult diseases like hypertension and diabetes. And our schools hinder the fight against obesity in our youth, says the editorial.

If you look at a typical day for our children when they are at school then you will understand why Dr. Kelsall feels our schools are doing a poor job of preventing obesity. She makes the following points:

  • Our children’s school day starts early, often well before 9 am.
  • They are likely driven or take the bus to school.
  • They are tired when they arrive and sit for most of the day.
  • Physical education classes are usually not required after grade nine.
  • Lunch may be rushed, and food options available in the school may be high in fat or sugar.
  • At lunch or after classes, some students may participate in sports, but most don’t.
  • Students have hours of homework resulting in extended screen time.
  • They go to bed late, and the cycle starts all over again.

No wonder nearly one-third of our school-aged children are overweight or obese. Our schools should be helping our children to be healthy and that should lead to healthy adulthood. How can schools do that? Dr. Kelsall suggests the following:

  • Daily exercise should be mandatory for all school children. It should become part of daily life. Classes should include enough sustained, vigorous exercise to help students meet recommended activity levels, rather than the 20-minute requirement in some jurisdictions.
  • Walking or cycling to school is a good start.
  • Taking public transportation affords more opportunity for exercise than being driven by parents.

Lengthy sitting time has been shown to be a risk factor for early death in adults. The editorial says that a peek into most high school classrooms will show rows of students sitting for classes that are often 75 minutes in length, among the longest in the world. This sends the message that being sedentary is acceptable. Beyond physical education classes, getting students moving during school hours takes creativity.

We should do what Japan does. Make food education a part of the compulsory curriculum. We should encourage our kids to sleep early and get up early. Like adults, tired adolescents are at increased risk of obesity.

“Obesity is a complex disease and prevention requires multilevel intervention,” says Dr. Kelsall. It starts with the individual and family making good choices around exercise and food intake, but broader societal support is necessary. Our battle against smoking is slowly winning and message to people is clear – if you smoke then you kill yourself and hurt others. The message for obesity and overeating is the same – stop hurting yourself and the people you love.

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!

The Secret to Losing Weight – Eat Right and Eat Less

Sunset at Shirley Heights Lookout in English Harbour, Antigua. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Sunset at Shirley Heights Lookout in English Harbour, Antigua. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

If you want to lose weight then 75 per cent of your effort should be spent on eating less and eating right. Twenty five per cent of your effort should be spent on physical exercise. If you made a New Year’s resolution on losing weight then this is a good time to take stock of your achievement. We are into April. Have you lost at least four pounds?

If yes, then keep it up. Slow and steady wins the race. If you haven’t then you should know that there are 37,000 books in the market on how to eat right and lose weight. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ March 17, 2015), dieting programs and books are a $66-billion industry. Now you know where all your money goes.

We all have different ideas on what is right and what is wrong. When it comes to eating, it will be hard to find two people following the same dietary regimen to lose weight. If you want to be a permanent loser (I mean losing weight) then eat less.

Obesity has been officially recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association. Obesity gives you grief with multiple medical problems. In Western countries, people are considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) exceeds 30 kg/m2. They are considered overweight if the BMI is 25-30 kg/m2. In simple terms you are either of normal weight, overweight (25-30 kg/m2) or obese (over 30 kg/m2).

It is no secret that most methods of treating obesity have failed. Some are good for a short duration but most people revert to their old habits. Habits are hard to get rid off.

There are many nutritional guidelines, official and unofficial, and yet, despite all of this evidence, we have failed to make a real impact on the problem at the population level. There is no simple solution. It is determination and hard work.

So the secret is out – to lose weight you have to eat smart and eat less for life.

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!

Obesity is a Disease that Reduces Life Expectancy

People jogging. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
People jogging. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Obesity has been officially recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association. Obesity gives you grief with multiple medical problems. In Western countries, people are considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) exceeds 30 kg/m2. They are considered overweight if the BMI is 25-30 kg/m2. In simple terms you are either of normal weight, overweight (25-30 kg/m2) or obese (over 30 kg/m2). Ask your doctor where you stand.

It is no secret that most methods of treating obesity have failed. Some are good for a short duration but most people revert to their old habits. Habits are hard to get rid off. Habits that have been ingrained in your system since childhood.

Obesity is most commonly caused by a combination of excessive eating, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility with hormonal or psychiatric disorders. Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type-2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

What is the solution? Is there a way to stop this epidemic of obesity, which is a disease, a medical condition?

A political solution is needed, just like the laws against smoking, says an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ November 18, 2014) titled, “A political prescription is needed to treat obesity” by Fletcher and Patrick.

Last year, World Health Organization (WHO) member states declared a target to stop the rise in obesity by 2025. A report from the Global Burden of Disease Study on global, regional and national trends in overweight and obesity has shown that obesity is still increasing worldwide, including in Canada, particularly among young people.

Governments must recognize that individual-level interventions, nutritional advice and activity guidance are not working, says the CMAJ editorial. Obesity will only be curbed by population-level measures supported by legislation. There is no disagreement among experts that physical activity is not enough to prevent or treat obesity, unless it is combined with some kind of dietary intervention.

The editorial says family and community interventions may work somewhat better than interventions aimed at individuals, but their implementation is patchy.

Bariatric surgery (surgery for obesity) has good results in the treatment of morbid obesity, but its use is always going to be limited and a last resort.

Drugs to suppress your appetite may work to some extent, but may have nasty adverse effects.

There are many nutritional guidelines, official and unofficial, and yet, despite all of this evidence, we have failed to make a real impact on the problem at the population level, says the editorial.

Experts agree there is no single solution to the problem of obesity. We should help people make better choices. People are addicted to sweet and high-fat foods that are inexpensive and easily available. We need to change our approach, says the article.

We should encourage school-based nutrition and activity, incentives for active commuting, restrict portion sizes and reduce the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages and other high-calorie, nutrient-poor food products.

The editorial concludes by saying, “Our government needs to act to restrict the sale of high-calorie and nutrient-poor food products or reduce the incentive to buy them through increasing their prices via taxation.”

Can you think of a law that will make us exercise more, eat less and eat healthy? If yes, then a Nobel Prize may be waiting for you.

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!