Follow This Simple Principal for a Long and Healthy Life

Whats up, deer? (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Whats up, deer? (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

“Diet-related risks combined with physical inactivity are estimated to cause nearly one in five deaths worldwide,” says an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ December 13, 2017 – New ammunition in the fight to label unhealthy foods).

Since 20 per cent of the deaths are related to what we eat, there is an urgent need to put warning labels on the packages containing foods high in sugar, salt and fat.

Unhealthy eating causes chronic diseases. This impacts on mortality and morbidity. It also has a large bearing on the economy in terms of direct health care costs and indirect costs, such as those related to loss of productivity.

When you think about eating sugar, salt and fat you should think about chronic non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

The incidence of type 2 diabetes continues to rise and heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada. With high rates of obesity and hypertension, as well as an aging Canadian population, the impact of chronic diseases is likely to continue to increase unless action is taken to reduce modifiable risk factors.

Consuming poor unhealthy diet costs taxpayers $26.7 billion annually. That is lot of money. We can use that kind of money to improve the quality of our health and other social needs of the population.

If you are obese then eat healthy and try to lose one pound a week or a month. As they say slow and steady wins the race. If you lose your weight slowly then you can maintain the loss.

There are hundreds of diet plans in the market. You just have to find one and stick to it. I looked at the Mayo Clinic diet. That makes sense to me. The Mayo Clinic Diet is the official diet developed by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. It focuses not just on what you eat and how much you weigh but also on your overall health and lifestyle.

If you follow Mayo Clinic diet then you can drop one to two pounds a week until you reach your goal. Then you follow a program to maintain your weight.

The Mayo Clinic diet gives you lots of food choices within six food groups:

  1. Fruits
  2. Vegetables
  3. Whole grains
  4. Lean proteins such as beans and fish
  5. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil and nuts
  6. Sweets, in small amounts

The global plan is to begin work on global standards for front-of-package nutrition labeling, with new guidelines expected in the next three to five years. The labels on the package will warn consumers about unhealthy foods and ingredients.

The global talks come at a crucial time for Canada, which is poised to announce draft-warning labels for foods that contain more than 15 per cent of the daily value for sugar, sodium or saturated fat.

Do warning labels work? Surveys show that the warnings influenced more than 91 per cent of consumers, and food companies reformulated 18 per cent of products to avoid the labels.

Some have raised concerns about the government’s narrow focus on sugar, sodium and saturated fat. Four times as many nutrition-related deaths are linked to diets low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other ingredients, says the CMAJ article.

Just follow a simple principal – eat right and eat less.

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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.

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Enjoyment of Life Leads to Longer Survival Among Seniors

Early morning - a bird relaxing. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Early morning - a bird relaxing. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” said Bette Davis, an American actress. Keeping that in mind there is a continuous effort to improve the quality of life of seniors. Pills and more pills is not always the best way to make life of seniors healthy and functional.

A research article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ March 4, 2014) titled Enjoyment of life and declining physical function at older ages says, “Positive affective well-being (i.e. feelings of happiness and enjoyment) has been associated with longer survival and reduced incidence of serious illness.”

The authors of the article go on to say that their objective was to discover whether enjoyment of life also predicted a reduced risk of functional impairment over an 8-year period in a large population sample.

This was a prospective study involving 3199 men and women aged 60-years or older from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The results provided evidence that reduced enjoyment of life may be related to the future disability and mobility of older people. Researchers obtained similar results when they limited analyses to participants younger than 70-years at baseline.

Studies have also shown that when seniors are having a good time their life is associated with longer survival and reduced incidence of coronary heart disease and stroke. That means if a senior is not happy then there is a decline in physical function. This predicts early death. That is not good.

The authors looked into several lifestyle parameters including whether the participants enjoy the things that they do, enjoy being in the company of others, whether they look back on life with a sense of happiness and feel full of energy on a regular basis.

After eight-year-study, the authors found greater enjoyment of life was associated with reduced risk of developing impaired activities of daily living and with a slower decline in walking speed.

Slow walking speed was considered an early marker of disability and frailty, as well as a predictor of dementia, admission to a long-term health facility and death. That does not sound good either.

After analysing their research results, the authors came to the conclusion, “Our results provide further evidence that enjoyment of life is relevant to the future disability and mobility of older people. Efforts to enhance well-being at older ages may have benefits to society and health care systems.” A CMAJ Editor’s comment on the article says the degree of enjoyment of life remains an important predictor of future functionality, indicating the power of a positive outlook on life.

The message is quite simple and clear. Growing older gracefully and in good health requires attention and work. As Bernard Baruch, an American financier said, “Old age is always 15 years older than I am.” He also said that one of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody, everything, every night before you go to bed. Can we do that? Go have fun now.

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Be Safe, Do Not Drink and Drive

Alcoholic drink and car keys. (iStockphoto)
Alcoholic drink and car keys. (iStockphoto)

Drivers, here is a recipe for disaster: drugs, alcohol, not wearing a seat belt and speeding.

The highest rate of impaired driving is amongst young drivers aged 19 to 24. This accounts for 56 per cent of all reported criminal incidents.

The rate of impaired driving is at its worse at age 21 and relatively constant for 25 to 44 year olds. Seniors aged 65 years and older have the lowest rates. Statistics show impaired driving was a factor in almost 50 per cent of all incidents causing death.

Here are some other statistics:

-Every 22 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident.

-There is a 200 per cent chance that you or someone in your family will either cause, or be an innocent victim to, a drunk driving accident.

-A lot of young people (15 to 24 ages) are dying before they get old. These are tragic, meaningless deaths.

-In a single year, 522 children under the age of 14 were arrested for driving while intoxicated, (113 of them were under 10 years old).

Driving under the influence of alcohol is the single risk factor for motor-vehicle-related incidents and injury. It is about time we crack down on irresponsible teenagers and adults who drink and drive. Alberta is now in tune with B.C., Ontario and six other provinces in passing laws which will lower the legal limit for blood-alcohol concentration from 0.08 to 0.05 per cent.

If you are caught drunk driving then you may pay a steep fine, lose your license and have your car impounded – all before you set foot in court. So, be warned.

The new legislation in Alberta soon after four teens were killed by an alleged drunk driver just south of Grande Prairie. A 21-year-old Grande Prairie, Alta., man was to face a slew of alcohol-related charges in a devastating crash that left four teens dead and one in serious condition. Matthew Deller, 16, Vincent Stover, 16, Walter Borden-Wilkens, 15, and Tanner Hildebrand, 15, all of Grande Prairie, were killed.
Speeding and not wearing a seat belt are other causes of fatalities on our roads. Again the majority of culprits are kids in their 20s or younger. Six months ago, citing a lack of evidence, cops in Calgary released a 21-year-old driver involved in a high-speed rollover that killed his younger brother and girlfriend.

The original charge included impaired driving. The crash happened shortly before midnight on a Sunday on Stoney Trail at McKnight Blvd. N.E. Two of the five people on board, the driver’s 16-year-old girlfriend and his 20-year-old brother, were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown from the car. They were taken to hospital where both later died.

Few months ago, the town of Magrath, Alta. was in mourning after four teens were killed in a horrific crash on a Sunday. The four – Clay Card, 16, Renzo Dainard, 16, Danae Gough, 14, and Jorden Miller 14 – were in a vehicle that left the road east of Magrath, about 240 km southwest of Calgary, landing upside down and partially submerged in a creek. According to the local Mounties, speed and driver inexperience probably caused the crash.

The holiday season is here. Drinking and partying is part of the Christmas and New Year celebrations. If you drink then don’t drive. If the party is in a hotel then book a room and stay there. Otherwise, take a cab or have somebody (who is not drinking) to drive you home. Wear a seat belt and do not speed.

Have a wonderful, safe Christmas and holiday season and Happy New Year. This column will return in January, 2012.

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