Obesity and the health problems accompanying this condition have received much attention in the last few years. What are the health hazards associated with being overweight and what are the solutions?
Health hazards of obesity
People who are obese (which is defined as having a Body Mass Index or BMI greater than 30), are exposed to a greater risk of developing the following diseases than their thinner counterparts:
- Diabetes, particularly non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM)
- Heart disease and heart failure
- Diseases of the joints such as gout and arthritis
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Gall bladder disease, and gall stones
- Fatty liver
- Varicose veins
This is a scary scenario and most people would like to avoid such illnesses. The question is "How can individuals, who are obese, avoid gaining more weight, and how can they lose weight successfully?"
The solution to losing weight is to cut down on fat intake and to do plenty of exercise. This translates into eating a low-fat, high-fibre, high-carbohydrate diet and doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Why use a low-fat diet?
Why should one use a low-fat diet to lose weight, instead of a very-low calorie diet or a high-protein diet?
Every gram of fat you consume will supply you with 37 kJ of energy.
Every gram of carbohydrate and protein that you consume only supplies 17 kJ or 4 calories. This is less than half the amount of energy supplied by fat.
So just by cutting down on fat intake you will be halving your energy intake.
In addition, if you select your carbohydrates cleverly by eating only unprocessed high-fibre foods, then the energy density of the diet is reduced even further.
Carbohydrates with a high-fibre content such as oats, unsifted maize meal, high-fibre breakfast cereals, wholewheat bread, brown rice and pasta, also have the advantage that the fibre they contain swells up and gives a feeling of fullness, thus preventing those hunger pangs which drive dieters to overindulge.
Dietary fibre also has other beneficial effects when used in slimming diets. It helps to lower blood fats and can prevent cancer.
In contrast to a low-calorie diet which is highly monotonous and has a high failure rate because users are constantly hungry, a low-fat, high-fibre diet can help you stick to your diet because you will be eating a variety of foods and will not get hungry all the time.
In contrast to a high-protein diet which is associated with a number of risks like developing ketosis and kidney damage, a low-fat, high-fibre diet is not risky. After all, it was the basic diet eaten by humans for thousands, if not millions of years. Until the beginning of the last century, high fat intakes were the exception and not the rule and the so-called degenerative diseases and obesity were much less common than they are now.
Exercise not only burns up more energy but it also helps people to stick to their diets, because it creates a feeling of wellbeing and a more positive outlook. The exercise you do each day need not be exhaustive. Just going for a 30-minute walk in the fresh air is sufficient to stimulate metabolism and improve your mood.
Obese people can benefit from exercise even if it is only moderate in intensity. So get walking right now or join an aqua-aerobics class when the weather warms up. The trick is to do your exercise every day to obtain the maximum benefits.
So the message is clear: If you are overweight or obese, then start eating a low-fat, high-fibre, high-carbohydrate diet and get active in a way that suits your lifestyle. -
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Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com. Read more of her articles.