WITH various diets flooding the market, each claiming to be “the right one” or “the best diet,” the public and some healthcare providers themselves are confused. The Atkins diet, South Beach Diet, Hollywood Diet, Keto diet, and the various other you-name-it-diets, provide choices that only add to the dilemma. Some of the too detailed and complex “formulas” are hard to remember and impractical. Others are very expensive. Some are even downright unhealthy and dangerous, in the long term.
The Atkins diet, for instance, allows you to eat all the pork, beef, eggs, cheese and creamy sauces (which are all very rich in saturated fats) as much as you want, with basically no calorie ceiling, so long as you severely restrict your carbohydrate intake. It is supposed to help lose weight. But weight control is only half of the story. Atkins neglected to focus on the adverse health effects of such high-fat, high-cholesterol intake, as it increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
Low carbs is in
Eating carbohydrates (like white rice, refined sugar, pasta, bread, and especially sweets, which, strictly speaking, should include all soft drinks!) could easily add pounds to your weight and inches to your waistline, which is unhealthy. Carbohydrates are rapidly metabolized by the body to generate energy. The high glycemic effect of carbohydrates shoots the blood glucose level sky high fast, which is unhealthy, also a risk for T2diabetes. Vegetables also have carbohydrates (the healthier kind) in them. Advocating a high-fat diet instead is, to me, illogical and unsafe like encouraging people to smoke marijuana or shabu, opioids, instead of cigarettes.
High fat diet is deadly
There is no longer any doubt that diet rich in saturated fats causes and speeds up arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which is responsible for heart attack, stroke, leg gangrene, besides hypertension (high blood pressure), premature aging, etc. Eating red meat also increases the risk for cancers of the pancreas, colon, etc., besides Alzheimer’s.
The flawed theory
The theory behind the Atkins diet is, to my mind, and in the minds of experts in cardiovascular nutrition and physiology, flawed. It is controversial because the current evidence-based data we have highlight the health dangers of animal fats and cholesterol in our diet. While it may be effective in weight reduction, the Atkins diet may well cause more harm than good to the body and its cardiovascular system. This diet was developed by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins in the 1960s. He had high blood pressure and died on April 17, 2001 at age 72 of heart attack, congestive heart failure, as stated by the New York Medical Examiner’s office post-mortem report.
The non-meat proteins
The high protein feature of the Atkin’s diet would not have been objectionable if the proteins in them were not derived from red meats that are loaded with saturated fats and cholesterol. If the proteins in them came from fish, legumes (dried beans and peas), tofu and soy-bean products, nuts, whole wheat, barley, rye, then the diet would be healthy. For one thing, the protein from fish contains a lot of omega 3 fatty acids, which have been found to be a mild blood thinner and cardioprotective. The fat from fish is excellent for our total body health. Vegetables and fruits and some nuts provide high-fiber and high antioxidants (anti-cancer too) polyphenols and flavonoids in them and fish is a source of good protein and fish oil. Many fast food chains and restaurants are now offering “beyond-meat,” no red meat, “hamburger” sandwiches, etc., using healthier alternatives to red meat.
Besides having the right diet to maintain normal weight and cholesterol/triglyceride level, the strategy towards a healthier lifestyle should include abstinence from tobacco, daily regimented physical exercise (the simplest and effective one of which is walking in a pace you desire), stress management with behavioral modification, psychological and philosophical reinforcement, abstinence from or moderation in alcohol intake, enjoying a hobby or two, a general positive outlook in life, and regular activities which involves family and friends.
The sensible diet
Considering the available scientific data today, I strongly feel that the most sensible diet includes a lot of fish and a small to moderate amount of other sea foods (preferably not fried), plenty of green leafy vegetables, legumes (beans, etc.), fruits, some nuts, as low-salt as your taste could tolerate, and as little white rice as possible (especially for those who are overweight), or better yet, no rice. The healthy diet should minimize, or exclude, red meat, processed meats (hot dog, bacon salami, etc.), and limiting eggs to two a week.
However, if you can abstain from red meats and eggs, it will even be better. With this diet, the main source of protein is fish and other non-meat items listed earlier. For snacks, if desired, raw cucumber, celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, jicama or sinkamas, other fruits are healthy in-between meals. All varieties of soft drinks are toxic. Filtered water is the best choice. Coffee and tea are health drinks. Diabetics and those who require special diets should consult their physician.
Let’s fight this war
Besides the proper quality of food, the right quantity of the daily calorie intake is also very important. Weighing yourself once a week (same day, same time, preferably naked or wearing the exact same outfit) will monitor your weight properly and guide you, whether to cut down on the total calorie intake or maintain the same. Drinking a tall glass of cold water before each meal distends the stomach, which induces the appetite center in the brain to be satisfied sooner, and thus help reduce the total calorie intake. But diet alone, without the overall strategy I outlined above, will not optimize your goals for a healthier lifestyle that will ward off, or dramatically lower your risk of, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and provide you a happier, more productive life, and a maximum longevity possible.
While our individual war against unhealthy lifestyle and bad habits is not easy by any means, requiring a lot of discipline and sacrifices, it is one we cannot afford not to wage.
Our health, happiness, and our life literally depend on it. I, therefore, sound this clarion call to all of you out there: let’s put on our full battle gear today, join forces in this crusade, and fight this good war. After all, this is nothing but self-defense and self-preservation.
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer and author, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian and anti-graft foundation in the United States. Visit these websites: philipSchua.com and FUN8888.com Send comments to [email protected]