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Category Archives: diet/ weightloss

Diet After Colorectal Cancer

Unlike many other cancers, colorectal cancer sends out advance warnings of its arrival. A precancerous polyp detected in the colon during a preventive screening can help motivate you to adopt a colon-healthy diet.

If you’ve had a polyp or a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, you’ll want to know how to structure a diet to prevent a recurrence of your condition. “There isn’t nearly as much research on survivorship and recurrence as there is on prevention, but from what we’ve seen so far, our best advice is for our cancer survivors to follow our prevention guidelines,” says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society.

Unless extraordinary health conditions dictate some variance, the standard cancer prevention guidelines hold sway for two reasons. First, the prevention guidelines are based on extensive analysis of diet and cancer, and frequently describe the best-known strategies for avoiding a recurrence.

Second, a generally well-balanced cancer prevention diet can help prevent a return of the disease not only in the colon, but also elsewhere in the body. “Survivors of a particular type of cancer can still be at risk for other types of cancers,” Doyle says. Since a cancer survivor is at higher risk for many different cancers, not just the cancer of the original site, it is important to control one’s overall cancer risk as much as possible. “The overall risk of most cancer is going to be reduced by following those nutrition and physical activity guidelines,” Doyle says.

Colorectal Cancer and Diet: What to Eat, What to Avoid

What you should eat and what you should avoid are equally important.

What helps. The colorectal cancer prevention diet is plant-based, and includes the standard recommendation of five servings of richly colored — think of a rainbow — fruits and vegetables every day. Alcohol should be limited to one drink per day for women, two for men. Fats should be used in moderation, and consist mostly of those found in fish and plant sources.

What doesn’t help. A limited amount of research has identified several dietary strategies that seem to have no benefit in preventing the recurrence of precancerous polyps. Within three to four years from the original polyp, no protective effect in preventing new polyps was found from antioxidant vitamins, fiber supplements, or modest dietary changes to increase fruit and vegetable intake.

What might help. There is some evidence that calcium supplements provide some benefit in preventing polyp recurrence. But because high levels of calcium are implicated in prostate cancer, Doyle recommends that men make sure they get the recommended dosage of calcium — preferably through plant sources — and no more.

After a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, the most important determinants of survival seem to be adherence to the full treatment regimen (especially if chemotherapy is recommended) and regular colonoscopies to identify new lesions. Colorectal cancer treatment may require specialized nutritional counseling to develop a tailor-made food plan, particularly if surgery has removed part of the colon and affected how the body absorbs nutrients, Doyle says.

7 Life-Enhancing Reasons to Eat Fish

Fish has a reputation for being low calorie, high protein “brain food,” thanks to the long strands of polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fatty acids (popularly referred to as “omega-3s”) found in fish oil.

The human body can’t naturally produce omega-3s, but yet they’re needed for a healthy body, inside and out. Although the link between omega-3s and heart healthhas long been known, several new studies present even more evidence that fish high in fatty acids is essential for total-body wellness.

The good news is if you’re not a fish fan, most new research indicates that eating fish only once or twice a week can be enough to reap the benefits. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health recommends that people consume at least 2 percent of their total daily calories as omega-3 fatty acids, which equals about 4 grams per day. One four-ounce piece of salmon (one of the highest natural sources of omega-3s) contains about 1.5 grams of the fatty acid. Other fish, such as tuna, sardines, and halibut, also contains high levels. If you don’t eat animal products or have trouble fitting fish into your diet, you can get your daily recommended amount of fatty acids through omega-3 DHA/fish oil supplements. Although new data fromConsumer Reports suggests that more Americans are buying omega-3 supplements than ever before, the doctor-recommended way to consume the health benefits of fish is still by eating the real thing.

If the heart-health-boosting, waist-slimming properties weren’t reasons enough to eat more fish, here are seven more ways adding a dose of fish to your diet can improve your health.

  1. Prevent Heart Disease: A Danish study of 49,000 women that was published Monday inHypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association found that women who ate little to no fish had 50 percent more heart problems than those who ate fish at least once per week. Additionally, researchers found that women who rarely ate fish had a three-fold higher disease risk than those who ate it often. Other research has found that eating fish high in omega-3s can slash blood fat levels, which can contribute to a lower heart-disease risk.
  2. Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk: Eating fish as little as once a week can help preserve gray-matter neurons — the part of the brain linked to memory and cognition —according to a new study presented last month at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting. Researchers found that people who eat baked or broiled — but not fried — fish had larger brains and larger cells in the areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Scientists believe the larger brain volume can help lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
  3. Improve Skin and Hair: One of the biggest drawbacks to a low-fat diet is you often deprive your skin and hair of the healthy fat it needs, leaving it dull and dry. The omega-3s in fish are exactly the type of healthy fat to eat to keep your skin looking nourished and your hair shiny. Research has also linked fish and omega-3 consumption to treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis.
  4. Ease Depression: Several studies have found that when taken along with prescription antidepressant medications, the omega-3s in fish are more effective at treating depression that just prescription medication alone. One study of 52 pregnant women found that taking a 300 mg capsule of omega-3s during pregnancy significantly reduced the women’s risk of postpartum depression.
  5. Boost Brain Development: The EFA omega-3 found in salmon and other nutrient-rich fish are essential nutrients for children because they contribute to brain development. Some studies have even found that omega-3 consumption can help soothe symptoms of ADHD. Experts recommend, however, that parents ask their pediatrician before introducing supplements to a child’s diet.
  6. Dose of Vitamin D: Saltwater fish is a sun-less source of vitamin D, which scientists say can help ward off disease, promote bone health, and with the help of the omega-3s in fish, ward off cognitive decline. Just one three-ounce serving of salmon contains 75 percent of your daily recommended amount of the vitamin.
  7. Stronger Sperm: A recent study of 188 men found that those who ate more fresh fish — along with other healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — had stronger swimmers than those who ate unhealthy diets. Researchers say that more study needs to be done, but preliminary data shows that the better the participant’s diet, the stronger the shape and mobility of the sperm he produced.

Are Fruits and Vegetables Less Nutritious Today?

When it comes to getting enough nutrients in your diet, one bit of information is pretty clear-cut: Everybody should be eating an abundance of different fruits and vegetables every day. Yet according to research, fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than they used to be say 50 years ago. The reason?

A number of studies have explored the phenomenon of declining nutrients in fruits and vegetables, but the one that garnered the most media attention was led by Donald R. Davis, PhD, at the University of Texas in Austin, and was published inHortScience. Among Davis’s findings, one of the most consistent was that a higher yield of crops — in other words, more crops grown in a given space — almost always resulted in lower nutrient levels in the fruits and vegetables. What’s more, the median mineral declines among a variety of fruits and vegetables could be fairly significant, ranging from 5 to 40 percent, with similar declines in vitamins and protein levels.

Higher yield is one reason behind the decline, but several nutrition experts say it’s not the only one. “The soil itself has been over-harvested, meaning that over years of use and turnover of soil, it becomes depleted in nutrition,” says Michael Wald, MD, an integrated medicine specialist in Mount Kisco, N.Y. “All crops growing upon depleted soil must therefore be depleted in nutritional content.”

Cherie Calbom, MS, a clinical nutritionist and author of The Juice Lady’s Living Foods Revolution, sees it as a bigger problem that extends to many aspects of modern farming. “Our poor farming practices are leading to sick plants, depleted soil, and a need to use higher and higher doses of pesticides and herbicides to ward off what healthy plants would naturally ward off,” she says. “We are heading toward a dust bowl in many parts of the country if nothing changes.”

Despite these concerns, Janet Brill, PhD, RD, a nutritionist and author of Cholesterol Down, it’s still critically important to eat lots and lots of fruits and vegetables, and these developments shouldn’t discourage you from doing just that. “People should be concerned about one area of fruits and vegetables and one area only: to eat lots more of them each day, cooked and raw,” she says. “After we have solved that problem [of consumption], then we can move on to any nutrition concerns about growing them.”

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Fruits and Veggies

There are still many steps you can take to ensure a healthy nutrient punch every time you include fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Go with locally grown. The key to getting more nutrients is eating food that spends less time traveling from the field to your table. The way to accomplish that goal is with locally grown produce, either from your own garden or from a local farmer’s market. “Buy fresh, whole, and locally grown seasonal produce,” Brill suggests. “Try to purchase produce with the least amount of time from farm to table, as vitamins and minerals are lost over time as well as with cooking and handling.”

Choose frozen. Your natural instinct when eating produce is to think that fresh is always better than frozen. But Brill says that this isn’t necessarily the case. “Sometimes the veggies frozen right after harvest have retained more nutrients than those ‘fresh’ veggies that have taken forever to get to your plate,” she explains.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Big, shiny fruits and vegetables sure look good and grab your attention in the supermarket, but just because they’re beautiful doesn’t mean they’re better for you. For example, organic apples may be smaller and not quite as pretty, but their pesticide levels are likely to be lower.

Keep them rough. When it comes time to prepare those fruits and vegetables for eating, bigger, rougher pieces of produce may have the nutritional edge over finely chopped and sliced options. “Keep chopping to a minimum,” Brill advises. “The greater the exposure of the fruit or vegetable to air, the greater the loss of nutrients.”

Minimize cooking time. Though there are some exceptions (the lycopene in tomatoes, for example), the less most fruits and vegetables are cooked, the more nutrients they retain. So eat your fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible. When you do cook them, keep the cooking time to a minimum and avoid too much contact with water. “Cooking methods that are quick, with a minimum amount of liquid, will help to preserve nutrients,” Brill says. “Steaming, blanching, and stir-frying are all great ways to cook vegetables quickly and retain valuable nutrients. Keep veggies crisp — never overcook or boil in water until soggy.”

It may take a bit more effort to find fruits and vegetables as nutrient-rich as they were 50 years ago, but with more local farm stands cropping up, seasonal choices are getting easier to find and are certainly more delicious.

Teens Don’t Eat Enough Fruits and Veggies

The investigators analyzed data from nearly 10,800 students in grades nine through 12 who took part in the National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study 2010, and found that median consumption was 1.2 times per day for both fruits and vegetables.

Median daily fruit consumption was much higher among males than females, and much higher among grade nine students than among students in grades 10 and 12.

Slightly more than one in four (28.5 percent) of the high school students ate fruit less than once a day, and 33.2 percent ate vegetables less than once a day. Only 16.8 percent of students ate fruit at least four times a day and only 11.2 percent ate vegetables at least four times a day, the study found.

Vegetable consumption was lowest among Hispanic and black students.

The researchers said their findings indicate that most high school students don’t meet the daily fruit and vegetable recommendations for teens who do less than 30 minutes of physical activity a day: 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables for females and 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables for males.

Teens who get more physical activity need to eat even more fruits and vegetables, the researchers noted.

“The infrequent fruit and vegetable consumption by high school students highlights the need for effective strategies to increase consumption,” the researchers wrote in the report published in the Nov. 25 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Potentially promising school and community-based strategies include policy and environmental approaches such as farm-to-school initiatives, school gardens, salad bars in schools, and farmers’ markets. All of these programs seek to improve access to and availability of fruits and vegetables, the researchers explained.

Why Fruits and Vegetables Are Vital

If we are what we eat, then many of us must be tripping all over the place due to a lack of balance. That’s because the average American eats about three servings of fruits and vegetables per day — a stark contrast to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new guidelines stating that we should be eating 5 to 13 servings of nature’s best, depending on the number of calories you need.

So if we want to grow to be strong like Popeye, why can’t we just down some supplements instead of devouring a pile of spinach?

Nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables work together. Kristine Wallerius Cuthrell, MPH, RD, a research nutritionist and senior project coordinator for Hawaii Foods at the Center on the Family at University of Hawaii at Manoa, says that in the past five to 10 years, many large research studies have found that vitamin supplements don’t provide the benefits that foods do. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, created jointly between HHS and USDA and reviewed every five years, say that foods are the best sources of nutrients because they contain naturally occurring ingredients, like carotenoids and flavonoids.

“In addition to the substances we are aware of, there are many present in fruits and vegetables that have yet to be discovered. Food and the nutrients they contain aren’t consumed singly, but with each other. As such, they may act in synergistic ways to promote health,” Cuthrell says. For instance, eating iron-rich plants, like spinach, with an iron-absorbing enhancer, like the vitamin C in orange juice, is great for people who don’t get enough iron (typically young women).

Fruits and vegetables may prevent many illnesses. Eating fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. The Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study examined nearly 110,000 people over the course of 14 years. Part of the study revealed that the more fruits and vegetables people ate daily, the less chance they would develop cardiovascular diseases.

The relationship between fruits and vegetables and cancer prevention has been more difficult to prove. However, recent studies show that some types of produce are associated with lower rates of some types of cancer. For example, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest that mouth, stomach, and colorectal cancers are less likely with high intakes of non-starchy foods like leafy greens, broccoli, and cabbage. Though studies have been mixed, lycopene, a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color, may help stave off prostate cancer.

Fruits and vegetables are great for watching your weight. They’re low in fat and calories, and loaded with fiber and water, which create a feeling of fullness. This is particularly helpful for dieters who want more filling calories. Plus, that fiber helps keep you “regular.”

Fruits and Vegetables: Get Your Fill

When adding fruits and vegetables to your diet, remember that variety is the spice of life. It’s important to eat produce of various colors because each fruit or vegetable offers a different nutrient — think of it as nutritional cross-training. Trying new foods can be exciting, and be sure to sample every color in the produce rainbow.

The right number of servings of fruits and vegetables for you all depends on your daily caloric intake needs. A good way to find out how many servings you should be eating is by using the CDC’s online serving calculator. Or make things even simpler by eating a fruit or vegetable at every meal and snack.

Don’t let season, accessibility, or cost affect your fruit- and vegetable-friendly diet. If finding fresh produce is difficult, choose frozen, canned (low-sodium), or dried varieties. Also, 100 percent juice counts toward your servings, though it doesn’t offer the full fiber of whole fruit.

The power of prevention may lie in a salad bowl or a plate of fruit. When we take advantage of produce, our bodies return the favor by reducing our risk of developing various illnesses.

Good Sources of Potassium

Potassium is a mineral that most of us get every day through the foods we regularly eat — and that’s a good thing.

“Potassium is a mineral necessary for good health,” explains Alexa Schmitt, a clinical nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It aids in maintaining heart health by helping to regulate the fluid balance in the body.”

Potassium is classified as an electrolyte, which means that it carries an electric charge in your body.

The body needs balanced amounts of electrolytes — including potassium, sodium, magnesium, and others — to keep the blood chemistry at the right levels so that your body can function at its best.

Potassium also helps your body put the protein you eat to work, building muscle, bones, and other cells.

Who Needs to Pay Attention to Potassium?

Even though potassium helps our bodies in many ways, Schmitt says she cannot simply make a blanket recommendation about eating more potassium. That’s because different people need different amounts of potassium, depending on their overall health.

So who needs to watch their potassium intake?

  • People with kidney disease are at risk of having too much potassium in the blood. They tend to retain potassium because their kidneys don’t get rid of extra potassium as normal kidneys would. Hyperkalemia, or high levels of potassium in the blood, can be caused by a number of things (including certain medications and hormonal deficiencies), but kidney disease is the most common culprit. High levels of potassium can lead to irregular heartbeats. Therefore, your doctor may periodically check your potassium levels, especially if you have kidney disease.
  • People with high blood pressure are at increased risk for having low potassium levels (hypokalemia) because some high blood pressure medications can deplete potassium levels in the blood. Other conditions that can cause low potassium include vomiting, diarrhea, and eating disorders. Certain laxatives and diuretics have been found to cause low potassium as well. Low potassium is characterized by weakness, fatigue,constipation, and muscle cramps. If your potassium level becomes too low, it can also affect your heartbeat. Talk with your doctor about monitoring your potassium levels if you take high blood pressure medication or have a condition that may cause low potassium.

Foods High in Potassium

Though a lot of people associate bananas with potassium, there are a number of other foods that are high in potassium, which Schmitt defines as having at least 350 milligrams of potassium per serving.

In addition to bananas, Schmitt’s high-potassium food favorites include dried apricots, cantaloupe, beets, figs, honeydew melon, and orange juice.

“Cantaloupe and honeydew are great [for potassium] because people tend to eat more cantaloupe in one sitting than they would bananas or dried apricots,” she says. Other foods that are high in potassium include potatoes (with the skin on), soy products, dairy products, and meats.

Many of us already enjoy foods that are high in potassium, but if you’re worried about your potassium intake because of conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease, talk to your doctor or see a nutritionist. They can help you plan a healthy diet.

Best Diets for Weight Loss, Heart Health, and Diabetes

Jenny Craig may have taken top prize when Consumer Reports ranked the best diets of 2011 in May, but the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet earned best diets overall honors in U.S. News & World Report’s first-ever diet rankings, released today.

In an effort to help Americans weed through a seemingly endless array of weight-loss plan options, U.S. News recruited a panel of 22 health experts (nutritionists and specialists in weight loss, diabetes, heart health, and human behavior) to rank 20 of today’s most popular diets. “The goal of the Best Diets rankings is to help consumers find authoritative guidance on healthful diets that will work for them over the long haul,” according to U.S. News Health News editor Lindsay Lyon in a press release.

The results include the the best weight-loss diets, the best diets overall, the best heart-healthy diets, the best diets for diabetes, and the best commercial diets.

Each diet was rated from one to five in the following categories: short-term weight loss (within 12 months), long-term weight loss (two years or more), ease of compliance (satiety, taste appeal, special requirements), nutritional completeness (based on the 2010 U.S. dietary guidelines), health risks (malnutrition, rapid weight loss, contraindications for certain health conditions), and ability to prevent or manage diabetes and heart disease. Cost and exercise were not included in the scoring.

“Evaluating weight-loss plans isn’t an easy task, there’s a great deal to consider,” says Everyday Health nutritionist Maureen Namkoong, RD, adding that the “ease of compliance category” is essential when ranking diets, considering how difficult sticking to a diet plan can be. “I think they missed the mark by only having ‘experts’ evaluate these plans. It’s easy for a nutritionist to say a plan would be easy to follow, but it’s more important to know if dieters themselves — people who’ve struggled with healthy, balanced eating — would find it easy.”

So what do all of these rankings mean for you? Well, don’t read too much into the results.

“Different plans work for different people,” says Joy Bauer, Everyday Health diet and nutrition expert and creator of JoyBauer.com. “Just because one diet ranks higher than another doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be best for your personality, lifestyle, or taste buds.”

Read more about the diets ranked below, and take our What’s Your Diet Personality Quiz for a perfect plan that’s truly customized for your lifestyle.

Best Weight-Loss Diets

Winner: Weight Watchers

Runners-up (tie): Jenny Craig and the Raw Food Diet

Best Heart-Healthy Diets

Winner: Ornish Diet

Second place: TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet

Third place: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet

Best Diabetes Diets

Winner: DASH Diet

Runners-up (three-way tie): Mayo Clinic Diet, Ornish Diet, and Vegan Diet

Best Commercial Diet Plans

Winner: Weight Watchers

Second place: Jenny Craig

Third place: Slim-Fast

Best Diets Overall

Winner: DASH Diet

Runners-up (three-way tie): Mediterranean Diet, TLC Diet, and Weight Watchers

The Inside Scoop on the Best Diets From ‘U.S. News’

Here, get more details about all of the diets that U.S. News ranked, listed in alphabetical order.

And to find the best diet for you, visit us on Facebook to take our What’s Your Diet Personality Quiz.

Atkins Diet: The Atkins Diet is a low-carbohydrate plan that emphasizes protein and fats, with a minimum of carbs during its initial phase. Select carbs are added back into the diet after an “induction” period of two weeks. No. 7 best weight-loss diets, No. 8 best commercial diet plans, No. 18 best diabetes diets, No. 19 best diets overall, No. 19 best heart-healthy diets

DASH Diet: Recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet aims to control hypertension and promote overall health through foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and lean proteins. Dieters are encouraged to eat nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, lean meats, lean poultry, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. No. 1 best diets overall, No. 1 best diabetes diets, No. 3 best heart-healthy diets, No. 8 best weight-loss diets

Eco-Atkins Diet: The vegetarian version of the Atkins Diet, this weight-loss plan still focuses on eating high-protein foods, but it replaces the high-fat animal protein with vegetable protein from such foods as soy and gluten. No. 8 best weight-loss diets, No. 10 best heart-healthy diets, No. 14 best diets overall, No. 16 best diabetes diets

Glycemic-Index Diet: Also known as the GI Diet, the Glycemic-Index Diet focuses on eating foods that are low on the glycemic index, which is a measure of how long your body takes to break down food. The longer foods take to digest, the less likely they are to spike blood sugar. Eating low-GI foods can help you feel full and may be helpful for diabetes. No. 12 in best diabetes diets, No. 16 in best diets overall, No. 18 in best heart-healthy diets, No. 19 in best weight-loss diets

Jenny Craig: Known for its support system and customized meal program, the Jenny Craig diet includes three prepackaged meals and one snack each day, supplemented with your own fresh fruits and vegetables. No. 2 best weight-loss diets, No. 2 best commercial diet plans, No. 7 best diets overall, No. 11 best heart-healthy diets, No 11 best diabetes diets

The Facts on Fad Diets

Weight loss veterans know that losing weight and keeping it off requires a long-term commitment, yet even savvy dieters can occasionally be tempted by the quickweight loss promised by fad diets. As each new “lose weight fast” gimmick comes along, some people forget about the negatives associated with most fad diets — from a lack of nutritional value to food restrictions that are hard to live with — while others might not know if the weight-loss plan they’re considering is a fad or a program that could be helpful over the long haul. Here’s how to tell a flash-in-the-pan plan from an effective one.

Beware Magical Claims and Passing Promises

“It seems to be human nature to be attracted to fad diets, which promise quick and easy results,” says Allen Knehans, PhD, chair of the department of nutritional sciences at Oklahoma University Health Sciences University in Oklahoma City. Weeding out fad diets takes a bit of effort because, Knehans acknowledges, “there is no standard definition of a fad diet.” Here are some of the red flags that indicate a weight-loss plan is an ineffective fad diet:

  • The diet promises that you will lose weight fast or at an unrealistic pace. The claims sound too good to be true. The diet’s recommendations are based on a single study – or no research at all.
  • The diet’s recommendations seem extreme.
  • Statements made about the diet are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
  • It refers to foods as “good” or “bad.”
  • Personal testimonials are used to “sell” the diet.
  • The fad diet involves crash dieting, or very intense reductions in eating and drinking.
Jillian Michaels: 3 Popular Weight Loss Myths Busted
Jillian reveals the truth behind the three weight-loss myths that bother her the most.

“Fad diets are the parachute pants of nutrition,” explains nutritionist Judy Penta, BS, a certified holistic health counselor and personal trainer with Patients Medical in New York City. “Usually these diets are popular only for a short time — a season or at most a few years — then become unpopular or even laughable when the new fad comes along.”

Feeding The Popularity Fad Diets

Why do fad diets become the rage? A number of factors typically fuel their popularity, including:

  • Celebrity endorsements. Who doesn’t want to be as popular and slender as the latest starlet?
  • The promise of quick weight loss. In this age of instant everything, there’s a natural temptation to fall for a weight-loss plan that promises quick weight loss in only weeks rather than months.
  • The “elimination” mentality. The idea that cutting out certain foods will result in quick weight loss plays into popular beliefs about dieting. “Many of these diets promote elimination of one or multiple food groups for a set number of days or in very specific combinations with some sort of gimmick,” says Penta, adding that many people equate misery and deprivation with dieting and so are more willing to accept this type of weight-loss plan, at least for a brief while.
  • Peer pressure. If all your friends are following the fad, it’s tempting to join in.

Fad Diet Safety Questions

The most important question about any weight-loss plan is not whether it is effective, but whether it’s safe and healthy for you.

Many fad diets work for a short period of time, usually causing you to drop pounds due to possibly unhealthy calorie reduction or water weight loss. Occasionally you may learn a trick or two about adding healthy foods to your diet or maybe a new recipe that you enjoy.

“The fad diets succeed at jolting you from the grind of mindless snacking, eating junk food on the run, and all the calorie and fat-packed extras like whipped cream in the cappuccino, or grabbing a slice of pizza on the way home from work. Just making these lifestyle adjustments is usually enough to see some weight loss,” explains Penta.

However, while you are reaping the benefits of your new quick weight-loss plan, you have to consider its overall nutritional makeup. Unfortunately, many fad diets do not meet the nutritional needs of most people. Here are some signs that a fad diet is not healthy for you:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Dehydration
  • Severe constipation or diarrhea
  • Mood changes
  • Constant hunger

People who are on medication or have chronic health concerns must be especially cautious with fad diets, says Penta, and should always talk to a doctor before trying any new diet. There are also some psychological consequences to fad dieting, Penta adds. The fact that the diet resulted in quick weight loss without meeting your nutritional needs can lead to regaining weight rapidly if you revert back to your old eating habits and, ultimately, to yo-yo dieting.

“The sad fact is that fad diets set the individual up for failure. When the diet fails, the dieters may blame themselves and develop a feeling of demoralization and hopelessness that they are unable to lose weight,” says Penta. This can make it harder to make the healthy changes needed for long-term weight loss.

Find Better Alternatives to Fad Diets

If you are concerned that a weight-loss plan could be a fad diet, do some research — look for the science behind the diet’s claims. A better solution is to work with a nutritionist or registered dietitian to create a realistic diet that will be effective for you.

“People should follow recommendations made by reputable organizations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Knehans says. The reality of weight loss is that, in the long run, a slow and steady approach brings more lasting results than any quick weight-loss fad.

Why Obesity Rates Are Rising Faster Than Ever

It seems everywhere we turn we hear about obesity. The statistics. The dangers. The effect it has on all areas of one’s life. The annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Indexsurvey released this week, which tracks respondents’ self-reported height and weight data, revealed that its tracked national obesity rate has risen to 27.7 percent — up from 25.5 in 2008. Mississippi has the highest obesity rate at 35.2 percent, while Hawaii is the only state where fewer than 1 in 5 residents are obese. And for the first time since 2008, there has been a sharp increase in the number of obese Americans ages 65 and older.

We know weight gain — especially excessive weight gain — is bad, but when you’re surrounded by all-you-can-eat buffets and communities not designed for walking, is there any hope of winning the battle of the bulge? The answer is a resounding yes, and the first step is knowing what obesity is and how it affects all of us.

Obesity: What Is It?

Over the last 25 years, obesity rates have been climbing steadily. While the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index finds 27.7 percent of Americans are obese, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that nearly 35 percent of adults and 18 to 21 percent of children are obese.

In layman’s terms, obesity is carrying enough body fat to put an individual at risk for a variety of ailments including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, reproductive disorders, osteoarthritis, and cancer, among others. “In short, obesity can affect functioning of all major body organ systems,” says Jennifer Nasser, RD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Obesity is typically determined by figuring out an individual’s body mass index (BMI) using a formula that includes his or her height and weight. For an adult, a number of 25 or larger falls in the overweight category, while a value of 30 or more is considered obese.

This formula is not appropriate for children and teens, however. “BMIs for children and teens are age- and gender-specific because the amount of body fat changes with age and growth and differs between boys and girls,” says Rose Clifford, RD, clinical dietitian in the department of pharmacy services at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. The CDC offers an accurate BMI calculator for those under age 20 with their Child and Teen BMI Calculator.

Obesity: What Causes It?

A variety of factors are converging to cause the current obesity epidemic. “More people are becoming obese because of the foods that are available and inexpensive,” says Caroline M. Apovian, MD, director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at the Boston Medical Center. “We are eating 200 more calories per day than we did 50 years ago.”

Technology has made our lives easier, yet also more sedentary as we drive instead of walk and e-mail instead of wandering by a colleague’s desk. The environment, too, can be causing us to add extra pounds. “Weight gain results from the interaction between genes and environment,” says Linda Bacon, PhD, associate nutritionist at the University of California, Davis. “Environmental conditions are changing and some people’s genes make them susceptible to gaining weight in the current environmental conditions.” Bacon says that these include increased toxins in the environment, some of which cause changes in hormones which lead us to store fat, and changes in our eating habits — some of the nutrients more common today don’t trigger our internal weight regulation mechanisms as readily as foods from nature do.

Obesity: What Are Its Effects?

Besides health dangers, obesity can cause economic hardships and psychological effects including depression and self-esteem issues. Perhaps worst of all is the discrimination suffered by those who are obese. “Discrimination against larger people now exceeds that based on race and gender,” says Bacon.

And the effects don’t stop there. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index also asked respondents to rate their overall well-being. The survey defines well-being through five key areas: purpose (liking what you do each day), social (relationships), financial, community (liking where you live), and physical (having good health and energy to get things done). The survey found that obese Americans are more likely to suffer in these key areas than those who are not obese.

While obesity can be affected by genetics and the environment, there is still plenty you can do to fight it. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss which weight-loss and treatment options are right for you. Stay active by scheduling exercise into your routine and avoid spending too much time on sedentary activities like TV-watching. And make healthy diet choices — with correct portion sizes and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Measuring Body Fat

Many people who are watching their weight — or trying to lose some pounds — turn to their bathroom scale. But that old familiar standby is not the only way to measure one’s size. Another possibility to consider is your body fat percentage.

Body Fat: What Are the Dangers?

When most of us hear the words “body fat” they have immediate negative connotations. However, in the right proportion, fat is actually critical to our diet and health. In the not-so-distant past, the ability to store extra body fat allowed our ancestors to survive in times of famine, when food was hard to come by. Even today it’s essential to keep the body functioning, to preserve body heat, and to protect organs from trauma.

Problems arise when our bodies store too much fat. This can lead to a variety of health issues, including high cholesterol, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance. Especially dangerous is fat stored at the waist, creating what is often called an “apple-shaped” body, as opposed to fat on the hips and thighs, a “pear-shaped” body.

“Normal body fat for men is around 8 to 15 percent of their total body weight and for women approximately 20 to 30 percent,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center.

Body Fat: How Can It Be Measured?

There are a variety of ways to measure the amount of body fat a person is carrying. “The most accurate way is ‘underwater weighing,’ which weighs the person on land and then underwater,” says Mary M. Flynn, PhD, RD, chief research dietitian and assistant professor of medicine at the Miriam Hospital and Brown University in Providence, R.I. “But equipment for this is very expensive and not readily available.”

Another fairly accurate option is Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA). BIA consists of electrodes being placed on a person’s hand and foot while a current (which is not felt) is passed through the body. Fat has less water and is more resistant to the current, whereas muscle, which contains more water, is less resistant. The resulting numbers are entered into an equation which figures the percentage of fat and lean tissue.

The easiest method is measuring waist circumference and determining the Body Mass Index (BMI). A waist circumference over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is cause for concern.

Figuring BMI involves a little more calculation. BMI is done by multiplying your weight in pounds by 703, then dividing that number by your height in inches two times. If the end result is less than 18.5, the individual is underweight;18.5 to 24.9 is normal; 25.0 to 29.9 is overweight; and over 30 is obese.

“However, you must be aware of this disclaimer. BMI alone is not an indication of body fat, especially in athletes and bodybuilders. Growing children under 18 years old should also avoid using BMI,” says Elizabeth Downs, RD, clinical dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center at the University Hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

One final way of determining body fat is using skin calipers to measure fat at specific places in the body. However, not only is it easy to make errors, but this method also doesn’t measure any interior fat or fat contained in thighs and women’s breasts.

Ultimately the percentage of body fat is just another number in the health equation. And if you are not happy with the result, all it takes is adding exercise and cutting calories to get it moving in the right direction.