Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Healthy Aging - Nutrition, Lifestyle and Activity

Time magazine in its October 17, 2005 issue has Dr. Andrew Weil, MD on its cover to promote his new book, "Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well Being" and provide readers with an exclusive excerpt from the book.

In the excerpt he provides insight into the aging process after noting differences among the aging of his former classmates at a school reunion, "Why are some individuals so outwardly altered by time and others not? Or, in other words, why is there often a discrepancy between chronological age and biological age? I believe the answer has to do with complex interactions of genetics and environment. I also believe, on the basis of evidence I have reviewed, we actually have control over some of those factors."

On these points, I am in total agreement with Dr. Weil. I also agree with him that aging is a process - a natural process - and fighting it rather than doing all you can to be healthy as you age is a losing proposition. Bottom line - if you do everything you can to mask aging and do things that keep the outside looking good, like plastic surgery, that still may not be mean you're not falling apart on the inside! Aging well, with health, requires a total approach to your well-being inside and out.

That said, my disagreements with Dr. Weil are found mostly in his recommendations for diet. The only thing I find agreement with is his statement that "It should be obvious by now that diets don't work, except in the short term. By definition, diets are regimens that eventually end, and when people go off them the weight that was lost is almost always regained."

He continues to explain his dietary philosophy as an "anti-inflammatory" dietary approach. Sounds good since we know that inflammation, especially chronic low-level inflammation, is deadly. "I believe without question that diet influences inflammation. The food choices we make can determine whether we are in a proinflammatory state or in an anti-inflammatory one. The anti-inflammatory diet on these pages offers specific recommendations for foods to include and foods to avoid."

It is in his recommendations that I depart from agreement. Dr. Weil has long been an advocate of a low-fat diet - and he continues to be.

He recommends complex carbohydrates, but at intake levels that still are going to wreck havoc on insulin and blood sugar, because even though complex, they're still converted to blood glucose, albeit slower than refined carbohydrates, but blood glucose nonetheless. And this is the trap that many well intentioned physicians find themselves stuck in - carbohydrate, refined or complex, is metabolized to glucose in the body.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't eat any carbohydrates - what it does mean is that you should be choosy about your carbohydrates and control how many you do include each day to support insulin and blood sugar stability. Your best bets are non-starchy vegetables, which are rich in nutrients, fiber and relatively low in carbohydrate per serving. Good options also include nuts and seeds, rich in essential fatty acids, fiber and protein, while again low in carbohydrate per serving. And let's not forget the lower glycemic load fruits, like berries and melons - these are rich with vitamins and minerals, fiber and offer that sweetness we enjoy without spiking blood sugar or insulin!

The carbohydrates to carefully consider include your starchy vegetables, grains and high GI fruits, like bananas. These do not need to be eliminated, but limiting portion size and including protein and fat within a meal where a smaller portion of these is eaten will help to limit insulin and blood sugar spikes.

Then, of course, there are the "no-no" carbohydrates - refined grains, refined processed, packaged foods and any highly processed food with a high carbohydrate or added sugar count in the nutrition facts panel. These are best viewed as anti-nutrients that offer your body nothing more than empty calories and quick fat storage.

And your long-term dietary approach isn't just about carbohydrates. You require essential amino acids (EAAs) each day from high quality protein sources and essential fatty acids (EFAs) from high quality fat sources. Unlike carbohydrate, both protein and fat are essential in your diet - that is critical to include each day, for without adequate intake you will deprive your body of what it requires to function properly!

So, while Dr. Weil's book makes good points about lifestyle - exercise, stress reduction, rest and sleep - in the aging process and overall health, he misses the boat in his nutritional advice by continuing with his low-fat diet philosophy, which continues to be unsupported by the scientific evidence as the end-all-be-all dietary approach for the general population.

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