Last week, new healthy eating guidelines were released by the US departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The big message was to consume less sugar. Specifically, the recommendation is to limit to 10% the maximum daily calories from added sugars. In addition, less than 10% of calories should come from saturated fats.

I want to share with you an excerpt from a 2015 New York Times piece that helped me finally understand the problem with eating too much sugar (this piece focused on soda, but the same applies to the valueless, and harmful, calories that come from white bread, white rice, and white potatoes and more listed below)…..

A 16-ounce regular Coke contains 54 grams of sugar – that’s 13 teaspoons, 200 sweet calories and nothing else of value except water. This amount of sugar represents the daily recommended limit of sugars from all sources, contained in one drink that does little to satisfy a person’s appetite…When the intake of sugars exceeds the body’s need for energy and its storage capacity, the sugars are converted to fat in the liver, circulate as triglycerides in blood, raise blood levels of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, reduce blood levels of HDL cholesterol, and are deposited as body fat…Herein lies the makings of the “metabolic syndrome,” a glut of risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease: above-normal levels of sugar and triglycerides in the blood, a depressed level of good HDL cholesterol, and a thick waist often as large or larger than the hips…The average adult would have to walk about two miles to work off the calories in one 16-ounce soda (at which point, the walker might be inclined to down another soda).

As I have said many times, it’s hard to make all changes as once, but if over the course of the coming year you make one change every 21 days, you will have made 17 changes this year. And those small changes add up to big change. Here are some sugar-related changes:

  • no white bread
  • no white rice
  • no white potatoes
  • no soda
  • cut way down on pretzels  (or stop eating them, and instead eat nuts as a snack)
  • rarely eat cake (eat fruit)
  • same with cookies

Certain fats, like those from avocados and nuts, are good for you. Here are some changes related to avoiding saturated fats:

  • no butter
  • no whole milk
  • no creamy soups
  • no creamy salad dressings
  • no deep fried foods (French fries – which should already be eliminated by the “no white potatoes” rule above; potato chips – same; nacho chips; corn chips, etc.)
  • cut way down on ice cream (infrequently, and one scoop, in a bowl, not a cone; better  yet, eat fruit)

Eating less is critical. Eating slower is one way to help:

  • put your fork down between bites
  • chew 20 times for each mouthful
  • take smaller bites vs. stuffing your mouth
  • drink more water during the meal

Portions is key for eating less, for example:

  • no seconds at meals. Make a plateful (not a heaping plate) and eat that slowly and stop.
  • nuts are a healthy snack, but don’t eat more than two ounces a day. Portions here are key. Don’t open a can and eat half of it. Open the can, pour out a portion, eat it, and stop.

I repeat, it may seem overwhelming to make all these changes, but it’s totally doable if you make one new habit at a time, for the 21 days it takes to form a habit.

The Times has also reported “Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets.” The organization doing that research recently folded after all the negative publicity. Coke was trying to “convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume.”

Exercise is critical, but eating well is the most important thing. Eating good foods (and stopping bad ones) and not eating too much. Years ago, when the focus on health was on heart health, with bad fats being considered the main culprit, and cholesterol levels being of primary importance, I used to think exercise was more important than eating well  I figured if you eat well but don’t exercise you could still die prematurely of heart disease.

And while I still agree with that, it is important to realize if you eat poorly, but exercise, you will increase your chances of dying prematurely of all kinds of other ailments. And even if you don’t die prematurely, you will have reduced your chances of a long healthspan, which is another change on my focus: instead of just looking to live a long time (lifespan), looking to be healthy for as long as possible.

Here’s a very interesting recent piece from the Times on a new new report that questions the idea that you can be “fat but fit.” (Their words.)

Researchers studied the records of 1,317,713 Swedish men conscripted for mandatory military service from 1969 to 1996. All had their fitness tested objectively by cycling to exhaustion. Over the next 29 years, men in the highest one-fifth for fitness in adolescence had a 51 percent reduced risk of dying prematurely compared with those in the lowest fifth. But normal weight men, no matter what their level of fitness, were at 30 to 48 percent lower risk of premature death than obese men in the highest one-quarter for fitness.

The authors of the study were pointing out that earlier studies that found being aerobically fit can compensation for being overweight were flawed.

How do you work on your healthspan? How do you make progress on your eating and exercise habits? Please join conversation with your comments, and please let me know if you have any questions…

Best regards,