By: Dr. Keith Kantor
There are numerous diets out there that use “drop belly fat” as a tag line to lure customers in hopes of achieving a flat mid section. In addition to the negative connotations to having too much belly fat, excess adipose tissue in the mid section is also a major health risk and concern. Adipose tissue also known as fatty tissue causes inflammation, and it is most dangerous when this inflammation surrounds your vital organs such as the heart, liver, lungs, and arteries, etc. The pressure and inflammation associated with belly fat is very dangerous for ones health.
Waist to Hip Ratio
Instead of measuring body mass index I prefer to measure waist to hip ratio. Body mass index is a weight to height ratio that does not take into consideration lean muscle mass. A very healthy gymnast may be classified as obese because her muscle weighs more then the average person her height. Instead a waist to hip ratio is an individual measure of how a person stores and holds excess fat in the midsection. Weight to hip ratio is calculated by waist dived by hips (W/H). The waist measurement is taken with measuring tape right above the naval around the mid section and the hip ratio is measured right below the hips around the backside with 100 percent tension on the measuring tape without indenting into the skin.
Men should be 0.90 or below
Women should be 0.80 or below
If you have a ratio above the recommended values listed, then you are at risk for developing heart disease and other chronic conditions like Type 2 Diabetes. There are several lifestyle changes that can be made to improve the ratio and health risk, along with specific foods and nutrition plans.
Before we even consider addressing nutrition and fitness, stress may actual be most people’s main health problem. Stress can lead to unhealthy addiction behaviors like smoking, binge drinking, binge eating and insomnia. When the brain is in a mentally stressed out state it can interfere with optimal stress hormone balance specifically related to the adrenal glands. Initially we secrete the stress hormone cortisol to get us through the event, if the stress is chronic then the excessive production of cortisol can increase belly fat, inflammation, accelerate the aging process by depleting anti aging hormones secreted by the adrenal gland like Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
Lower DHEA levels are found in people with hormonal disorders, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, depression, diabetes, inflammation, immune disorders, and osteoporosis. Corticosteroids, birth control taken by mouth, and agents that treat psychiatric disorders may reduce DHEA levels.
Evidence suggests that DHEA may help treat depression, obesity, and osteoporosis. However, more research is needed to support its use for hormonal disorders, sexual function, and lupus (an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin and organs).
Stress reduction can be improved with regular physical activity, eliminating processed foods from your diet, and taking steps to improve sleep quality such as eliminating electronics one hour before bed, avoid stress triggers like checking e-mail close to bed time. Sleep is your body’s only chance to recover, repair and replenish, if you are getting less then 7 hours per night you could be causing long-term damage.
Nutrition Tips for Reduced Belly Fat and Increased Heart Health
Eat a colorful diet. The antioxidants and phytonutrients that are found in fruits and vegetables have disease fighting properties and metabolism boosting effects. The water and fiber in fruits and vegetables keeps you feeling full for longer and the fiber binds to the bile acids in the body reducing the amount of plaque that can settle into the arteries.
Fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense foods, not a calorie dense food, meaning you can eat several servings per day (a football helmet full is my recommendation) and you will not gain weight from them. Instead of following the traditional meal planning thought of a meat, starch and vegetable instead have a meat and two non- starchy vegetables.
Incorporating vegetables and fruits in your diet can be easy. Keep vegetables washed and cut in your refrigerator for quick snacks. Keep fruit in a bowl in your kitchen so that you’ll remember to eat it. Choose recipes that have vegetables or fruits as the main ingredients, such as vegetable stir-fry or fresh fruit mixed into salads. Frozen vegetables are a great option simply because you can buy them in bulk, they last a long time and they are always washed and ready cook. Some research suggest that frozen vegetables are better then fresh because they are picked at the peak of ripeness offering more nutrition since they had a longer time to absorb vitamins and minerals.
Nutrient dense non- starchy vegetables include:
Prepare them by roasting them with olive or coconut oil, add fresh herbs, lemon, limejuice, you can also grill them, steam them or eat them raw.
Make sure you are eating enough fats.
When you hear the word “fat,” you probably automatically think “bad,” the culture in the 80’s and 90’s promoted a fat free diet thinking that it would improve heart health and it backfired bad. The population became overweight and obese and our disease rate for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes increased.
That’s because for years we’ve heard that fat causes heart attacks, high cholesterol, weight gain, and even afternoon slumps.
Now we know better. Science has shown that not all fats are created equal. Sure, some processed fats are still unhealthy, and too much of anything is harmful to your weight and health.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Named because of a chemical bond that falls in the number 3 position on the fatty acid chain, these liquid fats help lower bad LDL cholesterol, raise good HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides (plaque that is found in small particles in the bloodstream), and may reduce the risk of dangerous blood clots.
Omega 3 fatty acids are mainly found in cold-water fish such as salmon. It is important to know that our bodies don’t not naturally make this healthy fat – we must consume it from food regularly to ensure we are getting optimal amounts. Aim to get at least 500 mg of omega 3 fatty acids per day. The DHA nourishes the brain, and the EPA decreases inflammation, which is the main reason omega 3 fatty acids, are categorized as a heart healthy option.
Monounsaturated Fats These important heart-healthy fats are known to lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol. They are found in olive oil, almonds, and avocados.
Make no mistake though: Too much total fat—more than about 25% of calories—is still a bad idea. You want to limit saturated fats and trans fats. And curb the omega-6 fats, such as corn oil.
But finally, there’s fat so healthy you can actually enjoy it! Try our easy tips to automatically get the right balance of fats in your diet—starting now.
There are two sources of omega-3s:
Fish Fish provides important omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA. Types of fish high in EPA and DHA include salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, anchovies, rainbow trout, bluefish, caviar, and white albacore tuna canned in water.
Plants Plants contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Plant foods high in ALA include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, and dark green, leafy vegetables. In your body, ALA is only partially converted to the much more powerful EPA and DHA. The best source is fish including salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel.
Avoid Tran Fats (Partially Hydrogenated oil) This harmful fat came onto the market to increase the shelf life of many of our favorite pre packaged items. This fat is mainly found in processed foods and fast foods, these fats have been found to raise LDL cholesterol levels and lower levels of HDL cholesterol. There’s also a possible link to breast cancer.
You’ll find them in fried fast foods and processed foods (margarines, cookies, crackers, frozen entrees) with partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient. Eliminate if possible, but set a maximum intake of 1 g a day.
Here are easy ways to eliminate trans fats:
- When you shopfor crackers, cookies, frozen entrées and desserts, and snack cakes, choose products without partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list. Don’t assume all health food-store products are trans-free; check the label.
- Switch from margarines.Get real all natural butter instead and use in moderation.
- Skip the fried foods.Instead, order a baked potato, grilled options and/or a side salad.
Improve the quality of your meat, dairy, and produce.
Preservatives, including dyes, sodium, pesticides and antibiotics can ruin a healthy metabolism. These additives are considered toxic and if they settle into the fat cells (which is where they like to settle), the metabolism will be affected.
Food additives and chemicals have been linked to increased risk for cancer, weight gain, thyroid disease, heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.
Consume, certified all natural, or organic meats, poultry and seafood, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Avoid prepared marinades, seasoning packets, or dressings. Instead make them from heart healthy oils, herbs, vinegars, and lime or lemon juice.
If the food is already prepackaged and ready to eat you are probably consuming a preservative that in some countries would be considered a toxin. Instead buy quality foods and prepare them yourself if bulk without any of the harmful chemicals.