Healthy living for a lifetime

As a young person who is very health conscious, I am appalled at Toban Wiebe’s letter of Sept. 30 (“Ask a health and fitness specialist”; Sept. 23, 2009). Although I agree that obesity is a very real problem, it is important to remember that the emphasis must be on overall health improvement and not merely weight loss. The Atkins diet will promote weight loss, but it is not a viable option for long-term health.

Particularly disturbing were the sentences “Get your calories from meat and fat,” and “Fat is your friend (including saturated fats).” Saturated and trans-saturated fats increase cholesterol levels in the body both in their own cholesterol content and in the fact that they stimulate the liver to increase production of naturally occurring cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol levels in turn lead to deposits of plaque on the arteries, which is a major risk factor in the development of heart disease, stroke, aneurism and gangrene (due to lack of circulation). As well, saturated and trans fats have no nutritional value, and are thus empty calories. Health evidence has shown for years that it is important to decrease saturated and trans fats, increase the amount of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and to limit the total daily consumption of fat to less than 60 grams for women or 90 grams for men. Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, unlike saturated fats have nutritional value in that they contain the omega fatty acids that help to both raise the level of HDH cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and lower the level of LDH cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) as well as contribute to the healthy development of the brain.

Meat, another of Toban Wiebe’s main food suggestions, is another issue. Diets high in red meat have been shown to significantly raise the risk of both heart disease and colon cancer, among other things. Once again, health experts have shown that diets lower in red meat and higher in seafood, poultry and plant alternatives such as lentils, kidney beans, and soy are important for both weight loss and the overall maintenance of good health. As well, according to the most recent publication of Canada’s Food Guide, most people should only consume 2-3 servings of meat and/or meat alternatives per day.

Unlike Wiebe would lead us to believe, carbohydrates are not all bad. Refined carbohydrates should be limited, as these can cause the blood sugar to rise and fall more quickly, which can lead to earlier hunger. However, coffee lovers take note: caffeine has the same effect. An important step in improving diet is to opt for foods containing complex carbohydrates such as whole grains rather than white bread or white rice. It is interesting to note that while many have slandered pasta, some of it is made of whole-grain duram seminola and can also be made of whole wheat or rice flour. Either option is higher in complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates, unlike refined carbohydrates, do not lead to dramatic spikes in blood sugar levels and are very important in a healthy diet. They are higher in nutrients than refined carbohydrates and are generally much higher in fibre. Fibre is a vital part of good health, not least of all in maintaining regularity of the digestive system. Remember that meat and fats do not contain fibre and a diet very low in carbohydrates and full of meat will likely lead to severe constipation, which is much more than just an irritation. Carbohydrates are vital for the human body as they provide the energy that the brain needs to work! It is a well-known fact that people on low-carb diets are often tired, forgetful and crabby, which is due to starvation of the brain.

Perhaps most shocking of all was that Wiebe did not mention two essential food groups- vegetables and fruit, and calcium-rich foods. Vegetables and fruits are very important for the nutrients and fibre that they provide. As well, they are generally lower in carbohydrates to begin with. Although potatoes have been mentioned to contain higher levels of simple carbohydrates, they are also a wealth of vitamin C, vitamin A and fibre, and if baked or boiled are very healthy additions to a meal. Current recommendations are that everyone should consume five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day. In addition to fruit and vegetables, calcium rich foods are vital for building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Interestingly enough, numerous studies have shown that consuming 2-3 servings of low-fat, calcium-rich foods each day is helpful in both losing weight and in maintaining a healthy weight. And don’t forget that water is very important to hydrate the body and flush toxins from the blood.

I do not claim to know everything about health, or the Atkins diet, but from the description provided by Toban Wiebe, it seems like a very poor option for overall long-term good health. Health is more than just body size and weight. Food is only a part of the equation; sleep, exercise and stress management are very important as well. If you are concerned about your weight or health it is important to talk to a doctor or nutritionist as they have a wealth of medical knowledge and can help you to develop an overall fitness plan tailored just for you.

One final thought: numerous people have died of heart attacks linked to the Atkins diet. It may cause weight loss, but it could cause death.

Amy Whittaker is a second-year music student who plans to live to 100, although she confesses a love for chocolate.

For further information, Canada’s Food Guide is available online on the Health Canada website,, along with further ideas and suggestions for healthy living.