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Did you know that between the ages of 30 to 80 years old, the average person loses up to 50% of their lean muscle mass?

Decreased physical activity with aging is largely responsible for the progressive muscle wasting that then follows. This loss of muscle mass and muscle strength that occurs with aging is termed sarcopenia, and regaining these strong muscles is crucial in preventing frailty, injury or old-age related medical conditions.

It takes more calories to maintain lean muscle mass, so gaining back that muscle mass also helps with weight loss. In today’s digital world, a sedentary lifestyle has replaced the farming and lumbering of yesteryear. It was considered unseemly to do exercises in my grandparents’ days, now, it is a must to be able to attain and maintain health. Yet even with those of us who exercise regularly, we are as a population getting bigger and fatter.

Fat stores in the abdominal area (those lovely love handles) are associated with higher risks for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. The Body Mass Index (BMI) does not take into consideration a person’s body composition, or where the fat is distributed. The Waist to Hip ratio (apple-shaped vs. pear-shaped) as well as the Body Fat percentage (BF%) are better indicators of the health risks associated with fat storage. The bigger the belly, the poorer the response to insulin, since the deep visceral fat of the belly is associated with inflammatory responses and insulin resistance (IR), therefore cultivating diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a name for a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The 2 most important risk factors are the extra weight around the middle and upper parts of the body, as well as Insulin Resistance. IR is where the body cannot use insulin effectively to control the amount of sugar in the body, whereby the cell would require more insulin to bring the sugar into the cell for energy.

As a result, blood glucose (BG) and body fat levels increase. Why? Because insulin is a hormone that makes the body store FAT.

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The signs and symptoms seen in metabolic syndrome are:

  • elevated blood pressure (BP)
  • elevated fasting blood glucose (BG)
  • large waist circumference  (men> 40 “, women > 35”)
  • abnormal lipid panel (low HDL cholesterol; high LDL and triglycerides)

In a study of about 1,800 participants from the Canadian Health Measures Survey, it was shown that about 1 in 5 Canadian adults had metabolic syndrome! A chronic low level of systemic inflammation (throughout the body) is also associated with metabolic syndrome and can either cause it or make it worse.  
Diet and lifestyle changes are crucial to addressing metabolic syndrome and in keeping your heart pumping joyfully. Getting more exercise and increasing dietary intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and whole plant foods (especially colorful vegetables and dark leafy greens), while reducing refined/processed foods and saturated fats, are crucial to reducing triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels and balancing blood sugar. Plant fibers and plant phytonutrients have the ability to reduce oxidation and inflammation and thus protect the body; they also lower insulin release.

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Maintaining a diet low in refined carbohydrates, starches and refined or processed foods is the best start in addressing insulin resistance. The carbohydrates you choose must have a low Glycemic Index (GI) and low Glycemic Load (GL). Low glycemic index foods do not increase blood sugar as quickly, therefore less insulin is required to keep the blood glucose stable.  The glycemic index (GI) is a numerical system, measuring how much of a rise in circulating blood sugar a carbohydrate will trigger – the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response. The glycemic load (GL) measures the impact of a carbohydrate food. GI states the quality of a food while GL implies the quantity. There are numerous websites listing the GI and GL values of various food items.

Tip of the month: “The lower the glycemic index and load of the first meal of the day, the less food is consumed in the subsequent meal.” Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76 (suppl):266S-73S

If you are unsuccessfully trying to lose that abdominal fat, have you considered the quantity of the grains you consume?

Sugared foods are not always to blame. It has been shown that whole wheat bread (GI of 72), can increase BG as much as or more than table sugar (GI of 59)!

20% of all calories consumed today are from wheat alone; it is woven into the fabric of our North American diet. Modern wheat flour is on average 70% carbohydrate by weight.  The proliferation of wheat-based products in our diet matches the expansion of our waistline! Whole wheat or gluten free, it does not matter, once digested, they are both sugars in your blood stream.

Dr William Davis, in his book Wheat Belly, claims that wheat consumption can alter our behavior by inducing pleasurable effects, generating withdrawal symptoms upon its removal and that wheat, through its morphine-like effect, is an appetite stimulant. Removing wheat from our diet would allow our caloric intake to go down, as it would no longer generate the euphoric feelings that encourage us to go for more or for larger portions. “I’d go as far as saying that overly enthusiastic wheat consumption is the main cause of the obesity and diabetes crisis in the US”. Wheat Belly, Dr William Davis, 2011.  

You do not have to give up great tasting foods to be heart-healthy. Rather, it is more the types of foods we consume that are problematic; there is usually a short list of foods that together can either reduce or increase risk for metabolic syndrome. And you know, applying the principle of the 80:20 rule allows us to be human and can be used to manage our health effectively. Focus on consuming a health-promoting diet along with a balanced and active lifestyle, a minimum of 80% of the time, and give yourself a break if you occasionally decide to go for that “non-food” item you have been craving.

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“A healthy lifestyle and weight can help prevent and/or manage diabetes; improve blood glucose, blood pressure and blood lipids; reduce the risk of complications, such as heart attack and stroke; and improve general well-being and energy levels.” American Diabetic Association.

Marie-Claude Beaulieu, CHN, ART, AFMCP

Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant

Gutsy Nutrition

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