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'Tis the Season
to Watch the Calorie

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed in the December 10, 2005 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Wellness, Medical Matters.
Dr Peter W Kujtan photo

It is that time of the year - Days get shorter, what's left of our hibernation reflex kicks in, and we try to cope with the darkness by celebrating over and over. It is Christmas Party Season. North Americans are one of the few people on the planet that have the privilege of making food intake choices. We are faced with hundreds of food choices on a daily basis, yet are largely untrained in healthy food selection. Our choices reflect our fast paced society with ever expanding time constraints. Accept that most of our teaching of nutrition is inadequate and much too basic to allow us survival in an intense market of processed foods and ingenious advertising. My colleagues are often criticized for a perceived lack of diet counseling, yet your OHIP plan only entitles the obese to one 20-minute session a year. Apart from diabetic clinics, even my local hospital viewed out-patient diet counseling as a luxury of low priority and quietly discontinued it. Access to qualified dieticians is mostly through private channels or third party insurance plans. We seem to be fighting a losing battle to reverse childhood obesity.

Here are a few suggestions to perhaps cope with that expanding waistline of the festive season:

1.   Eliminate the word "diet" from your vocabulary. The word has lost its original meaning. The word "diet" has evolved to describe a short term intensive change in food consumption which is believed to result in the ideal body image. Somehow, we expect this perfect image will be maintained after the "diet" is complete? While noble, I do not endorse "diets". Healthy eating is a permanent behavior change, accomplished slowly and knowledgeably. Nutrition is the basis of maintaining good health.

2.   Eat four to six small meals a day at regular intervals. Try to avoid the modern day trap of consuming the majority of your calories between 5 and 10 p.m.

3.   Drink a glass of water before every meal. Avoid placing all serving items on the dinner table for family members to help themselves. Prepare individual plates of food for each family member. This way, they get a visual clue to the total amount of food consumed. Wait 10 minutes before reaching for seconds. This allows the brain to adjust and may dissipate that craving.

4.   Instead of artificial chocolates and over-crowded cheap food eateries, buy your loved one a few sessions with a qualified dietitian. We could all benefit from some help. Look for the (Registered Dietitian) RD designation of university trained dietitians.

5.   Don't super size anything. It is difficult to eat well on a bargain budget. Accept that healthier choices often do cost more.

6.   Learn what foods contain omega-3-fatty acids and eat more of them. Try to use more soy products in your diet and eat fish often. Eat foods from the bottom of the food chain, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. Toxins get concentrated as we go up the food chain. Organisms that eat other organism tend to end up with the highest levels. Learn which ones are the most beneficial, for example, pick basmati rice over white rice.

7.   Limit your red meat intake to once weekly. Limit coffee to no more than 16 oz daily, and limit alcohol to no more than 8 oz of red wine daily.

8.   Become a label reader. Spend a few hours at the market reading ingredients and content labels. With a little practice you will understand how to interpret them. You will also discover alarming trends. For example, an even cheaper source of plain sugar called HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) is popping up everywhere. If you have a choice, pick glucose over fructose.

9.   Avoid smoke. Whether it comes from oil burning on the pan, cigarettes or refuse fires, it brings nasty substances into our bodies.

10.   Eat beans often. When you do, expect the fiber to produce gas, burping, bloating, looser and more abundant stools.

11.   Don't argue over butter vs. margarine. Butter is full of saturated fat, while margarine contains trans-fatty acids. I avoid both and prefer to use extra-virgin olive oil for its oleic acid content.

12.   When buying fruit, be weary of where it was grown. Some South American countries use banned pesticides in their growing operations. Soak and wash your fruit well before consuming.

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