As a family physician, I know the power of our diet to impact our health. Starting in the 1980s, “experts” told us that fat was bad, but really it’s the refined carbohydrates and sugar which I typically term “comfort foods” which are the real causes of increases in rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease over the last several decades. I work with my patients to practice mindful eating by slowing down and keeping portions small, increase fruit and vegetable intake, and decrease sugary drink consumption.
It is well known that the Japanese culture will eat until they are 80% full whereas in the United States we are taught to “clean our plates” and eat until we are stuffed. Starting with small portions, eating slowly, and taking a pause to gage fullness before getting a second helping can make a big difference in reducing quantity consumed.
I encourage my patients to eat at least five, if not ten, servings of fruits and vegetables per day. A serving size is the palm of their hand, which is quite manageable. Keeping the “comfort foods” out of the home is one way to make it easier to reach for a piece of fruit for a snack rather than a bag of potato chips.
And the same goes for sugary drinks—Home is Sweet Enough, as the slogan goes, so keep the sugary drinks out of your home environment so it’s easier to choose water, seltzer, or unsweetened teas and coffees. I encourage my patients to only drink beverages with no added sugar and to avoid fruit juices. I explain that 8 oz of orange juice has the same amount of sugar as 8 oz of soda and that eating an orange is far healthier for them.
With these three tips of reducing portions, increasing fruits and veggies, and reducing sugary drinks, the biggest wins I have seen are in some of my patients newly diagnosed with diabetes. I have seen these patients follow these simple instructions, lose significant weight, and basically reverse their diabetes—and in some instances either not need medication or come off of medication or even insulin.
Food is the best medicine and the simple change of swapping out sugary drinks for no sugar options can add up to have a big impact on an individual’s health.
Find swap ideas at www.risevt.org.
Sean T. Maloney, M.D.
University of Vermont Medical Ctr.
Colchester Family Medicine