Trends in Dietary and Social Habits – Part 2

If you have not read Part 1, pls go there first or alternatively to the Index of All Posts.

In this part 2 of the post we will discuss a few more dietary and social habits that people mention in relation to Obesity, Weight Loss and Chronic Diseases.

1. Smoking

We have already discussed this in detail in the first post.

Suggestions: Please Quit !

2. Alcohol Consumption

Again, we have discussed this in detail in the first post. The official recommendations are 3 units/day for men and 2 units/day for women and none for pregnant women.

There is some evidence to suggest that low to moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial to health but excessive consumption is harmful.

Suggestions: My personal take is that – the odd beer or spirit is fine. You should perhaps limit your intake to no more than 7-10 units a week maximum ideally – a glass of Red Wine with a meal (and not on empty stomach).

If you are drinking outside a meal, drink at-least a glass or 2 glasses of water for every unit of spirit/wine. I have recently read that alcohol gives a headache due to dehydration and loss of ions and drinking half a litre of Coconut water (rich in potassium) is meant to cure any hang-over headaches. Am trying this out..

3. Coffee

Coffee is rich in caffeine. Evidence is highly contradictory regarding the effects of coffee consumption. Whilst some studies indicate beneficial effects some others have indicated harmful effects.

In general, Coffee is well tolerated in limited doses (between 100-200 mg caffeine) by most people. Quantities of caffeine in a given cup of coffee is highly variable from shop to shop as well as perhaps the specific coffee bean and the brewing method. A recent study by Glasgow University indicated that a Starbucks coffee contained 60 mg of Caffeine, a Costa coffee approx 155 mg and some independent shops over 200 mg.

There is some evidence to suggest coffee is habit forming and can produce withdrawal symptoms.

Suggestions: Stick to 1 or 2 cups a day (totaling approx 200 mg of caffeine) if you have to drink coffee. Try to drink at different times of the day to ensure a habit is not formed. If you suffer from anxiety or sleep disorders – avoid coffee entirely.

4. Tea

There is some evidence that consumption of black tea is beneficial to health but slightly stronger evidence for Green Tea. Green tea is supposed to contain a lot of anti-oxidants and flavinoids which are protective against cancer.

Some green tea extracts (sold as supplements) contain very high levels of tea which could be toxic to liver.

Suggestions: Like coffee, 1 or 2 cups of black tea and perhaps up to 3 cups of green tea are fine. There is unlikely to be any benefit drinking green tea from tea bags. You should preferably drink green tea made out of dried tea leaves.  If you suffer from anxiety or sleep disorders – avoid black tea entirely.

 5. Stress Levels

A lot more people are talking about stress these days (more so after the start of the financial crisis). There is a general consensus that stress levels are increasing – though not proven. Stress in humans is notoriously difficult to measure and in fact there isn’t a general agreed test to the best of my knowledge.

So we are on thin ground here. This is what the “American Psychological Association (APA)” says about stress levels and its symptoms in humans (APA Survey 2004)

  • Two thirds of Americans say they are likely to seek help for stress
  • Fifty-four percent of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their everyday lives
  • 62% of Americans say work has a significant impact on stress levels
  • A majority of workers (52%) are more stressed because of work than home
  • 54% of workers are concerned about health problems caused by stress
  • Executives and managers tend to have the most stressful jobs, while self-employed workers are the least stressed
  • 1 in four workers has taken a mental health day off from work to cope with stress
  • 73% of Americans name money as the number one factor that affects their stress leves
So, how does stress affect people? This is what the APA says
  • Adults reported that their physical and emotional symptoms due to stress increased 47% over the past year
  • 53% reported fatigue in 2008 compared to 51% in 2007
  • 60% reported feelings of irritability or anger compared to 50% in 2007
  • 52% reported lying awake at night or insomnia as a result of stress compared to 48% in 2007
  • 48% reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods to manage stress, while one in four skipped a meal in the last month because of stress.  Poor eating habits have resulted in higher rates of obesity
  • 1/5 of Americans reported drinking alcohol to manage their stress and 16% reported smoking

Suggestions: There may be a lot of medication and psychiatric counselling help out there.  Meditation and related techniques and Breathing techniques often perceived as helping reduce stress levels. There is also some evidence to support this. The types of techniques most often mentioned are – a) Mindfulness meditation b) Transcendental meditation and c) Tai Chi and the breathing technique most often mentioned is a Yoga breathing technique called “Pranayama”.

More about these in a later post…

All good things to people who wait!! 

6. Herbs and Supplements

The nutritional supplements industry in the US is worth approximately USD 28 billion in 2010. In the UK it is approximately USD 1 billion.

The most popular supplements are :

  1. Vitamin D
  2. Omega 3 Fish oil
  3. Multi-vitamins
  4. Single Vitamin supplements
  5. Glucosamine and Chondroitin and surprisingly
  6. CoQ 10 (Co Enzyme Q10)
The Supplements and Complementary and Alternative medicine industry swear by the benefits of supplements and the Mainstream health and pharmaceutical industry keeps coming out with research that disproves the benefits of supplements.

The latest research disproves the claimed benefits of Omega 3 Fish oil and Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplements.

Laboratory research proving the efficacy of supplements is rarely replicated in real life commercial products (efficacy gets lost because of preparation methods, packaging and storing). Also most natural ingredients when extracted and provided in a pill form are unlikely to provide the same amount of benefit.

Observations and Suggestions:

  1. Assuming you are taking a balanced diet (by definition this will involve eating animal products – because purely vegetarian diets cannot provide all the nutritional elements) it is unlikely you need supplements
  2. If you are a vegetarian, you are likely to need B vitamin supplements – particularly B12
  3. If you are born closer to the equator but live in the higher latitudes currently, you are likely to need a Vitamin D supplement – at least in Winter
  4. A multi-vitamin supplement every so often might be ok but the risks involved in using them long term are not known (at least I don’t know)
  5. As for as other supplements are concerned, it is entirely up to you

Note: A lot of supplements (particularly herbs) interact (some severely) with normal medication and other supplements/herbs. So please keep your doctor informed of any herbs/supplements you are taking and read the literature online to assess the risks.

7. Miscellaneous

A number of other factors are mentioned in relation to Obesity and NCDs as follows:

  1. Divorce rates and Single parent families
  2. Use of Mobile devices
  3. Mass network media
  4. Pollution – Air, Food etc.

Keeping in mind the spirit of the Blog, I will not deal with the above in this Blog.

The next post will deal with the famous quote “Calories IN = Calories OUT”. Watch out for some surprises ..

Next Post – Calories IN = Calories OUT. Is It?


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