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The Heart and Stroke Foundation has just released a new position statement on saturated fat. The key message for Canadians is to ’Eat a healthy balanced diet’. As a dietitian, with many years of experience, this is music to my ears. The Foundation wants you to stop worrying about individual nutrients and think about the overall quality of your diet!
What does a healthy, balanced diet look like?
It includes plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and proteins from various sources (for example beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, lower fat dairy and alternative (i.e. fortified soy milk, etc.), lean meats, poultry and fish. You also need some dietary fats and oils, concentrating on replacing saturated fats with poly and mono unsaturated fats.
As part of a healthy, balance diet, choose healthy portion sizes for both meals and snacks.
What food types are you consuming that seem to be missing from this picture?
Highly processed foods are a major source of saturated fat in the Canadian diet. These highly processed foods are also high in calories, sodium and free sugars and they can be high in unhealthy fats like trans fat. Foods such as candies, sugary drinks, processed meats, prepared foods and snack foods are not part of a healthy diet and should be avoided or limited as much as possible.
How will this impact your life?
When you concentrate on whole foods you will need to cook at home more often. The key to making this work is to select the top ten recipes that your family loves and getting everyone involved in helping with the meal preparation. Select simple recipes and think about ‘cooking once and eating twice’, i.e. cook enough to serve another day. Make sure your vegetable and fruit portion fill half your plate, allow the protein portion to fill one-quarter of the plate and reserve the last quarter for whole grains. Keep your beverages simple, drink water or lower fat milk.
What do I have to do to make this happen?
Plan!!! Sit down once a week with your family and plan a week’s worth of meals. Delegate who is going to prep the meals each night; create your shopping list after checking the cupboards and fridge; and stock up on what you need. It will quickly change from ‘chore’ to ‘routine’.
Looking for inspiration for healthy recipes, check out www.heartandstroke.ca/recipes.
Can you still eat in a restaurant?
Eating out is more challenging since you have little control over what you are eating. Choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes using whole foods. Look for restaurants that provide nutrition information so that you can make the healthiest choice possible.
Embrace your new eating style and enjoy. It will be fun and taste delicious. And you will be healthier for it!
Every September I find myself writing an article about my kids falling off the nutritional wagon. Our summers are less structured than the school year, peppered with more outside influences, fewer rules, and much easier access to ice cream, sugary drinks and candy. I know I am not alone, yet I also know that now is the time to corral it back in.
Our corralling this year has to do with sodas — those sugary sweet soft drinks made with carbonated water, flavorings and chemical additives. Soda just hadn’t been a concern in our house until this summer. We never bought it, we never ordered it at restaurants, and my kids never asked for it. Yet this summer, soda seemed to be lurking around every corner and, boy, did it beckon.
My sons claim that this summer they opened “a can of happiness,” as the Coke advertisements promise. I think they opened Pandora’s box. Here is the dark truth behind that liquid candy:
1. The vast majority of sodas have no nutritional value, at all. Zip, zero, nada.
2. Soda is high in sugar and calories, which lead to obesity, diabetes and blood sugar imbalances.
3. Weight issues aside, the excessive sugar in soda has many damaging effects such as decreased brain function, fatigue, moodiness, headaches, allergies and a suppressed immune system.
4. The artificial food colorings, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, MSG and citric acid in soda have been shown to cause disruptive behaviors such as aggression and ADHD, lack of focus and abnormal brain function.
5. Soda can cause heart disease. A Harvard study found that one daily 12-ounce serving of regular soda increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 19 percent.
6. Caffeine is an addictive drug and can affect the developing brains of children. Children shouldn’t consume any caffeine, yet a typical soda provides 35 to 38 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce can. Diet sodas often contain more, as do certain brands such as Mountain Dew and Pepsi One.
7. Soda drinkers are more likely to be lacking in calcium, magnesium and many vitamins. Kids who drink soda often eat fewer whole foods. Drinking soda triggers the body to produce insulin that then triggers the body to crave more sugar. When a child fills up on sugar and other unhealthful foods, he consumes fewer healthful ones.
8. Sodas are dehydrating. They are diuretics just like coffee, tea and alcohol. Our little athletes certainly need to hydrate, and whether children play sports or not, water is essential for every function of their bodies.
9. Soda weakens kidneys and the liver. The high levels of phosphoric acid in sodas have been linked to kidney stones and other renal problems, with diet soda most likely to have a negative effect on kidney function. The sugar and high fructose corn syrup in soda place pressure on the liver.
10. Sodas contribute to tooth decay. The sugar causes cavities and the acids deteriorate tooth enamel. Dentists have reported significant enamel loss on the front teeth of teenagers who regularly drink sodas.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenagers and young adults are the biggest consumers of soft drinks. This is not good! A teenager’s body is smaller than an adult’s and still developing, therefore more susceptible to the chemicals, sugar and caffeine found in soft drinks.
Here’s something for your kids to think about: Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco estimate that “slapping a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks would prevent nearly 100,000 cases of heart disease, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 deaths over the next decade.” And potentially prevent 240,000 cases of diabetes per year. The tax could generate an estimated $13 billion yearly tax revenue and perhaps also “save the public $17 billion over the next decade in health care-related expenses due to the decline of obesity-related diseases.”
So our family is going to curb soda again. As loudly as it beckons my boys and as tempting as it is to many people, it doesn’t seem like a can (or box) worth opening.
It takes courage to recognize and admit unhealthy behaviours, and it takes strength and perseverance to try to change them. Don’t ask me how I know.
And sometimes it can be hearing someone you love say something about those behaviours that can leave you feeling shattered.
That was certainly the case for Nathan Friedland.
Friedland was enjoying his usual tumbler of Southern Comfort when he decided to swing his 11-year-old daughter around.
“I managed to do that successfully, without spilling a drop, but also managed to sprain her finger,” he said.
“Oh, daddy,” she giggled. “You drink too much.”
If that wasn’t enough, when he looked over and saw the tears in his wife’s eyes, it was the moment when he fully realized things had to change.
“I always enjoyed a drink or two, but didn’t realize it had got so out of hand. I mean, I never missed a day of work or was sick because of it. I was a good father and husband, but clearly the time had come to change my habits.”
Stress was a big factor. Friedland, 44, is a nurse and works long shifts in a fast-paced environment; seeing illness and death on a regular basis can take its toll — alcohol became a numbing agent.
As he explained: “Sometimes life doesn’t always work out the way you or others thought it would, and sometimes you look for a way that you think will make it better, some sort of an escape.”
Friedland says he was always trim and athletic, but in recent years had gotten a “beer belly” and was totally inactive.
“I knew I had to do something to help me manage my stress and that would be good for me, so I did something I hadn’t done in over two decades — I started to exercise.”
He joined Xtreme Fitness near his West Island home and began working out four times a week.
“When I first started walking on the treadmill, I was wheezing so much I thought I’d need a puffer,” he said with a laugh. But he kept at it.
Friedland did cardio, pushing himself as much as he could and on alternate days would work with weights.
“Some days, it’s legs and chest and arms, other days it’s back and shoulders. I have a routine that works well for me.”
And then, within three short months, a funny thing happened, he said. He began to feel better and move quicker, he felt stronger and healthier, and he even managed to lose a few inches from his waistline.
“I began to sleep better, too. I had been suffering from bouts of insomnia, and the exercise helped.”
He believes exercise truly has changed his life.
“I love to run on the treadmill, as fast as I can, to push myself and sweat. It’s an amazing feeling.”
He added: “Dare I say it’s as good as, if not better, than the booze ever was.”
Friedland is in a good place. He’s better able to cope with stress, he knows he’s doing something that is good for him, as well as for his family, and he is proud of his accomplishments.
“There are still times that I do think about alcohol and wonder if I could go to the gym the next day if I emptied a bottle of Southern Comfort into my troubled soul the night before. Then, I look at my family and think about all we have been through and how far we have come. Instead, I get to bed early and wake up at 5 a.m. to try to keep what I have: a family, a wife, a job, a house, a child, and the ability to improve a 44-year-old body, one pound and one stride at a time.”
And that, I am sure, will bring tears to his wife’s eyes for a much happier reason.
There are three main criteria by which male sperm is assessed: volume, mobility and shape. When Russell Davis visited a Harley Street clinic for a test after he and his wife were struggling to conceive, he failed on every count.
“It was disastrous,” says the 42-year-old. “The doctor even asked me if I had ever been exposed to dangerous radiation because it was so bad. I had no family history , my parents and brother and sister conceived with no problems. It was such a kick in the teeth. I felt I couldn’t provide my wife with what she wanted, that it was my fault and I couldn’t do what every man should.”
On such simple laboratory results, so much of masculinity depends. Perhaps this is why the issue of male infertility is one rarely broached, even though it is responsible for 30 per cent of infertility problems among couples. This was a fact that was noticeable by its absence in the maelstrom prompted by Professor Geeta Nargund’s comments last week, when she said that unless women started trying for a baby before they are 30, Britain faced a “fertility time bomb”.
However, the hard truths of male infertility remain and the treatment of them has been assessed as a global market now worth several billion euros.
There is a dearth of research on the actual figure in Britain, although estimates suggest some 20 per cent of men will suffer some problem with their sperm production – and as people tend to wait until later in life to start having a family now, the problem is becoming more acute.
“It’s hard to define the scale of male fertility,” confirms Professor Allan Pacey, one of the country’s leading male fertility specialists who is based at the University of Sheffield.
“Men can be really devastated by an infertility diagnosis and many don’t cope with it very well. Women would tend to confide in their friends, parents and sisters about infertility. Men tend not to do that.”
Presently, there is no “cure”. Couples can either undergo a process called Inter-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) – which differs from IVF as a single sperm is chosen to inject in the egg – or seek a sperm donor.
Paul, a 41-year-old manager at an arts charity in London, and his wife opted for the latter. His infertility was a result of Kallmann syndrome, a genetic condition in which puberty fails to start or complete, and by his teens he knew he would never be able to father a child.
“It has only been the last 10 years or so that we have really started talking about this. The focus has been on women for a long time.”
“Really, it’s taken me up to now to be able to talk openly, even among a group of other infertile men,” he says. “You grow up in a society where the very essence of being a man is potency and fertility, so if you don’t have that it becomes this huge shame that you carry. It really affects your sense of self. It takes a lot of time to admit to yourself you are infertile and share that with other people.”
He and his wife chose a donor together, although Paul says many men take themselves out of the process as they find it too difficult. Two years ago this week his wife gave birth to twins. The couple celebrated on Tuesday with a lazy morning off work, cooking American pancakes and playing with toy trucks on the kitchen floor.
“You have to allow yourself to be sad and mourn the children you couldn’t have,” he says. “That can be quite heart-breaking, but it stopped when she gave birth. Children are such mimics; they have facial expressions like mine and stand like me and laugh like me.”
For the future, scientists at the Kallistem Laboratory, a private research facility based in Lyon, France, are examining new ways to tackle male infertility. In doing so, they have claimed to have achieved a world first by managing to grow “fully-functioning” human sperm cells from scraps of genetic material.
The process transforms basic male fertility cells, called spermatogonia, into mature sperm in test tubes, which can then be used to fertilise an egg. It is something that scientists across the world have been attempting for 15 years, but previously have only managed to replicate artificially in mice.
The research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and, as a result, is being greeted with caution, for there have been numerous false dawns before. If proven, it would be a leap forward of huge significance. However, spermatogenesis, the process through which the basic reproduction cells develop into sperm, is extremely complex. It usually takes 72 days to occur in the human body, with a constant supply of basic cells being transformed into mature sperm. Those who have experienced artificial attempts to replicate natural conception know the difficulty all too well.
Darren McCluskey, a 43-year-old regional manager for a chemical company who lives in Uphall, near Edinburgh, has been trying – and failing – to conceive through ICSI for more than a decade now. His wife’s hormone levels are slightly out of balance, while his sperm has poor motility. The couple have spent thousands of pounds on treatment both in this country and in Barcelona. This summer, they will undergo another cycle of treatment that, McCluskey says, is their last chance.
“There are times that creep up on you. You see a father with children in the supermarket or playing football and it grabs you at an unexpected moment.”
McCluskey says the emotional impact of infertility among men was perfectly illustrated during a support event he attended at a private clinic in Glasgow in 2011. There were around 40 couples present and one of the speakers – a psychologist – put all the women in one room and all the men in another for a group discussion on what they were going through.
“We all walked in and stood there looking at our feet,” he says. “The silence was deafening. Nobody wanted to speak. A lot of the guys were relatively new to this and didn’t want to say anything.”
That silence extends to within wider society, too.
Dr Liberty Barnes, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge and author of Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine and Identity, says fertility has traditionally always been perceived as a solely female issue. Such is the taboo, that in her native US, documents relating to experimental artificial insemination among veterans at the end of the Second World War were destroyed.
“If you look at the present day then a lot of this has really continued,” she says.
“It has only been the last 10 years or so that we have really started talking about this. The focus has been on women for a long time.” However, miracles do still happen. None more so than for Russell Davis – the man with the apparently useless sperm – who today lives in Cornwall with his wife Bevan and their eight-year-old son, Ewan. In 2006, just as they were about to embark on their first cycle of ICSI treatment, his wife conceived naturally.
“I was unhappy, stressed and scared and thought I wouldn’t be happy without children,” says Davis, who, following his diagnosis, quit his job in IT and retrained as a hypnotherapist.
“When I let go of all that my wife got pregnant naturally. We did three tests all positive, and couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t until I saw the scan that I thought ‘this is actually happening’. I just cried with disbelief.”
For men still battling to have a child of their own, such a possibility is something to cling to.
The male menopause is a real phenomenon that should be treated with testosterone replacement therapy, a study has concluded.
Men as well as women suffer a drop in sex hormones as they age, and also suffer from hot flushes, low libido, night sweats, joint pain and low mood, say researchers. Also known as the “andropause”, symptoms can include depression, muscle weakness and an increase in body fat.
A study by the Centre for Men’s Health in London, which has treated more than 2,000 men with testosterone over the past 26 years, said the majority of men benefited from therapy.
The authors of the study, published in the Journal of the Ageing, estimated that one in five men aged over 50 suffers from testosterone deficiency.
Prof Malcolm Carruthers, the centre’s chief medical officer, said: “This study proves [the therapy’s] effectiveness?… but most importantly supports the safety of testosterone treatment, even over prolonged periods.”
Prof Carruthers has also called for better testing of testosterone, believing that some men would remain within the “normal range” and yet still be personally deficient.
“Contrary to orthodox theory, there is no threshold for testosterone levels. Resistance to the hormone could be caused by age, stress, obesity intake or genetic factors,” he added.
A number of studies have linked low testosterone with obesity and diabetes, although scientists say it is too early to tell if hormone therapy could ease these conditions.
Recent research has also suggested that men with low testosterone levels are likely to die younger than men whose levels of the hormone are considered normal.
But some experts remain sceptical. “It doesn’t appear to add much to a complex topic that cries out for a large blinded, randomised clinical trial,” said Prof Jonathan Seckl from Edinburgh University.
Prof Frederick Wu, from the University of Manchester, added: “In my opinion this publication is not only misleading but potentially dangerous, particularly when the author calls for many more men to be treated, inappropriately, with testosterone.”
The term andropause has been considered controversial because there does not seem to be a sudden moment where testosterone levels decline, as is the case for women. Instead, sex hormone levels in men gradually start to decrease from the mid 30s.
Some health experts believe the male menopause is in fact related to stress and anxiety usually triggered by a midlife crisis.