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In this issue, Dr. Khôi gives advice to questions relating to dieting and exercising, as well as the impacts of the two, upon the effort of lowering blood cholesterol and easing the management of diabetes.
Recently, my family doctor informed me that I have high blood cholesterol. He prescribed medications, and suggested that I avoid certain kinds of food. In your previous articles, you sounded like you do not encourage people to avoid food. Please advise me ways to improve my condition.
Dr. Khôi: You are absolutely right. Starving oneself does not get my approval because if you abruptly change your eating habit, it would be difficult for you to stick with it, and I am sure you will return to your previous habit sooner or later. I prefer a few small changes at a time, so that they can last longer. For example, if you are used to consuming white rice, and if you have a high level of cholesterol in your blood, you should try to switch to basmati rice (originating from India) once or twice a week to help lower your sugar level. The sugar level in basmati rice is ¼ that of white rice, which means 4 bowls of basmati, are equal to only 1 bowl of white rice. Obviously, basmati rice is dry, bland, and not very appetizing, and that’s why I recommend that you try it once or twice a week to get used to it. You can also choose yellow rice, brown rice… These kinds of rice have a high level of fiber and low sugar content.
Similarly, those who love French fries should switch to sweet potato fries. The type of sugar found in sweet potato fries is less harmful. On the other hand, studies have shown that consuming sweet potatoes helps prevent sugar level from dipping too low in patients with diabetes. In addition, one sweet potato provides more than 100% of the daily vitamin A recommendation, plus 37% of vitamin C, as well as other nutrients such as the antioxidant: beta-carotene, vitamin B6…
Generally speaking, I do not encourage patients to abstain from eating. After all, how appetizing can sour soup, braised pork and caramelized catfish in a clay pot be without a little bit of fat and white rice? You don’t have to abstain completely from food. There is no need to avoid fat and sugar at all cost. Alternatively, you can consume the kind of fat and sugar that are less harmful to your health and most importantly, you need to stay active.
I heard that Vietnamese people suffer from high cholesterol and diabetes more than Westerners. Why is it so?
Dr. Khôi: Oh, to put it simply, our bodies have genes of the poor, but we immigrate to rich countries. For thousands of years, our pre-programed genes are working at the speed of metabolism fit for people who live in countries where agriculture and physical activities dominate. Now, in the new environment, most of the work is being done in the office. When food is consumed, our body retains sugar and fat more than when we were in Vietnam. Can you see how a Vietnamese farmer eats 2 or 3 bowls of rice per meal, complete with bacon and fat, and still remains very healthy?
Basically, there is a lack of physical activity in our lives. Food contributes only 10% in causing hypercholesterolemia or diabetes; the rest are ascribed to the lack of physical activity which helps burn the food we eat.
I also do not encourage the sedentary lifestyle of spending 8 hours in the office, then rushing to the gym to exercise vigorously for 1–2 hours. That is a very abnormal lifestyle. You should incorporate physical activities into your daily routine. While working in the office, don’t stay sedentary for too long. Get up and move around. Walk up and downstairs often. At the end of the day, take a walk or ride a bike. If you incorporate physical activities into your daily routine, and eat properly (a junk food here and there is fine!), the fat and sugar levels in your body will surely go down.
So basically, how should I handle my diet to regulate blood sugar and fat levels?
Dr. Khôi: Personally, I think you can try the following suggestions. These are easier than making a 180-degree change.
- Lower your weight: you can do it not by lowering your food intake but by eating more. Eat a small amount of food many times in a day. This helps increase the body’s metabolism to digest food faster, thus avoiding fat and sugar storage.
- Eat when you are hungry; stop eating when you are full: easier said than done – especially for our busy lifestyle nowadays. We rarely have the chance to eat when we are hungry, and while eating good food, we find it incredibly hard to stop.
- Apply the inverse triangle policy for your eating habit: eat a lot for breakfast, a little bit for lunch, and very little for supper. Of course, on days when you do more physical activities, you can eat a bit more food to provide the body with good nutrients.
- Eat colorful food: a colorful life is an interesting and healthy life. Eat a wide variety of colorful vegetables. Avoid white-colored food such as white rice because it is not as wholesome as brown rice. White bread is not as good as brown bread because the outside layer – which contains fibers – had been stripped away.
- Eat about five hours before going to bed: this allows the body enough time to digest food. If you must eat prior to bed, choose colorful fruits like strawberries and berries for the best health.
In conclusion, preventing and treating diseases are not difficult if you take dieting and physical activities into consideration, and incorporate them into your lifestyle.