Can Lifestyle Diseases Be Prevented?

Gerard Wong, Senior Dietitian for Allied Health at Parkway Cancer Center in Singapore was in Manila recently  for a series of talks on Preventing Lifestyle Diseases like hypertension, diabetes and cancer.

Why are hypertension, diabetes and cancer called lifestyle diseases?

Studies show a very strong correlation between a sedentary routine or physical inactivity and disease.  In other words, many people who tend to avoid exercise and prefer to be physically inactive have been found to be at higher risk of such lifestyle diseases.

Worse is the fact that physical inactivity is the 4th leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International.  A recent medical research has also associated every single hour spent watching TV after the age of 25, to reducing the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.

Thus the new slogan “Sitting Is the New Smoking”.

What can be done to prevent these lifestyle diseases?

The best way to avoid these diseases is by maintaining a balance between physical activity, exercise and a healthy diet.

Cut the refined sugar and white bread, go for more wholegrain and fibre, lots of vegetables and avoid crash diets or fad diets as they are difficult to sustain in the long run.

How can one maintain this balance ?

One needs to understand how food is transformed into energy in the body in order to manage the balance between consuming and burning calories.

Knowing how much calories burned in an activity will help you manage your intake.  There are mobile apps and gadgets that can help you gauge the calories you use up for a day.

It helps to read  and understand also food labels:  they tell you  how much calories there are for each food item. The labels are also good estimates  of the amount of  calories you consume for each serving.  Note too that one package can contain more than ONE serving.  Read the amount of fat and sugar in the label. Make sure there are no added sugars (sucrose, fructose, corn syrup). Fat should only be 5%-15% of the daily value or %DV.  While a general guide to calories of the food should be no more than 400 calories per serving.

What are the most important things to remember when managing your meals?

  • Reduce red meats in your diet. The recommended portion of meat per person per week  is 500 gms (of cooked meat). Which equates to about 700-750g of raw meat.
  • Replace meats with lentils, bulky green vegetables like broccoli, eggplant or zucchini; leafy greens like kale, kamote tops, or malunggay leaves, mushrooms, carrots in your main dishes.
  • Reduce sugar in your diet.  Carbohydrates, especially the highly processed carbohydrates are converted into sugar inside the body.  Excess carbs which are not used as energy is often stored in the body.
  • Replace dessert pastries  and sweet snacks with fresh fruit slices.  Have fresh fruit salad with yoghurt for breakfast.
  • Reduce salt in your diet.  Studies have shown that gastric cancer is linked to diets high in salt-cured meats and fish. Consuming too much salt can also damage the stomach lining and make a person prone to the effects of carcinogens in food.
  • Replace salt with  natural flavorings like herbs and spices in your dishes.
  • Avoid processed meats which are loaded with salt .
  • Consume more high-fiber foods like vegetables and fruits.  Fiber helps clear the intestines and the bowels thus reducing one’s risk of colorectal cancer.

When filling up your plate during meals, remember these portions :

  • 50% of non-starchy vegetables
  • 25% of food rich in complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, unpolished rice, sweet potato, quinoa or couscous
  • 25% lean meat, fish or poultry

Here are some foods to avoid or eat very sparingly:

  • Bacon and other processed and fried meats (fish balls, hot dogs, chicken nuggets)
  • White breads and pastries
  • Fruit-flavored drinks
  • White rice
  • Instant Noodles

Type 2 diabetes in children is on the rise, what advice can  you give  parents on how to prevent their children from acquiring it ?

Children mirror their parents.  It is therefore no surprise, that if  the parents do not have a regular workout routine or physical activity, so will their children.

If  the family diet is  skewed  toward meats and processed food, the whole family, not just the children,  are  at risk.

The change in lifestyle and eating plans  begin  with the parents.  After all, they  manage the family meals.

Meals should always  be  a healthy combination  of high fiber foods  like vegetables and fruits, proteins (lean meats and beans) and whole grain carbohydrates.

The DAILY recommended   time  for physical activity is a total of sixty minutes. Yet a study in Australia noted that the weekly  average  time spent in front of the TV or a laptop is 23 hours.  Giving up a few hours of TV or Internet time a week for physical activity will surely be a healthy start for the family.

How can my family do a  healthy lifestyle makeover?

Make the wellness journey a family activity. Here’s how:

  • Talk about  the dangers of obesity and its implications in the long run to all family members.
  • Engage your family to go on  weekend runs or nature walks or playing group sports
  • Prepare low-fat, low-calorie meals made from fresh meats and vegetables
  • Avoid giving junk food as snacks to young children; feed them with slices of fruit between meals
  • Encourage daily physical activity at least 10-15:  minutes a day of brisk walking for 3 -5 days a week increased gradually to 30 minutes a day
  • Gradually reduce the salt and fat from your meals and replace them with herbs and spices that add flavor to the dish; our taste buds adapt easily to the loss of salt in our food
  • Teach your children how to read food labels.

How do we change dietary preferences of  picky eaters who are averse to vegetables?

It is never too late to introduce healthy foods like fruits and vegetables in the family meals.  Vegetables can be added  into soups, salads or pastas  that even picky eaters will eat.

Fruits can be added to desserts like ice cream or fruit salads or can be served as the desserts.

TIP : Do not serve all  the dishes at the same time.

Serve the soups or salads before the main dishes so that the picky eaters will try them WHILE they are hungry.

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HealthNews is a monthly community publication by Parkway Cancer Centre Singapore.

In the Philippines, Parkway Cancer Centre Singapore are represented by CanHOPE Manila. They act as a link with direct access to Singapore team for logistical and informational purposes, helping patients to provide integrated care throughout a patient’s journey.

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