Saturday, November 28, 2009

Health, Diet and recovery

A paper coming out of the University of Chicago predicts that type 2 diabetes in the US will rise from 23.7 today to 44.1 million people in 24 years - an increase of 86%. The same paper claims that 30% of Americans are now obese , but predicts that number will fall to 27% by 2033 "since we can't all be obese," says the author.

These are sickening numbers, but it is apparent whenever I travel. Many people in US airports waddle through the terminal. Some are so big they need seatbelt extenders. The number of people who have to be delivered to their terminal gate by wheelchairs or beeping carts is just amazing in some places. Recently when laying over in the airport in Charlotte, NC there was a steady flow of these carts. I've never seen so many people in need of assistance.

I'm reminded of a movie I took my 6-year-old granddaughter to see a few months ago - "Wall-E." In the animated movie the citizens of Earth had gone into space while little robots on Earth cleaned up the mess we had created. In their space station these people had become so grossly overweight that they rode around in motorized wheelchairs (while sipping sugar drinks).

When I travel to other countries in Europe and Asia I don't see nearly as much of this, although the trend seems to be moving in the same direction as in the US. I just got back from Oslo and don't recall seeing a single obese Norwegian, although I am sure there are a few.

I think part of this mounting problem can be laid at the feet of nutrition scince going back to the 1970s. We have been told since then that carbohydrate was very healthy and we should eat more of it. Most Americans translate the word "carbohydrate" to mean starch - bread, bagels, potatoes, cereal, corn, rice, and more. These foods put sugar into the blood stream faster than eating table sugar. Combine that with a sedentary lifestyle and you produce obesity and eventually type 2 diabetes (among other problems).

We should have been telling people to eat more non-starchy vegetables and lay off of the starch. I've never known anyone to become obese eating a diet high in veggies. And for athletes, while some starch is good for recovery, we should also be eating more veggies as they are the most micronutrient-dense (vitamins and minerals) food we can eat.

What I tell the athletes I coach is to eat starch at the right times (during and post-workout) and otherwise eat more veggies.

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