By Liz Abel, LDN, CNS, MS, MA
For those of us who have tried to lose or gain weight in the past, you may recall the feeling of stepping on a scale: it’s likely to be a great mood booster or, conversely, set us up for a morning of feeling badly about ourselves. And yet the number on the scale really isn’t necessarily the biggest driver of your health. In this article, I propose a few other numbers that you should consider bringing into focus.
1. Blood sugar. Glucose (aka sugar) and insulin (hormone that regulates sugar levels in the body) have a very intricate dance. Every time you eat, cue the music. Typically, most people think only diabetics need to “manage their sugars”. But you don’t develop Type II Diabetes overnight. That’s why I propose during your next annual physical, be certain to ask your physician for a fasting glucose blood draw. The upper end of the laboratory reference range is typically 100 mg/dL. If you are close to this level, or your fasting glucose number has been increasing slowly year-over-year, then it might be time to learn how food and exercise affects your numbers. Using an at-home glucose monitoring test kit may be advisable; to learn more discuss this with your physician or a licensed nutritionist.
2. Waist:Hip ratio. This number is one of the largest predictors of health, specifically related to heart disease and diabetes. And it doesn’t fluctuate wildly (unlike the scale). Obtain a soft, flexible tailor or body tape measurer. You can find one for under $5. Measure the widest part of your hips. Measure your waist, specifically this is the area just above your hip bones and exhale fully before measuring (no sucking in your belly to do this exercise). Now, divide your hip measurement by your waist measurement. Females naturally have wider hips than males. As a result, women should target a waist:hip ratio less than 0.80 and men should target a waist:hip ratio less than 0.95.
3. Blood pressure. High blood pressure is an early warning sign for heart disease. Blood pressure contains two numbers: the top (systolic) and the bottom (diastolic). A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg or less. Excess salt consumption and stress are major contributors of elevated blood pressure. I personally believe that you should monitor your blood pressure more frequently than an annual physical. Either purchase an at-home kit or visit a pharmacy where you can take advantage of their free, in-store testing to help you keep track of your blood pressure.
4. Food selection: Fruits and veggies (and grains, beans, nuts and seeds) are rich in minerals and vitamins. Minerals and vitamins are keys to healthy body function. And the reality is, most of us could use even more vitamins and minerals. Here are three categories of foods to boost:
- Colored fruits and veggies. Aim to eat 2 – 3 servings of fruit a day, and add in other fun colored veggies, such as orange bell peppers, radishes, yellow carrots, purple onions, and anything new that you’ve never tried before. These foods are high in anti-oxidants, which help battle those nasty free radicals.
- Cruciferous veggies. This is the family of related foods like: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, kale, and more. There is incredible research about the health benefits of these foods, including hormone metabolism and cancer prevention. Aim for 2 – 3 cooked cups a day.
- Dark leafy veggies. Start supercharging your body with spinach, arugula, watercress, dandelion greens and more. The dark leafy green veggies help prevent many diseases as well. Aim for 3 raw or cooked cups a day.
A special note for anyone on blood thinning medications: Please consult your physician before increasing the amount of dark greens you consume, as your prescription medication dosage may be affected.
5. Fiber: If you’ve followed steps #4, then you likely won’t have to pay attention to fiber. But just in case you want to double check…how much fiber should you be eating? On average, I recommend a target of 40 grams daily, and men typically need more than women. Fiber is important for our digestive system, gut health, and blood sugar management. A word to the wise, the body will likely get bloated and gassy if you start to consume a LOT more fiber than it is accustomed.
While you may have great enthusiasm to start making all of the recommended changes ASAP, I recommend that you increase your fiber intake by about 5 grams per day for a week, and then add in 5 more grams per day the week after that, and so on, until you can consistently consume the target amount of fiber. This will give the body time to adjust. How much is 5 grams of fiber? Roughly, it’s in 3/4 cup of cooked spinach or 1/3 cup of cooked artichoke hearts or 1 pear (with skin).
As a licensed dietician nutritionist, with a specialty in functional medicine, my main focus is to use food, nutraceuticals and lifestyle changes to support your health. The measurements I propose in this article support healthy endocrine, cardiovascular, and digestive functions in the body. I believe that when the body is healthy, the body will lose weight. Remember, health is much more than a number on the scale.
, LDN, CNS, MS, MA, is a Licensed Integrative Nutritionist at the Wilmington, DE. She leads a dynamic, team-based that encompasses food, lifestyle, lab testing, natural supplementation, mindfulness and movement to support your health and well-being. Integrated with First State’s six offices, the program offers access to Delaware’s premiere experts in holistic health. Are you ready to create your custom plan and harness sustainable results? Call 302.384.7104 or e-mail to schedule your comprehensive consultation today.