Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not So Healthy Habits

In my last post, I wrote about cholesterol and heart-healthy habits, and how I am trying to be more conscious of the choices that I make. I wrote down a big long list of all the things that I already do to lead a healthy lifestyle, especially on the dietary front. Now it is time to come clean and identify some of my not so heart-healthy choices and behaviors that keep adding inches to my waistline and plaque to my arteries.

The not so healthy habits and health factors fall into several categories. These are: salt, sugar, dairy fat, love of cooking, snacks, husband, work, knees, and social eating and drinking booby traps.


Yum, yum, yum! I love salt. I know that the research findings out there on the effects of a high salt diet are not as straight forward as we used to think. The health message used to be high salt = hypertension; therefore eat a low salt diet. Now it appears that some people are more prone than others to respond badly to salt. The sensible course of action is to reduce one's salt intake to be on the safe side, so I am trying (even though there is a little devil in my head that whispers not to worry about it as I am probably one of the lucky ones who can eat salt without dire consequences). But it is so hard, because everything tastes better with salt. I am putting less salt in my cooking, leaving it to individual diners to add salt at the table if they wish.

For me, the biggest problem with salt is that most salty snacks are also high calorie fatty snacks. This includes chips, crackers, salted nuts, cheezies, cheese, fries, and so forth. When I am having a salt craving, it is all too easy to reach for a bag of chips. Pretzels and (unbuttered) popcorn are probably the two lowest calorie salty snacks (and also my two least favourite ones).


Sugar is probably one of the biggest culprits that is adding inches to my waistline and pounds on the scale. Sugar hides in so many foods, and in a myriad of forms. It is not just in the obvious things, like candy, ice cream, baked goods, and canned fruit. There is sugar in just about every kind of bottled sauce, store-bought cookie, cracker, packaged soup or other packaged meal, and frozen prepared food. Many foods that sound healthy, like granola bars, whole grain breakfast cereal, yogurt, and instant oatmeal are in fact loaded with sugar when you take a look at the nutritional information.

The bad guy in the media right now is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which in Canada is called glucose/fructose. This product of the highly subsidized American corn industry is now used in place of sucrose (table sugar) in most manufactured foods, and especially in breakfast cereals and soft drinks. There is lots of concern about the possible negative health effects of HFCS, in part because it appears to alter appetite processes, turning off the triggers that signal satiation. Over the last 50 years of increasing consumption of HFCS in the USA, obesity has increased in a similar proportion. HFCS has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and fatty liver disease. The research is not conclusive however, and a lot more research outside of laboratory settings needs to be done.

I have been trying to cut down on the sugar in my diet. I do not add sugar to my coffee or tea. I mostly buy unsweetened breakfast cereals, but even though the sugar levels are lower than in sweetened cereals, most still have plenty of sugar, according to the nutritional information. (I do buy mini wheats because I like them.) I try to add less or no sugar to foods like oatmeal. And I read the nutritional information. But, when a sugar craving hits, I do eat cookies or granola bars or toast with jelly. Probably one of the most common ways that sugar sneaks into my diet is in beverages, like coke, iced tea, and fruit juice. When I am really tired, or both tired and hungry, I find it hard to resist sugary snacks, which are all around and so easy to get.

I haven't finished saying all that I wish on not so healthy habits, so I will post again on this topic.

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