Middle-aged men and women who are 30 percent over normal weight have twice the risk of a heart attack compared with middle-aged people of normal weight.
Excess weight, in fact, puts added strain on many parts of the body - not just the heart and lungs. It has been calculated that for every 30 lb of excess, there are 25 miles of extra blood vessels through which blood must be pumped. A heart surrounded by fat tissue cannot pump effectively - and when a sudden demand is made on it, it cannot meet the demand without beating at a dangerously fast rate.
It has long been known that overweight people are more prone to develop cardiac disease, diabetes, arthritis, gout, liver, and gall-bladder disorders than people of normal weight. Insurance companies consider overweight people a poor risk and make them pay extra premiums.
Furthermore, too much weight puts extra burdens on the digestive system, and becomes a serious handicap during pregnancy or surgery. It tends to delay puberty and decrease fertility - not least of all, it puts more strain on the legs.
Most people have a fair idea of whether they are carrying too much weight, but in some cases the decision as to whether a person is obese or not can be difficult, since human beings vary so widely in their builds and bone structures.
A good test to determine obesity is to pinch the flesh near your navel between finger and thumb. If the roll of flesh and fat which results is more than one inch thick for an adult, obesity is again indicated.
We mentioned before that overweight is simply the result of the income from food and the expenditure in energy. If you eat more food each day than your body requires, your weight will increase - it's as simple as that.
Thus, there are two ways you can influence your body weight - by altering your diet and by altering your level of physical activity. Since we dealt with the latter in the previous article, this section is restricted to dietary changes.
Why do people eat more than they need? Probably no one answer is correct for any one person - the usual reasons include worry, compensation for insecurity, frustration or lack of affection, or just plain greed.
A very few are overweight because of glandular trouble, but even if this is the case, something can usually be done about it.
The only long-term remedy for obesity is a well-balanced reducing diet, tailor-made for the person if possible.
Diets should not deviate too much from your own food habits and routine because there is much less chance of your sticking to them. The search continues for quick and easy formulas but there are few who can maintain for long a diet consisting mostly of grapefruit, or eggs, or bananas.
The secret of a good reducing diet is that it reduces the fuel value of the food you eat below your normal daily requirements. In other words, your body begins to use stored fuel in the form of fat since daily income is no longer sufficient for daily expenditure.
When your weight has reached an acceptable level, the fuel value in the food can then be increased to the point where it is just sufficient to maintain weight at that level.
Fuel (i.e. calorie) needs vary according to your activity, your age, and your sex. The more active, the higher your needs - a moderately active man of average height needs between 2200 and 2900 calories per day, and a moderately active woman of average height requires between 1600 and 2100 per day.
After 25, your needs will drop slightly and with each decade, less and less calorie income is needed.
This explains why so many people get heavier as they grow older - they maintain their young eating habits into middle age, keeping their calorie income at a level the body no longer needs.
Successful weight reduction requires the daily calorie intake to be decreased by about 1000 calories, and a suitable diet generally provides for an intake of between 1200 and 1500 calories.
Few people are satisfied with less than 1200, and in most cases, weight loss is fairly slow if the intake exceeds 1500 calories. Those who want a calorie table and further advice on weight-reducing are recommended to the National Heart Foundation's booklet, "How To Lose Weight Wisely."
Any reducing diet should include the following daily intake:
Those whose cholesterol levels are high will need to vary this list according to the severity of their condition. It is not wise to attempt both weight reduction and saturated-fat reduction through the cardiac diet without consulting your doctor.
Depending on your choice from this basic list, you will find you have already gone close to your 1200 calorie level, so restrict any additional foods to low-calorie items.
There is much the housewife can do when cooking to keep the calorie content low. Foods should be prepared as much as possible without sugar, flour, or fat. Grill, steam, or boil but try to avoid frying and baking. Use unthickened sauces and gravies as much as possible.
There are a variety of foods and drinks which may be used freely. These include tea, coffee, water, and soda water, clear soup, meat and vegetable extracts such as Vegemite, meat and fish pastes, and most spices and condiments (but not chutney, pickles etc.).
The foods to avoid are fairly well known, but for the record stay clear of sugar, honey, jams, syrups, sweets, sweetened tinned fruits, jellies, ice cream, soft drink, alcohol, cakes, biscuits, scones, farinaceous dishes (spaghetti etc.), fatty meats, peanut butter, dripping, and pastries.
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