The low down on metabolic health



In this unsettling era of Covid-19 related illness, hospital admissions were 6 times higher for those with poor metabolic health and 12 times higher in those that lost their lives to the disease. Many of the underlying conditions that are constantly referenced are somehow related to metabolic health. In the UK two thirds of those that became seriously ill were deemed overweight or obese and this is typical of Ireland and elsewhere.
Poor metabolic health and excess weight are related but it’s not an exclusive relationship. It may surprise you to hear this but there is not really such thing as a healthy weight regardless what the scales says. Your metabolic health is a more accurate reflection of your health although there’s no arguing that measuring it is not nearly as straightforward as hoping on the scales. It involves a simple routine blood test, blood pressure check and a measuring tape. The blood test checks your blood sugar, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglycerides which measures fat in your blood. The measuring tape is for your waist circumference which should be less than half of your height. It is an excellent measurement of how healthy your lifestyle is.  It’s not a guarantee, (nothing is!)  but it is a good place to start. The great news is that all of these markers can be considerably improved with some clever lifestyle changes. Interestingly, metabolic syndrome is a condition that has only been referenced in the last thirty years which is the same timeframe as the arrival of low-fat foods, the massive increase in ultra-processed foods and considerable increase in self reported stress. It’s no coincidence and therein lies the solution. Good metabolic health is good for the immune system but especially helps heart health, avoiding type 2 diabetes and some cancers So, is it relevant to those that are not overweight? Those that seem to be able to eat all of the junk they like and never gain weight? They are not as lucky a bunch as you may think. What many don’t know is that despite being thin on the outside they do have fat but it’s on the inside around internal organs and this fat can be a real threat to health. It’s been found that ‘normal’ weight people with poor metabolic health have a 3 fold risk of premature death, heart attack or stroke compared with those that are the same weight but metabolically healthy. 20% of people with T2 diabetes can fall into this category. One of the real dangers is that because you may look healthy, you or your health care advisor may think you are immune to the diseases that those who are overweight suffer from but that’s not always the case. It proves the point that really there is no such thing as a healthy weight. Here’s 3 ways to improve your metabolic health and the bonus is that if you have gained any unwanted ‘covid kilos’ they will disappear. 1. Cut refined & starchy carbohydrates Think white flour and sugar – the deadly combination found in bread, pastries, pizza, cookies etc. Starchy food like white rice which is low in nutrition and very high in sugars. If you want to lose weight it may be worth cutting grains for a month to see the effect. You can get plenty healthy carbohydrates from fruit & vegetables as well as beans & legumes. 2. Eat some healthy fat with your meals. Essential fatty acids are vital for health and good metabolism as well as balancing our hormones. We don’t make them ourselves we should take them in our diet. And let’s face it they taste great and fill us up. A few spoons of good quality olive oil over vegetables or salad is heart healthy and makes it more filling.  Avocado is filling, nutritious and goes with so many dishes. Eat oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel a few times a week – they are brimming with healthy fats as well as being great for your brain health. A handful of nuts and seeds every day is great, especially walnuts, almonds and pecans. Good quality meat a few times a week is perfectly healthy. Ideally buy it sauce free from a butcher have grass fed. Quality counts. On the flip side avoid packaged low fat foods as they usually have added sugar or artificial sweeteners both of which encourage unhealthy fat production. 3. Stop snacking and have long breaks from eating This can be an amazing way to lose weight. Start in a simple way, just have 3 meals per day and don’t eat in-between.  Having more healthy fats and less carbs in your meals will help a lot as you won’t be so hungry. Most people find evenings to be the most challenging so it could mean going for a walk instead of watching tv. Do whatever it takes to help you avoid snacking. The food industry created the idea of snacking and we are hardwired to think we have to eat every few hours. The longest food free period is between dinner and breakfast so take advantage! Not eating between 7pm and 7am is a 12 hour fast and some people find that increasing this to 14 hours can make a big difference to feeling better as well as losing unwanted weight. It’s important to mention if you are making above changes and if you are on medication/insulin you will need to speak with your doctor/nurse as your prescription may need to be altered. Never discontinue medication on your own. Don’t forget you are made to move and exercise is really important for blood sugars, hearth health, immune health and general metabolic health. It’s also one of the very best tools for stress and mental health. There was never a better time than now to flip your script and start implementing new heathy habits. Faced with a winter of unknown bugs, viruses and full hospitals we need to be as metabolically and emotionally healthy as possible. And remember every little helps.