23 May 2024
diet health

Experts say eating less but healthily and being more active is one of the keys to losing weight safely and might even protect against Covid-19.

The start of a new year allows people to set their goals for what will hopefully be a productive 12 months ahead. And when it comes to setting goals for a new year, eating better, losing weight and getting in shape in the hope that it will improve both our health and our looks are among the most popular resolutions.

But what’s the best way to achieve healthy weight loss? Some claim the key is to eat less and move more. Many say restricting calories is the only way to go and become obsessed with numbers, busily counting the calories if not of every bite, at least of every portion they eat. Others swear by cutting down on carbs and increasing protein intake.

Prof Visith Chavasit from Mahidol University’s Institute of Nutrition says eating less than the body uses and increasing the level of physical activity could help in shedding some kilogrammes.

He explains our body weight is determined by the amount of energy obtained from the food we consume compared to the amount of energy the body uses.

“If we eat more than the energy we use, we will put on weight. To lose some kilos, the energy we take in from food should be less than the energy we use. Put simply, eat less, move more is the foundation of weight loss,” he says.

Visith adds that to lose weight in a healthy way, people should maintain a balanced healthy diet to meet the body’s energy and nutrition needs.

Carbohydrates are often blamed for unwanted weight gain and a slew of other problems. Yet carbs are important to our health for many reasons, the academic stresses.

“Carbs should be our body’s main source of energy in a balanced healthy diet. We should not cut them out from our diet,” he says.

According to him, there are different types of carbohydrates and not all carbs are the same. What’s important is the type, quality and quantity of the carbs we consume.

Although there are different weight loss strategies, low-carb diets – such as the Atkins and Ketogenic diets – that restrict carbohydrates and replace them with foods high in protein and fat to lose weight, seem to be most popular.

Visith is against them, explaining that very low carbohydrate diets can be unhealthy as carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for our bodies to work properly. People who don’t get enough carbohydrates may have a headache, feel hungry and be nauseous.

Over a prolonged period, the expert adds, these diets increase the risk of kidney problems as the organ has to process the abundance of protein we consume.

Meanwhile, limiting calories intake can put people at risk of nutrient deficiencies.

A low-sugar and low-sodium diet can help with weight loss as sugar directly contributes to weight gain and many sugary and salty foods are high in calories. On top that, added sugar in our diet adds excess calories which will be stored in the body in the form of fat.

“The sugar-laden foods we consume are high in calories. They will be stored in the body in form of fat if they are not burned off,” he explains.

Adding fruit and vegetables to our diet also helps promote weight loss as they are low in calories and fat and high in fibre, an essential ingredient for successful weight loss. Diets high in fibre from fruits and vegetables help keep us feeling full as it takes longer to digest them.

“Fruit and vegetables have plenty of vitamins and minerals like potassium. Fruits that contain potassium can help regulate blood pressure as well,” Visith says, adding the World Health Organisation’s guidelines recommend a daily fruit and vegetable intake of at least 400 grammes.

It’s better to lose weight at a slow, steady pace. Rapid weight loss can put people at risk of health problems including fatigue, muscle loss and nutrition deficiencies.

“To lose weight safely, people should maintain a healthy balanced diet that gives the body the nutrients its needs to function properly. Eat less and healthily. Avoid relying on one food group over another as it can have negative effects on health, mind and body. And try to increase physical activities to burn calories,” Visith says.

Asst Prof Dr Opass Putcharoen, chief of Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital’s Centre of Emerging infectious Diseases wrote about obesity and Covid-19 on his Facebook wall two weeks ago. The post reads: “Obesity is another risk factor for developing a severe case of Covid-19 in addition to ageing.

We already know that older adults and people with underlying conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are potentially more vulnerable to developing a severe case of Covid-19. The same applies to young people who are obese.

Being obese along with a weakened immune system can make people more vulnerable to severe Covid-19.  Citing studies from the UK, Dr Opass says that having a body mass index (BMI) higher than 35 nearly doubles the risk of hospital treatment for Covid-19.

The virus may exacerbate the breathing difficulties that overweight people often experience due to reduced lung function, he explains.

A healthy diet and more exercise can help knock off the kilos and, with Covid-19 here to stay for at least the foreseeable future, there’s no better time to start than right now.