Metabolic Health for a Resilient Body
By Dr. Sasha Marinaccio
I was recently listening to some podcasts on “The Doctor’s Farmacy” with Dr. Mark Hyman and I was shocked to hear him state that only 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy. This is extraordinary information at any given time, especially considering the state our healthcare system is in, but it’s even more problematic in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. Why? Because we know that most of the people finding themselves in the ICU due to infection with SARS-COV-2 are metabolically unhealthy. Many are overweight and have comorbidities such as heart disease and diabetes. No wonder our health and government officials are so worried!
There is GOOD NEWS here, folks. When we are informed, we can take control of our health and reduce our risk of becoming seriously ill from infections. We can help our bodies to be more resilient in the face of a health crisis. Not to mention decreasing our risk of diabetes, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
In 2019 a pretty cool study was performed that determined that 1 in 8 Americans are metabolically unhealthy.1 The five factors used to determine metabolic health are: blood sugar levels, triglyceride levels, HDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure and waist circumference. All factors should be in healthy ranges without the use of medication. Let’s briefly break each down and touch on some ways to keep each one in an optimal place.
- Blood sugar levels
This is measured using two different tests: a fasting blood glucose test (a single snapshot of your blood sugar) and a hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test (a marker of your average levels over the course of two to three months). Your fasting blood glucose level should be under 100 mg/dL and your HbA1c should be 5.7% or less. If these numbers are higher, it may mean you are prediabetic or diabetic. Regular exercise helps keep blood sugar levels down by getting your muscles to use the glucose (sugar) in your blood stream. Cutting out extra sugar and processed carbohydrates and replacing them with lower glycemic whole grains and vegetables will keep your blood sugar levels lower overall.
2. Triglyceride levels
Triglycerides are a form of fat found in your blood stream. When you consume excess calories, particularly in the form of sugar, they are quickly transformed into triglycerides and stored as body fat to be used later. Your triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL. Higher levels increase your risk for heart disease. How do you keep your triglyceride levels in a healthy range? If you think eating less fat is the answer, you’re wrong. You do it the same way you keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range- by exercising and eating less sugar and processed carbohydrates!
3. HDL cholesterol
HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol is our healthy cholesterol. Remember “H for healthy.” Many of us have HDL levels that are too LOW and that contributes to an increased risk for heart disease. HDL cholesterol is good because it actually helps to get rid of the bad cholesterol in our body. Healthy levels should be greater than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women. Ideally, you should strive for above 60 mg/dL. If you smoke, quitting is way easy way to help your HDLs.2 Exercise and choosing to eat healthy, unrefined fats (like olive oil, fatty fish and avocados) will also help your HDLs.
4. Blood pressure
Most people think the ideal blood pressure (BP) is 120/80 mmHg. In reality, normal, healthy blood pressure is BELOW 120/80 mmHg! Over that threshold is an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Losing weight and regular exercise are two ways to make a big difference, especially if you are overweight. Research shows that reducing your weight by 1kg (2.2 lbs) lowers your BP by 1mmHg, so if you’re carrying an extra 25lbs you could drop your BP by 10 mmHg.3 Managing ever-increasing stress levels and eating less sodium-rich fast food are good ways to start as well.
5. Waist circumference
Have you noticed we haven’t specifically mentioned weight yet? That’s because there is no, one perfect weight for every body. A better marker is a waist circumference. This is the measurement of your waist, the midway point between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips. Men are at an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke with a measurement of 40” or more and women at a measurement of 35” or more. This is because dangerous belly fat, or visceral fat, accumulates and produces hormones and inflammatory chemicals much like an organ! How do you reduce this visceral fat? The same way you reduce regular fat: with regular exercise and a healthy diet low in processed food and full of whole foods.
I wish the media would spread this information like wildfire the way they do so many other things that aren’t nearly are important or useful. I can’t control the news coverage but I can share this life saving information with everyone in my circle of influence and so can you. During these challenging times, binge watching Netflix and stress baking are not helpful things to get us to the other side. Making time for bike rides and walks, learning to cook with new vegetables and spices, and finding ways to manage stress will help us all to have bodies with more resiliency. All it takes is one small step to make big change!
1Joana Araújo, Jianwen Cai, and June Stevens. Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders 2019 17:1, 46-52.
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Recipe of the Month
Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
1 lb sweet potatoes
1 small red onion
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
Juice and zest from 1 lime
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed if using canned
1/2 cup cilantro
1/4 cup pepitas
▪ Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Peel sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch cubes and place on a sheet tray. Chop onion into 1/4 inch pieces and add to the tray. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on top and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Toss until sweet potatoes are well coated. Spread into a single layer and roast until sweet potatoes are tender and starting to brown, 35 to 40 minutes.
▪ While the sweet potatoes are roasting, combine remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a jar with the lime juice, 1 teaspoon lime zest, minced garlic, and chili powder. Shake well.
▪ Once sweet potatoes are done, transfer to a bowl. Add in the black beans, pepitas, and cilantro. Drizzle with the dressing and toss until salad is combined. This is best done with the sweet potatoes are still warm.
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Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad
All recipe images and text ©naturallyella.com
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