probably heard the phrase "you are what you eat," but most
people who are shaped like an apple or pear probably arenít eating
enough of those fruits. In fact, studies have shown that individuals
with these body shapes may be more susceptible to certain diseases.
And, while you can hardly turn around these days without bumping into
the latest fad diet, nutritionists say thereís nothing like getting
back to basics.
Itís apples and pears
"People who carry extra weight around the midsection ó
abdomen and chest ó are often called apple-shaped. When you have
extra weight in these areas, it is linked with health problems such as
coronary artery disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and
gall bladder disease," says Lisa Grudzielanek, dietitian with
Wheaton Franciscanís Medical Weight Loss Program, Healthy Way.
The apple body shape is predominantly a male phenomenon; but women
are prone to develop the shape in mid-life, particularly after
menopause. At that point, female hormones are present in much smaller
amounts. This body type is also more susceptible to the so-called
"metabolic syndrome," which is characterized by a group of
metabolic diseases such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and
"I tend to recommend the American Heart Associationís Heart
Healthy Diet, which is low in saturated fat and sodium. There is more
and more evidence that it is a generally healthy diet for
everybody," says Jennifer Motl, clinical dietitian with Columbia
St. Maryís Hospitals. "If a person has diabetes, we take it one
step further and modify the diet by dividing the carbohydrates
throughout the day," she says.
Those with a pear shape may not be at the same type of risk for
disease. "We donít tend to get as worried when we see extra
weight around the hip and thigh area because it is somewhat normal for
fat pockets to develop in those areas in women. You donít see too
many pear-shaped men," Grudzielanek says. "A lower fat diet
is still a good idea or the pear shape can become an apple."
DASH to diet
Motl recommends the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
eating plan, which is recommended by the National Institutes of Health
for lowering blood pressure. "The DASH plan favors fruits,
vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and plant-based protein over
meat," she says. "Research has shown that this kind of diet
can help prevent high blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which
lead to heart attacks."
Now, thereís even more reason to follow the DASH eating plan.
Results of a study released this past April that followed more than
88,000 healthy women for almost 25 years shows those who maintained
the best health had eating habits similar to those recommended by the
DASH eating plan. And, although the study only followed women, men
would probably get similar benefits, according to experts. For more on
the DASH Diet, go to www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/h-eating/h-e-dash.htm.
Despite all of the solid data backing them up, nutritionists still
face obstacles in their quest to get people to eat healthy.
"People often think that it is too expensive to eat well, but
that doesnít have to be true," Motl says. "Fresh fruits
and vegetables probably donít cost as much as some processed frozen
foods if you eat whatís in season and look for sales."
Another common complaint is the time factor involved in preparing
fresh foods. "People are busy and whole foods can take a little
more time to prepare, but they are so much better for you. If you can
learn to plan your menus and prepare some things ahead of time, you
will be much better off," Motl says.
The biggest problem is simply convincing people that they need to
eat better for a better life. "People might think, ĎI donít
have high blood pressure, so I donít have to follow this diet,í
but even healthy people should be on a healthy diet," Motl says.
Whatís your type?
If you arenít sure about your body type, your waist-to-hip ratio
will tell you if you are pear-shaped, apple-shaped or avocado-shaped,
which is somewhere in between the apple and pear. There are several
sites on the Internet that can calculate it for you, such as
www.healthcalculators.org/calculators/waist_hip.asp. Use a measuring
tape to measure your waist and hips, plug in the numbers and the
online calculator will figure your ratio.
"A waist-to-hip ratio of around 0.80 or more seems to indicate
a greater chance of getting coronary disease," Grudzielanek says.
This is based on the Nurses Health Study, which involved 45,000 women
aged 40 to 65. The study revealed a remarkable link between
waist-to-hip ratios and serious health problems. For example, if youíre
under the age of 60 and your ratio is between 0.76 and 0.88, you have
more than twice the chance of getting coronary disease as women whose
ratios are 0.72 and less. Over 60, the risk falls to about
one-and-one-half times that of women with a ratio of 0.72 and less.
Motl offers this easy meal planning tip. "I encourage people
to try and fill half their plate with non-starchy vegetables,
one-quarter of the plate with lean protein and one-quarter starch. Itís
balanced and tends to be pretty low calorie," she says.
Even healthy choices can be overdone, however. A little bit of a
bad thing once in a while can keep someone on track when they have a
craving, Motl says. "You can work in a small single serving of
Cheetos once in a while. You have to honor those cravings," she
says. "People perceive that as a much bigger barrier than it
"If you avoid processed foods, sweets and junk food and drink
lots of water, you wonít have to restrict your eating,"
Grudzielanek says. Make exercise a regular part of your life in some
way ó walking, swimming, aerobics or whatever appeals to you. A
greater emphasis on lifestyle changes can make the difference.
Five Ďsuper foodsí
To be healthy, nutritionists recommend eating a variety of
"super foods" that pack an extra punch in the fight against
disease. "The specific foods tend to change a bit from time to
time, but they tend to belong to the same categories, such as fish,
leafy greens, grains and berries," says Lisa Grudzielanek, a
registered dietician with Wheaton Franciscanís Medical Weight Loss
Program, Healthy Way. The following are some super food choices to add
to your own diet.
1. Berries. "Berries like blueberries contain a lot of
antioxidants that work to reduce the buildup of Ďbadí (LDL)
cholesterol in artery walls that contributes to cardiovascular disease
and stroke," Grudzielanek explains. Antioxidants also help
neutralize harmful byproducts of metabolism called free radicals that
can lead to cancer and other age-related diseases. One cup a day of
blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries, black currants or red
grapes should do it.
2. Fish. "Studies show that eating seafood rich in omega-3
fatty acids at least twice a week could reduce your risk of heart
disease and some inflammatory diseases like arthritis," Motl
says. However, recent reports indicate that people should avoid eating
fish containing high levels of mercury, limiting albacore tuna to no
more than 6 ounces in one week.
3. Soy protein ó Soybeans, soy nuts, soy milk, energy bars,
cereal or tofu. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and
minerals, soy protein is a good alternative for red meat. Soy protein
is also lower in fat and higher in fiber than many meat choices. One
ounce of soy protein per day is recommended.
4. Oatmeal. "Whole grains like oatmeal may prevent disease and
help lower bad cholesterol," Motl says. One half-cup of oatmeal
is desirable, but you can get your whole grains in other forms besides
oatmeal, including whole grain breads and pastas.
5. Spinach. "Itís loaded with nutrients that can help
prevent things like heart disease and cancer," Grudzielanek says.
Other leafy greens like broccoli and kale are close seconds. A cup a
day is perfect, and the deeper the color, the greater the benefits.