The eighth annual Cayman Islands National Healthcare Conference, held at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, from Oct. 19 through Oct. 21, provided employees of the Dart group of companies with an opportunity to learn from one of the key conference speakers, Dr. Wael Barsoum.
Dr. Barsoum is the president of Cleveland Clinic Florida and a member of the Cleveland Clinic Board of Governors and executive team. His speaking appearance at the conference, which had the theme “Exploring the Relationship Between Nutrition and Health,” gave rise to a “Lunch & Learn” session on Oct. 20 titled “Impact of Food on Your Health” organised by the Dart Human Resources Department. More than 20 Dart employees took advantage of the opportunity to learn while lunching on healthy sandwiches.
Dr. Barsoum said the problem humankind faces when it comes to the health effects of what we eat is that our genes haven’t changed, but our environment has.
“The problem today is that we’re dealing with a certain set of genetics that have evolved over millions of years and we’ve created an environment for which these genes are not particularly suited,” he said.
Instances of diseases like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, asthma and Crohn’s Disease have increased by hundreds of percentages in the past 50 years, Dr. Barsoum said, adding that diet is thought to be a big part of the reason. He also said that 40 per cent of premature mortality is attributed to behavioral causes of obesity and sedentary lifestyles.
Based on Cayman Islands statistics shown by Dr. Barsoum, the percentage of men residents who are overweight or obese is almost 69 per cent and for women residents almost 75 per cent, with 45 per cent of women being obese by definition.
Obesity is directly linked to poor diets, but so too are diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases.
“Diet plays a lot more of a role than just making you overweight,” Dr. Barsoum said, noting that recent research has shown a link between diet and inflammation, and inflammation has been directly linked to cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
One word I’m not a fan of is ‘diet,’ because diet has a finite end.Dr. Wael Barsoum
Looking specifically at obesity, Dr. Barsoum said our diets today simply aren’t commensurate with our genetic make up.
Obesity is caused by an imbalance between our energy expenditure, which has been declining in recent decades due to physical inactivity, and our excess caloric intake. Part of the problem is food portion size, which has increased significantly over the past 50 years.
Sugar consumption also plays a large role in obesity rates. Dr. Barsoum said that in 1700, the average person consumed about four pounds of sugar every year. Today, half of all Americans consume about 180 pounds of sugar every year.
Portion size, poor dietary choices and inactivity have all played a role in seeing obesity rates soar in the United States, where the typical diet is high in sugar, processed foods, animal products and unhealthy fats. They are also low in fiber, complex carbohydrates and plant-based foods.
“In the last 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in adults, tripled in children and quadrupled in adolescents,” he said, adding that there has been an alarming increase of those who are considered extremely obese in the same time period.
As a result of obesity, Type 2 diabetes is increasing substantially in many countries of the world and as many as 9 per cent of those with the disease don’t know they have it.
“This is a worldwide epidemic that we need to get our arms around,” Dr. Barsoum said.
Adopting a healthy diet is the best way to reduce the risks of serious disease and premature death, Dr. Barsoum said. A healthy diet not only helps prevent chronic diseases, but it also boosts the immune system, improves sleep, reduces certain effects of aging, reduces stress, increases vitality and helps improve fitness.
When it comes to changing eating habits, Dr. Barsoum cautioned not all advice is good advice and the adoption of a healthy diet “is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Dr. Barsoum said the main takeaway is for people to make dietary changes to which they can stick.
“One word I’m not a fan of is ‘diet,’ because diet has a finite end,” he said. “People should think of diet and weight loss as a lifestyle decision, not as a short-term modification.”
Some people eat to live while others live to eat and it’s important for people to accept which category they fall into, Dr. Barsoum said, noting he’s one of the latter.
“I’m almost always thinking about what I’m going to eat at my next meal,” he said. “I love to eat, but there are things that I love to eat that I just won’t eat anymore.”
Dr. Barsoum recommended a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins, but said that particular circumstances might mean adjusting the balance. For example, adults who have been diagnosed with diabetes, pre-diabetes or have a family history of diabetes should probably eliminate all or nearly all grains from their diet. People with other risk factors should consider eliminating food items like gluten, dairy products and eggs from their diet.
Limiting the intake of starchy carbohydrates to 30 grams a day is something most people should do, although those who are very physically active will probably require more than that, Dr. Barsoum said.
Eating two cups of non-starchy vegetables per day and trying to “eat the rainbow”— vegetables of different colours — is something people should do, he said, adding that it is important to add some healthy fat to the vegetables to help keep hunger from returning quickly.
Although fats are essential to a balanced diet, Dr. Barsoum said people should try to eat only healthy fats like oils made from olives, coconuts and avocados, or butter made from grass-fed cows.
Adding physical activity and drinking plenty of water are also important in maintaining a healthy body weight, he said, noting that without diet and other lifestyle modifications, people generally will gain an average of one pound per year during adulthood.