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How to Protect Yourself if You’re Already Overweight

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Love HandlesAs obesity rates skyrocket across the globe, they are leaving a trail of devastating health conditions in their wake. In addition to diabetes and heart disease, obesity is associated with cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as joint problems and hormone imbalances.

And one thing that all of these diseases and conditions have in common is chronic inflammation. In fact, research has shown that obesity itself can trigger systemic inflammation due to adipose fat. Specifically, studies have found that white adipose fat actually operates like an endocrine organ in that it secretes hormones, often ones that are pro-inflammatory in nature.[1]

Fortunately, many fruits and vegetables help to offset chronic inflammation and reduce your risk for diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Additionally, high intakes of fresh produce can help you lose weight and keep it off, especially when eaten in place of high-glycemic foods.

But can fruits and vegetables actually offset the dangers of obesity in people who are already overweight? And, more specifically, can they reduce the chronic inflammation often seen in obesity?

Fruits and Veggies to the Rescue

To determine if high fruit and vegetable intake could impact a variety of inflammation and oxidative stress biomarkers, Korean researchers asked 22 overweight women to eat two different diets for two weeks each.[2]

For the first, they ate a high fruit and vegetable diet that consisted of six servings of fruit and six servings of vegetables every day for two weeks. They then had a two-week break where they ate their “normal” diet. Then they ate a low fruit and vegetable diet that consisted of just one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetable every day for two weeks. They also took a dietary fiber powder to compensate for the fiber they would have gotten with the higher fruit and veggie intake.

At the start and conclusion of each dietary test period, researchers drew blood to monitor a number of biomarkers, namely:

  • Total antioxidant capacity
  • Interleukin-6 (inflammation marker)
  • C-reactive protein (inflammation marker)
  • Leptin (hormone that regulates hunger and appetite)
  • Adiponectin (hormone that helps regulate glucose)
  • Lutein/zeaxanthin (antioxidants)
  • Lycopene (antioxidant)
  • Beta-carotene (antioxidant)

It’s no surprise that high fruit/vegetable intake corresponded with higher levels of the antioxidants, as well as total antioxidant capacity. Given that fruits and vegetables are replete with these nutrients, this finding is rather obvious.

What is more interesting is that researchers also found that adiponectin levels were significantly lower after the low fruit/vegetable diet as compared to baseline. This is bad, as it indicates poor glucose regulation. Similarly, C-reactive protein levels increased in this diet, indicating a greater degree of inflammation.

However, after the high fruit/veggie diet, researchers noted that interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein levels were all reduced.

There was no significant difference in leptin levels between the two diets, which may have been because the low fruit/veggie diet was supplemented with fiber powder, and fiber raises leptin levels, thus helping to control your appetite.

Given these results, researchers concluded, “Daily intake of vegetables and fruits can modify adiposity-related metabolic disturbances.” Or, in layman’s terms, eating a lot of fruits and veggies can positively affect oxidative and inflammation changes that normally occur in overweight or obese people.

Hit That Salad Bar

High fruit and vegetable intake is a great goal for the New Year. While six servings of each may sound like a lot, give this sample menu a try:

Breakfast (2 fruits and 2 vegetables)

  • Scrambled eggs with 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped peppers and 1 cup spinach
  • 1 cup raspberries and 1/2 cup blueberries

Snack (1 fruit)

  • 1 orange with 1 ounce almonds

Lunch (2 vegetables and 1 fruit)

  • 1 cup romaine lettuce and 1 cup Bibb lettuce
  • 4 ounces grilled chicken
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries

Snack (1 vegetable and 1 fruit)

  • 1/2 cup carrot sticks
  • 1/2 cup celery sticks
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes (remember, tomatoes are a fruit)
  • 1/4 cup hummus

Dinner (1 vegetable and 1/2 fruit)

  • 4-6 ounces of grilled salmon with mango salsa (1/2 cup diced mango mixed with chopped scallions, 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar)
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli
  • 1/2 cup brown rice

Dessert (1 fruit)

  • 1 baked apple topped with cinnamon

[1] Trayhurn, P and Wood, IS. Adipokines: inflammation and the pleiotropic role of white adipose tissue. Br J Nutr. 2004;92:347-55.

[2] Yeon, JY et al. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables suppress blood biomarkers of metabolic stress in overweight women. Prev Med. 2011 Dec 29. [Epub ahead of print.]

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