Diet and Weight Loss

How can I make restaurant meals healthier?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I travel regularly for work, so I have to eat out a lot. Could you give me some strategies to make restaurant meals healthier?

DEAR READER: Eating out can ruin even the healthiest diets. That's because restaurants -- and not just fast-food joints -- tend to overdo the butter, sugar and salt. I spoke to registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition for Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. She assured me that you can enjoy a meal (or several) on the road if you follow a few handy tips:

Does a diet rich in saturated fats still increase heart disease risk?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Here we go again. After years of hearing that diets rich in saturated fats increase the risk for heart disease, I hear a new study says that's not so. What gives?

DEAR READER: I don't blame you for being frustrated. So let me start with the bottom line: Take this new study with several grains of salt. (Incidentally, it still is true that too much salt is bad for your health, so just a few grains, please.) Back in the 1970s and 1980s, you heard a lot about how fat was bad for you.

Should I take a weight-loss drug to help me lose weight?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Should I take a weight-loss drug to help me lose weight?

DEAR READER: If you are only mildly overweight or just want to lose a few pounds to improve your appearance, then weight-loss drugs are not for you. On the other hand, if your health is at risk and you haven't been able to lose weight through diet and exercise, drug therapy may increase your chance of success.

What “superfoods” do you recommend?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What are "superfoods"? Which ones do you recommend?

DEAR READER: "Superfood" isn't a technical term; it's shorthand for foods that can improve your health and prevent disease. I don't much like the term, since it implies that some foods have magical powers that will keep you healthy regardless of what else you eat or do. But there are foods that do appear to confer more health benefits than others.

What are the best ways to get rid of abdominal fat?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've written that abdominal fat is particularly bad for your health. What are the best ways to get rid of it?

DEAR READER: When it comes to body fat, location counts. Visceral (abdominal) fat accumulates deep inside the abdomen. It pads the spaces between our abdominal organs. Compared to the fat just beneath the skin -- the kind we can grab with our hands, called subcutaneous fat -- visceral fat appears to be more harmful to health.

I think my teenage daughter might be anorexic — how can I tell for sure?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter is obsessed with her weight. She doesn't eat enough, and although she's thin, she believes she's fat. Could she be anorexic?

DEAR READER: Think about eating as a continuum. On one end, people eat in a balanced way and don't worry much about their weight. On the other end, people severely restrict their food intake and think constantly about their weight. They are often diagnosed with anorexia.

How can I teach my children healthy eating habits?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I keep hearing about childhood obesity. What can I do now to make sure my 5- and 7-year-olds learn healthy eating habits?

DEAR READER: You've definitely got the timing right: Now is the time to start. Not only can you establish healthy eating habits, you can also influence the chemistry of your kids' bodies so that they are less likely to get fat as adults. All the talk about childhood obesity is not just media hype. The number of children who are overweight or obese is increasing at an alarming rate.

How do I count calories to lose weight?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm trying to lose weight. How can I figure out how many calories I should be eating every day?

DEAR READER: Since your weight is influenced both by the number of calories you eat and by the number of calories you burn during your daily activities, let's assume that your daily activities won't change.

Is there a relationship between sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Then, shortly afterward, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Could the two be related?

DEAR READER: One way they could be related is if you are overweight. The heavier you are, the greater your risk of both conditions. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It usually develops during adulthood among people who are overweight. Being overweight causes your cells to resist the effects of insulin, a hormone that drives sugar (glucose) from the blood into cells.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I keep hearing about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. But what IS a Mediterranean diet?

DEAR READER: The "Mediterranean diet" refers to the traditional diet of Greece, Italy and other countries near the Mediterranean Sea. There is a good deal of scientific evidence that the diet has health benefits. The Mediterranean diet consists mostly of plant foods. These include fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Animal protein is consumed chiefly in the forms of fish and poultry. Olive oil is the principal fat. And wine is taken with meals.