Living in a land of plenty comes with a price that we’re only now discovering. With one out of three Canadians now overweight, Canada appears to have one of the worst obesity problems in the industrialized world.

Statistics prove that it’s time to get active: Obesity among young people has nearly doubled since 1980, and is linked with dramatic increases in conditions such as asthma and type 2 diabetes in children. It’s second only to smoking as a cause of preventable death, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. But if current trends continue, it may soon become the leading cause, declared United States Surgeon General David Satcher in a report issued last December.

Obesity is linked to arthritis, osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, respiratory problems and gallbladder disease. It is even implicated as a promoter of cancer of the prostate and colon in men and of the breasts, endometrium, ovaries and gallbladder in women.

In Canada alone, treating this formidable array of obesity-related medical problems, experts say, costs somewhere in the region of $15 billion a year.

Tracing The Cause

According to Dr. James Hill of the University of Colorado, "Contemporary obesity is a natural and appropriate response to the environment in which we live."

Imagine your grandparents as children. No television, no fast food, no drive-thrus. They walked to school and were physically active with daily chores. Now look at how kids live today–automated to the extreme. Bussed or driven to school. An average of 25 hours per week watching television. Playing video games. Not enough exercise.

Food manufacturers have also learned to make tasty, reasonably priced products as rich in calories as they are low in nutritional value–and can we have that super-sized, please? The media continually bombard us with ads that praise the "virtues" of food products that we don’t need or–worse–are dangerous to our health.

Not surprisingly, as Dr. Mark Tremblay of the University of Saskatchewan suggests, "The predictable outcome of these changes in an incredibly short period of time is an increase in the prevalence of obesity."

Reversing The Trend

A nutritious diet, of paramount importance to good health, is the key to stemming obesity. This means much less junk food (or none), fried food, pop and sweets. Instead, choose a varied diet rich in greens and other vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and healthful fats (see box). In addition to losing weight, the high levels of antioxidants in a junk-free diet will help prevent free radical damage, which normally causes your immune system to decline with age.

Proper exercise goes hand-in-hand with good nutrition. Go for a brisk walk or bike ride daily for a minimum of 30 minutes, and take your daughter or son with you. You may be administering the best medicine available for obesity. It is also a good idea to consult with a health-care professional to determine whether there’s a medical reason for your weight gain.

Tend To Your Liver

Your liver performs many digestive and energy-balancing feats. It stores glycogen (a ready source of energy), detoxifies your blood and manufactures bile to process, filter and digest the fats you eat. But if your liver is congested with excess toxins and fats, it can’t perform its vital functions efficiently. After years of filtering out fats and toxins from fast food and second-hand smoke, your liver may become exhausted and diseased.

Dandelion is the liver remedy par excellence, and it has the side benefit of being a weight-loss aid. Dandelion will improve liver function by enhancing the flow of bile. It also acts as a diuretic and mild laxative, is a rich source of nutrients that are easily assimilated, and aids the body during the cleansing process.

Weight-Loss Supplements

There is no magic bullet for weight loss. The following natural products, however, can make it easier for some people to change their eating and exercise habits.

Chromium is a powerful trace element that helps ensure stable insulin levels. It reduces food cravings and helps your body burn fat. Usual dosage: 200 to 400 micrograms daily.

Magnesium also helps regulate insulin and tissue sensitivity to insulin. Magnesium deficiency can lead to chocolate and sugar cravings that disappear as soon as magnesium levels are brought back to normal. Dosage: 300 to 1,000 milligrams daily.

Manganese deficiencies lower insulin sensitivity and hinder the body’s ability to burn glucose for energy. Dosage: one to nine mg daily.

Zinc deficiency is often associated with eating disorders and obesity. Zinc is essential for normal insulin response and glucose tolerance. It also influences basal metabolic rate, thyroid hormone activity and improves taste sensitivity. Dosage: 15 to 50 mg daily

Vanadium, in the form of vanadyl sulphate, improves the uptake of glucose by muscle tissue. By stabilizing the body’s production of insulin, it discourages the conversion of excess calories of carbohydrate into fat. Dosage: 100 to 200 mcg daily.

Chickweed is a mild diuretic and laxative. It can be eaten fresh or steeped as a tea and is safe in high doses.

Green tea appears to accelerate the burning of calories. Researchers suspect the flavonoids in green tea have this effect through the hormone norepinephrine. As a collateral benefit, green tea also appears to protect against certain cancers and infectious illnesses, cardiovascular disease and dental caries. Drink three to 10 cups daily.

5-HTP, a nutrient extracted from griffonia seeds, can reduce carbohydrate cravings and overeating due to reduced brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which the brain makes from 5-HTP. Dosage: One to three 100 mg capsules daily, on an empty stomach.

For such a widespread and serious health condition, obesity is astonishingly poorly treated as a medical condition. However, more public health education could help stem the tide of poor eating habits and lack of physical activity.

Cleansing Foods

While nothing but eating fewer calories and exercising more will actually get rid of body fat, vegetables and fruit go a long way in detoxifying the body, flushing out toxins and waste and promoting a healthy, balanced metabolism.

Citrus Fruits: Snacking on citrus fruits between meals is not only a terrific source of vitamin C, but it also helps increase metabolism by converting an amino acid called tyrosine into adrenaline. Adrenaline increases energy levels while helping to break down fats. Throughout your day, try snacking on two grapefruits, one orange and one lemon squeezed into water.

Berries: Eat more apples, applesauce, berries and fresh fruit. They’re high in pectin, which limits the amount of fat your cells can absorb. Pectin can also lower your cholesterol. At least two apples or servings of berries each day are recommended.

Veggies: Asparagus contains the chemical asparagine, an alkaloid that stimulates the kidneys and improves fluid elimination and waste removal from the body. Aim for at least one daily serving of asparagus.

Beets are another diuretic food that assist the lymphatics, liver and kidneys to flush out toxins and water. Brussels sprouts are also friendly to dieters. They’re especially stimulating to the pancreas, which releases hormones and enzymes that improve waste elimination. Cabbage contains sulphur and iodine, which are natural diuretics.

Other vegetables that help rid the body of excess water and waste include carrots, celery, cucumbers, horseradish, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and garlic. Each day, munch on a salad featuring these vegetables. For extra health benefits, dress your salad with a few tablespoons of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Better yet, combine the vinegar with flax seed oil, which also has special metabolism-boosting properties.

Fibre: High-fibre foods control weight effectively by reducing the caloric density of the diet. This slows the rate of calorie ingestion and leaves you feeling fuller longer.

Foods earning top marks for fibre include the brans of grains, psyllium seed powder, ground flax seeds, root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips and kohlrabi, green beans, green peas and unsalted seeds and nuts. Try adding two to three tablespoons (25 to 45 milligrams) of ground flax seeds or psyllium powder to your morning whole grain cereal. (To avoid gas and bloating, build up gradually to this amount.) This simple act will reward you with a highly beneficial fat-lowering effect.

Copyright (c) 2002-2010 by Rand Smith.
Originally published in Alive #240, October 2002