Wake-up call to poor eating

Health and wellness podcast: UND researcher Amir Alakaam says risk levels from bad diets can be higher than smoking

Nutrition & Dietetics

Students in the Department of Nutrition & Dietetics review some of the healthy entrees they’ve prepared in the department’s Food Lab. Photo by Tyler Ingham/UND Today.

UND nutritionist Amir Alakaam is sounding the alarm on unhealthy eating.

Alakaam, an assistant professor in the UND Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, says poor eating habits can increase many types of health risks to levels higher than what’s seen in tobacco users – as much as 35 percent higher in some people.

This important statistic isn’t just a wake-up call for his students, and the people who have read or listened to his body of published work, but for the millions who are facing life-threatening diseases related to an unhealthy diet.

Alakaam recently sat down with the folks from National Healthy Concepts for the “Alive & Well” podcast to discuss what people can do to reduce their risk factors and live a healthier lifestyle.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

  • The myths of diet, gluten free diets, and misinformation found on social media.
  • Why the amount of protein you eat is probably too much.
  • The pitfalls of social media dieting fads.
  • What to look for on nutrition labels so you know exactly what you’re buying.
  • Why you need a diet and exercise plan.

Avoid the fads

Alakaam  speaks with a sense of urgency about nutrition.

Amir Alakaam

Amir Alakaam

“When trying to shift into healthier eating, it helps to think of changing your eating habits, rather than changing your diet,” he says. “You have to think of it as a change in your lifestyle toward healthy living rather than just healthy eating.”

He also warns about quick fixes and diets going viral on social media.

“Fad diets should only be utilized for a fixed and short amount of time, if at all,” Alakaam said.

Alakaam says that people should also be wary of fad diets that only give one food option.

“They will never help you maintain your health long term, because we cannot be sustained by merely one type of food,” he says.

More than that, these diets may not have credible research behind them. “In fact, many of them stem from largely fictitious pieces of information,” Alakaam added.

Instead of fad diets, Alakaam offers a holistic approach that helps people get better results not just for today, but for much of your life.

“Make sure to regularly eat high-quality protein, carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and drink plenty of water,” he said. “All the while, you need to make sure you reduce your intake of convenient foods.”

Label lingo

Healthy eating can be difficult for many people, especially if they don’t understand what is in their food due to complicated nutrition labels.

“Serving size is often the first thing you need to consider,” Alakaam said. “People often disregard the serving size and eat much more than is healthy in one sitting.”

Understanding what the nutrition information presented on the label isn’t always easy, either.

Alakaam advises any food that has less than 5 percent of one’s daily intake of fiber and protein is low and any more than 20 percent is too high.

Alakaam said that nutrition labels should be changing in the next few years, making it easier for consumers to better understand how their dietary choices may affect them.

Weighty matters

Alakaam states that weight loss is the most important topic when discussing nutrition.

“Any dietary guideline suggesting that you can lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time is not true,” he warns. “A healthy goal is to lose around two pounds per week. If the promise sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

“Your weight reflects the energy you take in, as well as the energy you exert. If you’re looking to lose weight, you need to lessen the energy you take in, which means eat less, as well as increase the energy out, which means movement and exercise.”

Alakaam also suggests making a solid plan for reaching goals.

“If you’re looking to lose weight, you need to focus on both food and exercise,” he said. “Exercise helps improve your quality of sleep and makes you happier overall. Diets that claim you don’t need to exercise are not going to be beneficial for your overall health.”

More about Alakaam:

Alakaam holds a Ph.D. in nutrition and food systems from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Marywood University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in medicine and general surgery from the University of Baghdad (Iraq).

Alakaam also has earned a Fulbright Scholar designation from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Education, and is an honorary member of The Alpha Epsilon Lambda Honor Society.

He is known for regularly contributing to and authoring research studies and articles. His contributions include the examination of how international students’ eating habit change as adopt a new culture and its effect on their health,  multiple studies on how social background and wealth affect the physical activity, and the consumption of fruits and vegetables among medically underserved adults. He’s also an authority on the importance of breastfeeding among new mothers in hospitals and how individual perceptions of body weight can affect the desire to lose weight.

Alakaam plans to continue his work in UND Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, part of the College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines. He’s also looking to identify important new areas of study while expanding his current body of work.

About ‘Alive & Well’:

Alive & Well is produced by Natural Healthy Concepts, an online resource by a licensed certified nutritionists, which focuses on natural health and wellness topics to help people live happier and healthier lives.  Alive & Well covers topics such as essential oils (https://naturalhealthyconcepts.com/essential-oils), turmeric (https://naturalhealthyconcepts.com/turmeric-root), and collagen. Check out our other episodes on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/alive-well-podcast/id1353049905?mt=2) and Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/alive-and-well-podcast).