HOLIDAY DINNERS: FEAST OR FOLLY?

from The New York Times, 11-20-07

I can’t come anywhere near to a better lead-in than the Times’s first paragraph, so here it is:  “This week marks the beginning of the gluttony season, the time when even the most health-conscious diner succumbs to the temptations of the holiday buffet.”

And we succumb big-time.  The average American consumes about 4500 calories and 229 grams of fat throughout Thanksgiving Day. The Calorie Control Council describes it as “ . . . a tsunami of fat coming into the body.”

An average meal takes 1 to 3 hours to leave the stomach.  But depending on the food quantity and fat content, a large meal can take 8 to 12 hours.  The result is indigestion, flatulence and the risk of heart attack, gallbladder pain and dangerous drowsiness on the drive home.

Our bodies do their best to discourage us from stuffing ourselves.  A stretched stomach prompts the release of chemicals that tell the brain it’s full. But many of us ignore the signal and keep eating.

After we’ve consumed about 1500 calories, the belly again attempts to stop our assault on it by sending the brain another message:  nausea.   Undaunted, dedicated Holiday over-eaters press on.

Overeating forces the heart to pump more blood to the stomach and intestines.  According to Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez of the Mayo Clinic of College of Medicine, a high intake of fatty foods can lead to changes that cause blood to clot more easily.

As a result, heart attack risk surges.  Dr Lopez-Jimenez led a study of 2000 people that showed a fourfold increase in heart attack risk in the two hours following a heavy meal. Israeli studies reported a sevenfold risk.  “Someone who eats three times the normal calories of a regular meal will have an extra workload for the stomach and intestines and therefore the heart,” Dr Lopez-Jimenez.

Dr. William Goldberg, a New York emergency room physician, says the digestive workout may explain the “food coma” many people experience after a huge meal.  Though popular wisdom attributes the drowsiness to tryptophan, the amino acid found in turkey, Dr Goldberg says the amount isn’t sufficient to affect most people.

Food fatigue, the consumption of alcoholic beverages, the monotony of driving and the natural circadian dip later in the day combine to form a possibly lethal combination for those driving home after a holiday meal.

As food is released into the intestines, the gallbladder squeezes out bile to help digest fats.  Because it has to work harder after a big meal, gallstone attacks are frequently triggered.

Flatulence risk increases because bits of undigested food slip into the colon and begin to ferment.

As a guest, you can’t control what your host puts on the table.  But you can control how much you put on your plate and in your mouth.

And you can practice the most effective exercise available for preventing overeating:  pushing yourself away from the table.

For more information about planning and eating healthful holiday meals, go to     http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/holiday-meal-planning/

To stay abreast of Lake County Battles Obesity, visit Ron Graham’s blog for the Lake County General Health District at http://lcghd.blogspot.com   Visit often.  The life and limb you save may be your own.

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