DUBAI // A top celebrity cardiologist has urged people to ditch “white death” diets of bread, pasta, sugar and salt if the UAE is to tackle its rampant levels of diabetes.
Bestselling Australian author Ross Walker, credited with changing attitudes to eating with his no-nonsense advice, on Monday told of the key health messages that could improve the lives of millions in the UAE.
Health can be simplified into nutrition, exercise, sleep, screening and emotional well-being.
“Many of these fad diets are nonsense. Most things are fine to eat in moderation,” he said. “If you get rid of the ‘white death’ in your diet – sugar, salt, white bread, pasta and potatoes – you can make a big difference.
“Nutrition is simple; eat less and eat more naturally. Saturated fat does not cause heart disease alone. Studies at Cambridge University have found no link between meat, eggs or dairy and heart disease.
“It is important to teach the right areas of nutrition.”
Heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading causes of death, claiming 17.3 million lives each year, and are responsible for 30 per cent of deaths in Dubai.
Preventive measures should be more of a focus for health authorities, said Dr Walker. He said a change in approach, with more responsibility placed on people to manage their own health, could save millions of dirhams each year.
“The medical profession typically reacts to health care by having the ambulance parked at the bottom of the cliff, rather than fixing the rails at the top – or focusing on prevention,” said Dr Walker, a regular commentator on Sky News and Channel 9 in Australia.
“It’s like the financial world waiting for someone to go bankrupt before offering financial advice. The best treatment for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis – all of our modern-day killers – is not to get them in the first place.
“Much more than 90 per cent of modern diseases are preventable through education. A heart attack can cost A$40,000 (Dh111,000) to treat. If it can be prevented, that has huge cost implications.”
Anglo Arabian Healthcare said annual health care spending for each person in the UAE was about Dh4,408, placing it in the top 20 countries for per-capita spending.
Poor national health is a major factor in rising costs, with prevention plans and improved health advice regarded as ideal money-saving schemes.
Dr Walker said sleep was another neglected that was vital to achieving good health, with seven to eight hours of regular, uninterrupted sleep having the same health benefits as giving up smoking.
Five phases of sleep each night, with deep sleep phases the most important, help to rejuvenate the body’s cells.
Those with less sleep become more insulin-resistant and tend to put on more weight because their metabolism is not working properly.
Dr Walker has performed more than 50,000 medical studies and more than 80,000 cardiac tests, and helped pioneer coronary calcium scoring in Australia, an accurate preventive screen for early heart disease.
He is visiting the UAE to meet healthcare professionals and the public to deliver messages that could be implemented here, such as regular health screening for detecting hidden genetic conditions, or arterial blockages that lead to heart attacks or stroke.
“There is no pill known to man that comes close to exercise for the health benefits,” Dr Walker said. “Exercise is so important.
“If you want to lose weight, it’s 80 per cent diet and 20 per cent exercise, but if you want to be healthy you need to have a three to five-hour weekly exercise programme. It also helps with stress and anxiety, both major killers.
“Medicine is not enough on its own; people need to take responsibility for their own health.”