Listening to the news this morning rates of obesity in American adults has hit 40% and 20% for children, with higher numbers for teenagers. Ironically the report praised initiatives because the rate of obesity has actually slowed. If as a nation we are satisfied with almost half of our adult population being obese than read no further. If you are horrified how we let this happen and what we can do to change it, read on.
Obesity isn’t about body image or ego, it is about health. Whether we want to talk about Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Arthritis, and even Cancer, we will find the root causes of these chronic degenerative diseases in the diet we fondly refer to as the American diet. The American diet consists of a large amount of animal products, meat and cheese, refined grains and sugary drinks, a completely unhealthy and quite frankly unsustainable way of eating.
How have we as a nation tried to address these problems? All you need to do is look at a magazine rack and you will see cover after cover touting some new diet secret or quick fix to a problem that probably had years to take hold. The latest trend made popular is the Whole 30, a low carb trend not much different than the Atkins diet popular 30 years ago and is helping many lose weight but is this the right way?
Years of working in the food and nutrition world I have deduced some simple facts about weight loss.
#1 Eat less of EVERYTHING but vegetables, simply put most of us eat too much, it isn’t just what we eat but the amount
#2 If you want to eat meat, drastically reduce grain consumption because you can’t have both, but remember as soon as you reintroduce carbs you will gain back some of that weight, you can’t isolate carbohydrates out of the diet
# GO VEGAN: believe it or not this in my mind is the simplest and best way to shed pounds, improve health outcomes and protect the environment. In relatively short amounts of time , 2 weeks, people have been able to improve health outcomes enough to be taken off many pharmaceutical drugs, simply by avoiding animal products.
Historically meat was a luxury and as a result eaten sparingly. It was also in the early winter when most societies feasted on meats, slaughtered a pig or hunted for deer and cured and conserved the meat to sustain them through the winter when other foods become scarce. This is not an issue for humans anymore and we need to recognize that the way we are feeding ourselves is killing us.
The great thing about diet and lifestyle is with some commitment and little financial investment you can make significant changes in just a short time.
Who would have guessed that the abundance of available food would hearken our nation’s and perhaps the world’s biggest health crisis. Until the mid 20th century almost every country on the planet grappled with food insecurity and as populations continued to increase, governments looked to scientists to help solve these problems. Rather than enlisting the help of farmers and food producers, we looked for answers from people who did not have a relationship that bound them to the earth or the bounty nature provided already. While I have no problem with science and the amazing strides the past 65 years have brought in technology, healthcare and other vital areas, I struggle with the connections between science and food in recent decades.
The problem I have is with the fact that science looks for answers and solutions that are measurable and can produce data; we are a data driven society these days in case you hadn’t noticed. However nutrition is often individualized, think blood type, or dictated by the environment. People who live near the equator on the coast are going to have very different diets than those who live in the mountains to the North. As a result of the environment they live in, their diets will vary and thus their bodies will react differently to different foods. This is not news and their have been several books recently published that talk about blood types and the types of food those particular individuals should eat, all of which stems from the types of food their ancestors from the region have been eating for centuries or more.
I want to interject here with the reminder that in the hundreds of thousands of years humans have existed, it is only within the last 100 years or less that we have significantly changed our diets. In fact until we started to focus on the science of food production, we simply used to grow our own food or raise our own livestock for consumption. Ironically during that time we had far fewer chronic illnesses that were linked to poor diet even though many faced starvation.
To respond to food insecurity we started to change not only the foods we grow, but how we grow them. Family farms that fed their communities started to fail as government subsidies started propping up mono culture industrialized growing practices designed to feed the masses. For the regular citizen out there these farms could not exist without those government subsidies so if free market forces were the real driver, these farms would cease to exist. The masses these farms feed are actually just another step in the food chain since most of the corn and soy grown on these farms are for animal feed. So here is simply another step in the huge modern agro-business.
Here is the funny thing, we all know that these practices are making us sick. We know that eating processed foods made from refined grains, most genetically modified, mixed with copious amounts of refined sugars leads to inflammation, making us unhealthy. Yet as a nation we are slow to change. Since embracing the scientific approach towards feeding ourselves, rather than the practical, we now require data to prove it is in fact not healthy for us to consume particular foods. So whu we are more likely to believe some new product all wrapped up and packaged in a way that appears healthy is better for us than that knobby potato sitting in the bottom of your produce drawer. But that is simply NOT TRUE.
The only foods that are healthy for us to eat are those that grow in the mineral rich soil nature intended. Fruits, vegetables, grains and the animals that feed on these foods are what we as human omnivores are meant to eat. Does this mean you should shift and buy all the food you eat from your local farmer’s market, well YES. But don’t worry, I am pragmatic if nothing else and affordability and accessibility is key, so if shopping in conventional markets drastically reduce your meat consumption, which we should all do anyway, and buy as much fresh produce as possible. If your budget allows for organic, great, if not follow the rules of the dirty dozen and buy those organic whenever possible.
In most countries 20-25% of an individuals earnings goes towards food. In the Untied States that number is on average less than 5%. We want cheap food and have been willing to pay with our health for the past 5+ decades, but as you can guess this is not sustainable. Healthcare in this country is in crisis, much of this connects with all of the chronic diseases plaguing our population. All of these diseases are connected to the foods we eat so how is it as a nation are we not outraged by this? Change how we grow and eat our food returning to the ways of the past and many of these diseases will simply vanish, along with the expensive pharmaceutical interventions.
Most would consider these ideas alternative or even slightly radical, but returning to the ways our grandparents and those before us does not seem like a radical idea to me. For those of you there so ingrained in the scientific, just look at the Amish and how adhering to their historic traditions of feeding themselves, they have managed to avoid being plagued with modern day diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact try and find an obese member of the Amish community, I guarantee it will be a challenge. So try to be a part of a positive change and take small steps to improving your health, the health of your family and the health of the environment. Each small step we make has a ripple effect and can make waves in ways we simply cannot measure.