It is hard to believe that a moderately aware, reasonably well-informed person can spend a lifetime in America and still remain profoundly naive about something as basic as healthy eating.
Food - unless it happens to be sitting on a plate - is not a favorite topic of conversation for most people. In fact, for many their food education started and ended in third grade with a simple chart illustrating plenty of red meat, whole milk, white bread, cheese and pasta and then later in life fried chicken, a coke and ice cream was added in by watching TV.
We then wonder why so many Americans are obese, diabetic, or pre-diabetic and have a healthcare system that spends about 80% of its resources on lifestyle induced diseases. You see our generation is among the first people in history to have the luxury of bombarding ourselves with low-cost, nutrient-deficient, high-calorie food.
Mix in a sedentary lifestyle and the result is not only a reduced quality of life but a budding health-care crisis. According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity is associated with a two-fold increase in mortality and costs society more than $100 billion annually, and direct diabetes costs is $174 billion annually.
The best medicine, of course, is preventative. Unfortunately, too many doctors are inclined to prescribe a pill rather than a healthier diet. (Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. But how about the new pharmaceutical-medical complex?)
A stumbling block for many is that eating - the most basic of creaturely activities - seems to have gotten complicated in recent years. You can't listen to a food expert without hearing all about antioxidants, saturated fats, polyphenols, gluten, probiotics or omega-3 fatty acids.
And we're only just grazing the surface. Nutrition science, which started less than 200 years ago, is today approximately where surgery was in the year 1650. We haven't even discovered all the phytochemicals and other micronutrients in our foods, much less how they aid and protect the body.
However, we do know two important facts:
- Populations that eat a so-called Western diet - lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, and lots of refined grains -suffer terribly from obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- Populations that follow traditional diets of high-nutrient, low-calorie foods suffer far less from these maladies. In fact, they enjoy a host of benefits including lower cholesterol and triglycerides, reduced stress, enhanced cellular repair mechanisms, better resistance to cancer, nonappearance of atherosclerosis and diabetes, a delay in the onset of several late-life diseases and greater longevity.
Fortunately, people who get off the Western diet see dramatic improvements in their health - and relatively quickly. And despite all the conflicting claims out there, it doesn't have to be a complicated process and in fact boils down to 9 words:
Eat food. Not too much. And Mostly plant Derived.
Eat food. This dictate sounds puzzling until you realize that most of us today eat not whole foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and lean meat) but what we like to call is make believe food or "edible food-like substances."
There isn't much profit in selling mushrooms, raw almonds and collard greens. So food companies create - and grocery stores promote - higher-margin food products designed to appeal to our inborn preferences for sweetness, fat and salt. However, it isn't healthy to eat things your ancestors wouldn't have recognized as food. That rules out Lunchables, chicken nuggets, Twinkies, Doritos, Go-GURT, spray cheese, Cap'n Crunch, and most varieties of Hostess Ho-Hos.
The key is to consume naturally nutritious whole foods instead of processed foods with dubious health claims like:. ("Half the Calories of Regular Potato Chips!" "Zero Trans-Fats!"). In fact, a simple rule to follow is if it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
Not too much. The scientific case for eating less than you currently do - even if you're not overweight - is compelling. "Caloric restriction" slows aging in animals and many researchers believe it offers the single strongest link between diet and cancer prevention.
And Mostly Plant Derived. In countries where people eat a pound or more of vegetables and fruits a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in the United States. And there is evidence that the more meat there is in your diet - red meat in particular - the greater your risk of heart disease and cancer.
In addition, how you eat is almost as important as what you eat. Having a breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, with a protein and healthy carb at each meal is a great rule to live by. Having a snack between meals, so that you are never hungry or worse still famished at meal time is crucial. These customs matter more than any magical food combination.
What really matters is your everyday practice - your default eating habits. People can easily fall off the wagon occasionally. Sometimes way off. But that is ok. The important thing is not what you eat at a particular dinner party or at a certain great restaurant, but how you eat day in and day out. No one wants to spend every meal obsessing about food. A relaxed attitude is important.
If healthy eating is something you or someone you love has struggled with, you should implement the TRANSFORMATIONS 360 program. This simple to understand and implement weight and health system will not only show you the perfect eating model to replicate in your life over time, but by implementing it you will learn how to make simple changes to maintain what we call the 20/80 flip, which is to ensure only 20% of your food habits are unhealthy.
Whatever you do, understand that the stakes are high. Adopting and maintaining a healthy diet is the first and most important step on the path to wellness. It helps protect against heart disease, stroke, some forms of cancer and even the mental decline commonly associated with old age.
It can lower your blood pressure, prevent or reverse diabetes and combat other weight-related illnesses, including depression. Better nutrition allows you to live a higher-quality, longer life, one full of joy, activity and enduring health, and guess what - you will probably look better too!