Oprah is claiming 2016 as “the year of her best body.” Without taking it that far, there are small changes that we can all make to improve our health, such as thoughtful food choices.
Americans are below average on most measures of health when compared with other rich countries, and we’re falling behind on lifespan, too. As a society, we are facing significant health problems.
There are many contributing factors to our below-par health, including what has been a fragmented healthcare system, costly health insurance, lack of exercise, use of legal and illegal drugs, etc.
Additionally, one key factor is our diet.
- As a nation, we are increasingly eating more processed foods (fast food and packaged foods).
Because most of these foods’ natural nutrients are removed in the refining process, we need to get them elsewhere but don’t often make up for it.
- We are eating less of a variety of foods. While 17,000 new products are introduced each year, two-thirds of our calories come from just four foods: corn, soy, wheat, and rice.
- Nutrients in the soil have been depleted, so food grown now has fewer nutrients than it did 20 years ago.
- Chemicals are increasingly used in raising both plants and animals, particularly on huge industrial farms that specialize in a few products.
Our Standard American Diet lacks nutrients and relies heavily on processed foods that include artificial color, additives, flavorings, and chemically altered fats and sweeteners. We tend to eat for convenience and speed, not health and pleasure.
So there are many reasons to pay attention to what we eat. We especially need to pay attention when we are sick so we can help our bodies get the nutrients we need to heal. There are many health benefits if we look at food as medicine, including prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.
- For example, several studies, such as one recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show that the higher the consumption of fruit and vegetables, the lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease, including stroke.
- Eating as a defense against one disease process may well influence another. For example, eating in a way to support bone health will likely decrease inflammation, keep the brain healthy, and promote heart health.
So how to get started? There is a lot of information online – too much to include here – if you search for “food as medicine” or “Functional Medicine.” Take small steps, and do what is right for you based on your current health status.
We all know we should eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but often, it is easier said than done. Start with one key rule of thumb: Include foods that are natural and whole while excluding those that have been processed or modified. Control your portions, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water!
Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.
– Hippocrates (460-377 BC)
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