The Short Answer:
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A cynical person could be led to believe our health is under attack, like some clandestine and highly effective form of terrorism that we haven’t seen coming until it’s far too late and the damage has already been done.
Conspiracy theories aside, the current state of our health here in the western world is largely a by-product of outdated nutritional advice, suspect food additives, a far less active lifestyle than we once enjoyed and an unhealthy and stressful modern existence that is now so firmly entrenched that it seems insurmountable to properly address.
And it’s making us sick. How sick?
36.5% of Americans are now considered obese and our hospitals are overcrowded with patients suffering from largely preventable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. In fact, 75% of healthcare spending in the United States goes toward treating preventable disease , with most of these being directly related to diet. Make no mistake – your health and well-being are under attack. You just may not have realized you’re living in a battlefield.
The doctor is out
So what’s really going on here? Who is responsible for the outdated nutritional advice we are receiving? Should the blame lay at the feet of the medical fraternity or is that unfair?
Doctors are great at treating problems, modern medicine is a godsend and the lives that have been saved thanks to drugs that treat the thousands of conditions that impact upon our health such as asthma have saved too many lives to count.
Doctors fix problems, but surely avoiding the problem, to begin with, would make a lot more sense? The best form of preventing poor health in this context is to have at least a basic understanding of nutrition, and that’s typically not the responsibility of your local GP.
If I told you a medical student on average spends less than 25 contact hours studying nutrition over 4-5 years spent in medical school would you have a hard time believing me?[box type=”alert” size=”large”]On average, students received 23.9 contact hours of nutrition instruction during medical school https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html[/box]
Most of us are completely unaware that poor nutrition is the leading cause of disease and obesity in the world today, in fact, 70% of Americans suffer from some form of illness or a related condition as a result of their diet. When we really break things down, one American dies every 37 seconds from a cardiovascular disease.
How this can be? How can those responsible for helping us when our health is in poor shape have such limited knowledge in this area? Isn’t prevention still better than the cure?
Could it be because the pharmaceutical industry is worth over 300 billion dollars per year? And yet spend more money on advertising than research and development? With the majority of this being spent on marketing to these same doctors who prescribe the drugs that fix problems rather than preventing them from developing?
In the case of cardiovascular disease, the number of deaths are actually decreasing which on the surface sounds like the battle is being won, but the number of hospital admissions isn’t decreasing, which clearly demonstrates that we are getting better at treating heart disease but not at preventing it.
If nothing else it pays to be aware of the following, regardless of the motives that may or may not lie behind it.
For years we have been advised to reduce our fat intake, lower cholesterol and increase consumption of healthy grains, all in the name of preventing disease and poor health. The research this advice is based on is decades old and badly out of touch.
The research this advice is based on is decades old and badly out of touch.
Remember the classic USDA Food pyramid? It’s wrong.
When cereal companies advertise the fact that their products are packed with healthy grains how many of us are aware that these same so called healthy grains are digested as sugar and the vitamins and minerals contained within them are not absorbed and in turn can cause digestive issues?
Yet based on this outdated advice, we continue to focus on removing essential fats from our diet that are crucial to good health, making the matter much worse is the fact that we are replacing them with sugar in most cases to preserve flavour.
In this same period obesity rates have rapidly continued to climb along with the number of adults and children alike suffering from preventable diseases such as diabetes.
While the USDA Food Pyramid has now been updated, sadly the damage has well and truly already been done.
We now have studies that indicate that there is little evidence linking saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648
Or that cholesterol is anything more than an indicator of heart disease and not a cause.
Yet the nutritional recommendations we have been hearing for years are repeated and they are causing us harm.
Some call it progress
It’s not just the bad advice we are still receiving. As outlined earlier there are many reasons for our current health decline, all working together to create the perfect storm of poor health among both adults and children.
So why is this? Apart from the outdated information from the medical world why we are getting such a poor health check as a society?
There must be more to it.
Modern Living = Obesity
It’s easy to pick on our modern lifestyle, it’s a soft target and a popular one. We hear so much about how our ancestors were in better shape than us back in the day, that most of us stopped taking notice years ago.
But there’s no getting around it, in most western nations the cost of living has been increasing at a rate much faster than standard wage increases. This has led to more of us having to work longer hours, which has left us with far less time to prepare healthy, balanced meals and exercise.
We are also under more pressure resulting in stress.
The real cost of stress
When we are stressed cortisol (the stress hormone) is released into the body. Cortisol is strongly linked to visceral abdominal body fat . Visceral fat is a different beast to subcutaneous fat which resides just below the skin. Visceral fat tends to build up around our organs and increases the risk of Diabetes and Heart disease even further.
Cortisol also feeds on muscle tissue, which is the most metabolically active tissue in the human body.
The nature of our work has also changed considerably, where once we worked physically many of us now sit behind desks, contained within cubicles. Instead of playing sport on weekends we play video-games or watch large screen TV’s often to catch a sporting event rather than participate.
It’s expensive to be healthy
The other major issue is cost.
Many of us question why healthy food is so expensive, I would also ask why unhealthy food is so inexpensive?
Being time poor is a large part of the problem when it comes to the grocery store as well, as we don’t have the time to prepare food dense in nutrients that would facilitate a healthier existence. We shop accordingly and opt for convenient foods. The fact is convenient and unhealthy food is mass produced ensuring production costs are low, while the majority of healthy foods that do not contain suspect additives are produced by boutique companies ensuring the production costs are high.
I’m not necessarily talking about junk food in the classic sense. I’m talking mainly about our reliance on highly processed foods lacking in nutrients. These same foods are packed with preservatives to increase their shelf life and just to complete the trinity of unhealthiness often contain food colorings , artificial sorbates, and benzoates (to name just a few of the many). If most of us knew the outcomes of scientific studies using animals as test subjects and the increased rate of Cancers these additives caused they would run a mile.
And then there’s sugar.
Think about it for a second, when time poor what makes a convenient meal? And what do we tend to eat more of?
You guessed it – foods high in sugar such as cereals, cakes, bread products, pasta, biscuits, etc. Simple carbohydrates are often the go-to choice when we are time poor as they are cheap and convenient. And what are we putting in our kids lunch boxes? The same thing, day in, day out. Is it really any wonder there’s an obesity epidemic amongst our kids?
It’s not as simple as just demonizing carbohydrates, however. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of us should all be consuming fewer carbs, but the problem with the message often wrongly interpreted from the low carb community is that all carbs are bad.
The thing about carbohydrates, in general, is that they are not the enemy some might have you believe. It’s far more accurate to say, not all carbohydrates are created equal.
Simple V complex carbohydrates
Simple Carbs are often found in highly processed foods. Generally speaking whenever something is ‘processed’ it means a lot of the good stuff, such as fiber is removed. Complex carbs on the other hand such as fruit and vegetables contain much of the fiber, micronutrients, and phytochemicals we require in our diets.
It’s not correct to give all Carbohydrates a bad name. Sugar is the real enemy. Sugar is a form of energy and if we don’t use this energy, it will eventually become stored energy, otherwise known as body fat. Sugar can also be responsible for inflammation in the body. Processed sugars can trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines , which stimulate the movement of cells towards the area of inflammation.
Deficiencies and the hunger trap
Let’s not forget about micronutrients in all of this. These are essentially the vitamins and minerals our bodies require to function effectively. When our bodies are deficient in specific vitamins and minerals our metabolism and repair and restorative functions are affected in a negative way.
It is also likely that when we are deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral our bodies may promote hunger instead of suppressing it in the hope that we continue eating and address the vitamin or mineral deficit.
Another modern day problem creating negative health consequences is the rise of energy drinks and energy bars, not to be confused with protein supplementing drinks and bars. We sleep less due to factors already mentioned above, in fact, on average we get between 1-2 hours less sleep than we did 60 years ago .
But when we are tired what do we consume? Apart from Coffee that can be good for some of us and bad for others energy products are now a major seller. They sound like a great idea except for the simple fact that they contain a lot of energy (calories) in the form of sugar that we aren’t using in our sedentary lives, meaning that convenient ‘pick me up’ comes at a real price.
It’s a mess, isn’t it? Can you really blame us for not being in great shape? We continue to be misinformed, many food products are still advertised as 99% fat-free or low fat which more or less implies fat is the problem, all the while substituting fat for sugar which is the real killer.
Health gurus speak on the radio and television citing outdated research. Scientific studies openly contradict each other, with some being sponsored by specific industries adding an obvious bias.
We also have a tendency to cling to age-old nutritional advice despite the fact that there is no scientific backing e.g. ‘ breakfast is the most important meal of the day ’.
All of these factors combine to leave us misinformed, stressed, time-poor, sedentary and buying less nutritious food in favor of inexpensive but ultimately unhealthy food. It’s difficult to see the situation getting better anytime soon if at all.
Is it really any wonder that as a whole we are becoming unhealthier by the day?
It’s a recipe for disaster.