As a nation, the United States is barreling towards a healthcare crisis that will be difficult to avoid. The majority of Americans are now overweight or obese and this mostly comes down to the decisions about what to eat. But there are so many other reasons why you should choose to constantly improve your diet.
We all know the health consequences of being overweight or obese, but did you know that an estimated 160 million Americans are obese? When looking at obesity alone, there are more obese adults living in America today – 78 million – than in any other country in the world, according to Health Data. Unfortunately, along with obesity comes chronic diseases, inflammation, heart conditions, and joint pain. It is also often readily remedied by making different food choices. (Yes, there are several diseases and conditions that make weight loss difficult, but that isn’t the case for the majority of Americans who are obese.)
“The rise in obesity among children in the US is especially troubling,” said Marie Ng, Assistant Professor of Global Health at IHME and the paper’s lead author. “We know that there are severe health effects related to childhood obesity, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many cancers. We need to be thinking now about how to turn this trend around.”
Your Children – If you can’t be bothered to improve your health for yourself, do it for your children or family. Kids especially emulate their parents. If you want your little ones to make better food choices, you should lead by example. Make cooking a vegetable side dish (that’s not corn-based) with veggies chosen fresh from the produce section a habit. Let your kids pick new veggies to try and let them peel or cut (if they are old enough) the vegetables. My kids get to choose which zucchini or butternut squash we will buy and which oil we will cook them in. Letting them choose which healthy oil to cook the vegetables in (such as avocado or olive oil) will give them a little more control. I also often let them choose the spices so we can change up the flavors. Do this to your liking, obviously, but cumin and cinnamon (not cinnamon sugar) are common selections in our house. This is a great habit to get into and if your kids have fun, they will carry this tradition onto their children. It also builds a powerful bond with your kids. We talk about the day and smell the different spices and try to describe them when cooking.
*If you want a wake-up call about just how poor the standard American diet has become, read this study, which states that 25% of Americans have never eaten a vegetable!
Your Overall Health – Americans are chronically sleep-deprived and suffer from inflammation and gut problems. We medicate ourselves for these too instead of using food as our medicine.
These issues can often be chalked up to the food-like products (such as Cheetos and Pop-Tarts) we as a society readily consume. But if we make the choice to eat more veggies and give up the processed junk that companies pass off as food, a lot of these conditions can go away on their own.
Obesity and heart attacks are major public health problems in the United States and other countries. Therefore, most dietary recommendations are aimed at preventing these two diseases. A poor diet, one super high in carbohydrates and low in fats and protein (there are essential amino acids and essential fatty acids, however, there are no essential carbohydrates) can contribute to the development of many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, liver disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, gout, gallstones, and certain cancers. The sugars added to processed foods amplify these health problems too, increase inflammation, and contribute to weight gain.
Good nutrition will keep the doctors at bay as well. If you can help yourself by improving your diet, you will, in the long run, spend less on healthcare, medications, and maintaining your body as you age than those who do not. Your risks for diseases go down and your ability to know what your body needs will improve.
How To Do It?
Just start and start slow. Try the veggie suggestion I mentioned earlier. Branch out and actually choose 5 different veggies from the produce section, not canned, to try every night this week. This is one small change that can make a big difference. You can also cut back on your sugar consumption. I have found monk fruit to be an excellent replacement, and after a few weeks or one month of not having sugar, you won’t miss it and you’ll feel a lot better. You don’t have to quit sugar cold turkey, but slowing down on it will definitely help improve your overall health.
You can also stop buying processed foods. Someone once said that all your grocery shopping should be done on the edges of the store. Meats, veggies, fruits, and good quality organic dairy and eggs should be the bulk of what’s in your cart. Avoid even canned foods. Fresh produce is so much better tasting and retains all of the nutrients. Get a few different fruits to try for your kids as snacks. Mine like grapes, pomegranates, and oranges. These still have fructose (a type of sugar) in them, but its much sugar less than those packages fruit snacks and canned fruit salads. The idea is to keep the fruits you children like on hand instead of chips or other processed snacks so they won’t have the option to eat poorly. The truth is: kids can’t go buy food on their own. It’s up to us as parents to buy them what they eat and our choices will affect the health of our kids. Making changes is hard for kids, but it will never happen if you keep buying fake juices loaded with sugar and red dyes.
Another suggestion is to make a hearty salad every night and eat it FIRST. By hearty, I mean less lettuce, but more veggies! Add cucumbers and tomatoes. Add avocadoes and carrots. Add sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, or flax seeds. Basically, load up on salad and make sure everyone eats it all before they are served the rest of dinner. But remember: avoid those dressings with extra sugar and loaded with chemicals. Choose oil and vinegar or lemon juice with some salt and pepper.
It seems boring now, but your body will thank you when you start to feed it proper food and take better care of it.