Our modern diet has been implicated as a causative factor in diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, hardening of the arteries, diabetes etc. It remains a fact based on large population-based studies that leading causes of diseases in the West are primarily diet related, particularly in the industrialized modern nations of North America and Europe to a large extent. As other parts of the world adopt those diets which are comprised of SAD (Standard American Diet), the same results are starting to show up all over the world.
Most deaths in the United States are preventable and they are related to what we eat. Diet is the number one cause of premature death and the number one cause of disability. According to the most recent National survey in United States, only about a quarter of medical schools offer a single course on nutrition which is down from 37% about 30 years ago.
The general public considers physicians to be an adequate resource of knowledge for nutrition, but in reality, they are often, less knowledgeable than the average nutritionist. The general physician then, is not really in a good position to counsel patients about their diets. Another study found that people off the street sometimes know more about basic nutrition than their doctors.
Mayo Clinic estimates that nearly 70% of Americans take at least one medication, not to mention the steady influx of even newer and more expensive drugs on the market. Yet Americans are not living much longer than others. In terms of life expectancy, the United States is at number 27 or 28 out of the 34 top free market democracies. People in Slovenia live longer than Americans, and even worse, the extra years that the Americans are living, aren’t necessarily healthy or vibrant. In 1998 a 20 year old could expect to live about 58 more years while a 20 year old in 2006 could look forward to 59 more years but the 20 year-old, from the1990s might live 10 of those years with chronic disease, whereas now it’s more like 13 years with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or stroke. So, it’s like one step forward and two steps back .Americans are living longer but living sicker.
American Heart Association came up with 7 simple factors that can lead to a healthier lifestyle including not smoking, not being overweight, being very active (walking 22 minutes daily), eating healthier (high number of fruits and vegetables), having below average cholesterol, having normal blood pressure, and normal blood sugar levels. An analysis of health behaviors of 35,000 adults across the United States was published in the American Heart Association Journal. Most of these participants did not reach their weekly exercise goals and 1/3 of the population got a pass in each of the other categories except diet. Diets were scored on a scale from 0 to 5 to see if they met a bare minimum of healthy eating behaviors such as meeting the recommended targets for fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption or drinking fewer than three cans of soda a week. Almost none of these participants reached four out of five on healthy eating score.
Anthropologically different major eras of human disease have been identified, starting with the age of pestilence and famine which ended with the Industrial Revolution. Presently we are in the age of degenerative and man-made diseases. In the now developed world the top three killers were infectious diseases, pneumonia, TB and diarrheal diseases in the 1900’s. Lifestyle related diseases such as heart disease cancer and chronic lung disease have replaced them. High blood pressure related deaths related largely to eating energy rich foods have replaced malnutrition as the avoidable cause of death in the United States.
This pandemic is considered related to eating energy rich foods such as meat, sugar and salt-based diets vs. grains, fruits and vegetable-based diets. The best examples to compare come from countries such as China where disease pattern started to look more like the developed world (obesity, diabetes, Heart disease and cancer) as the traditional vegetable/ grain and fruit-based diet was replaced by the more modern diet of meat, bread and fast food. Researchers can tease out the effects of specific diets by following large groups of defined people groups over time. Meat is an example. Lapsed vegetarians (people who used to be vegetarians) were the target of this study. When they started to eat meat at least once weekly they experienced almost a 150% increase in odds of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and more than 200% increase in odds for weight gain. More ominously there was a decrease of 3.5 years of life expectancy during the 12 years after the transition from vegetarian to meat eating!
Processed food eating affects vegetarians also. The rate of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and stroke in India has increased considerably, given the relatively small increase in meat consumption. Shifting eating patterns from traditional brown rice to white, refined carbohydrates to packaged snacks and fast food products instead of lentils, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds is considered the major reason.
It appears therefore that more plant-based foods vs. everything else is the dividing line between health promoting vs. disease promoting foods. To assess the development of abdominal obesity (significant predictor of heart disease), high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood triglycerides an index called dietary quality index was developed. This index assesses the calories derived from nutrient rich unprocessed plant-based sources on a scale from 0 to 100. High scores on this index would lower the risk of above-mentioned diseases. Americans are reported by US department of agriculture to score about 11 on the SAD (standard American diet), where more than 30% calories came from animal foods, about 60% from processed plant-based sources and just over 10% from whole grains, beans fruits etc.
To make it simple still, adherence to just 4 factors can have a strong impact on the prevention of chronic disease (not smoking, not being obese, half hour moderate exercise daily and eating healthy i.e. more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less meat). All four factors present would reduce diabetes risk by 90%, risk of heart attack by 80%, risk of stroke by more than 50%, and more than 30% risk of cancer (large intestine cancer was lowered most significantly).
It makes sense then, for all of us to pay attention to what we are eating and drinking, for long term health and longevity.
More about “Health and Diet” on this website:
Flax Seeds- Health Benefits (By Abdul Ghaffar Agha, Herbalist)
MORINGA – The Superb Food (By Abdul Ghaffar Agha, Herbalist)
Fruits and Vegetables for Bone Health (By Dr. Idrees Padela, Orthopaedic Surgeon)
Vitamin-D – Benefits – Natural Sources (By Dr. Idrees Padela, Orthopaedic Surgeon)