As covered last week, preventable causes of death in this country have grown more common, to an all-time high. As a result, life expectancy in this country is on the decline. You have to ask yourself: If these main causes are preventable, then – beyond medical intervention – what can a person do to beat the mounting odds against them?
Remarkably, the most reputable answer to this question has not changed much over the years: eat healthier food in moderation and exercise regularly in moderation.
This prescription was written yet again in a recent headline-grabbing report compiled by some of the top names in nutrition science. Known as the EAT-Lancet Commission report, it states that if people around the globe shifted to a diet pattern of eating less red meat, refined grains and sugar and more healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables and things like peas, beans, peanuts and alfalfa, it could prevent an estimated 11 million premature deaths per year. According to a study published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, add to the mix low-intensity physical activity such as standing, walking or doing household chores, replacing a half-hour of sitting around with such everyday activity and you reduce the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease by 24 percent.
It will not be easy for folks to find a pathway forward in changing diet and exercise. It never is. Let us focus just on diet, considered the biggest risk factor for disease, disability and preventable death.
The debate is sure to begin anew over how much red meat is okay for us to eat. Keep in mind that many of the most popular diets of the day, such as the paleo diet, are decidedly meat-centric. Add to that the fact that, historically, Americans love their beef. According to a Bloomberg report, Americans are set to eat more meat in 2018 than ever before, surpassing a record set in 2004.
For those interested in plant-based alternatives to loading up on meat as part of the traditional American high-fat, low-nutrient diet, you are swimming upstream, says Allison Aubrey, an NPR correspondent for food and nutrition. A 2010 report from the National Cancer Institute on the status of the American diet found that 3 out of 4 Americans did not eat a single piece of fruit in a given day. Nearly 9 out of 10 folks did not reach the minimum recommended daily intake of vegetables. While attitudes and eating habits are changing, this is still pretty much the norm.
Unsurprisingly, the Lancet Commission’s conclusions seems to align with what many health experts have been saying for years: A healthy eating pattern is one that encompasses a broad array of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, nuts and seeds. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, refers to these as “life-giving foods” – foods that contain the nutrients needed to sustain plants.
As described by Aubrey in a recent NPR report, when you eat whole-grain wheat bread, for example, you are getting everything that comes in the wheat kernel. This includes the fiber-rich bran. It also includes the germ, which is the embryo of the seed, so it contains everything needed to nurture new life. Whole grains are also rich in fiber. The new study published in the Lancet found that people who eat a diet rich in fiber and whole grains have a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease and colorectal cancer.
According to Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital, when you eat whole-kernel, minimally processed grain, it takes a while to digest. It is helpful to think of whole grains as “slow carbs” because of this slow digestion process. Then blood sugar rises more smoothly. You produce less insulin calorie for calorie. As a result, you are also not likely to feel hungry any time soon.
This is not the case with “refined carbs” found in white rice, white bread, potatoes and sugar; all this good stuff has been stripped out during processing. All that is left is starch, which is one step away from turning to sugar in your body, says Dr. Mozaffarian. “Refined starch is the hidden sugar,” he adds. When this starch hits your bloodstream, it raises blood sugar and insulin. This, in turn, can send a signal to the body to store fat and leave you feeling hungry. Herein lies a major benefit of whole grains versus refined grains: Whole grains can help you control your weight. They are a simple ingredient that is also cost-effective.
U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that at least half of a person’s daily grain consumption come from whole grains, yet most Americans under-consume whole grains and exceed the recommended limits on refined grains. Why? Because refined and processed foods are what we crave.
In the mid-1900s, the processed food industry discovered that salt, sugar, fat and preservatives could be manipulated in a manner that would make their product so irresistible, so tasty, so perfectly engineered we would not only like them but wouldn’t know when to stop eating them. Generations of new “craveable” manufactured foods emerged.
To help break their hold on consumers, next time you find yourself suddenly scraping on the bottom of a bag of chips, envision a bunch of people in lab coats and smiling CEOs high-fiving. Then ask yourself whose interests they’re serving.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.