The practice of medicine in the U.S. has made incredible strides over the past hundred years. Even so, we suffer from a host of preventable chronic diseases that have reached epidemic proportions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
A big factor in the rising level of chronic health conditions is the American diet. As the French lawyer and politician, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, wrote in 1826, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” In other words, if you follow a healthy diet, you will be healthy.
Or, if you eat a typical American diet, which is often high in processed foods, your health will suffer.
Our undoing begins very early in life when we decide what we like to eat, and unless parents are consistent in policing food choices, most American children get off to a bad start. For example, only 20% of high school students make good food choices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, they opt for fast foods, pizza, junk food snacks, and soft drinks, getting fatter day by day, and sowing the seeds for health destruction in the future.
The situation is already out of control for too many youngsters who overeat unhealthy foods and underexercise, which can leave to obesity and a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 is extreme insulin resistance, the kind of diabetes that formerly was known as age-onset diabetes because it wasn’t likely to appear until middle age and older, when too much body fat was accumulated, especially in the midsection.
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Now, with poor diet, American children are able to achieve this health-destroying fatty status in only 10 to 12 years instead of 45.
When we are young, we believe we are indestructible. Later on, age and declining health have a way of showing us we are anything but, and changes, especially in how we eat, are in order. The problem is if you are 30 years of age, you have the power of a 30-year eating habit working against you. And if you are 60, the power of that habit is doubled, and the odds of success are slight unless you are iron-willed and highly committed.
So here’s how you can change your diet:
What should I eat for a healthy diet?
A healthy diet starts with fruits and vegetables. Why? They are nutrient-rich, full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and loaded with fiber. Fruits and vegetables also are the best choice for weight management. You can eat a high volume of fruits and vegetables and become quite satisfied while consuming only a fraction of the calories. Let me add that you also can get ample protein when you eat a variety of vegetables.
In addition, fruits and vegetables are packed with phytochemicals. These are chemical compounds found in plants that provide color, taste, and smell. Although phytochemicals are not essential for health, unlike vitamins, minerals, and fiber, they do provide healthful benefits, supporting immune function and serving as antioxidants that combat free radicals to prevent cell damage.
In contrast, most of the processed sludge Americans consume is loaded with “hollow” calories from sugar, plus lots of fat, a combo that provides few nutrients, and little if any fiber. What’s more, the processed foods we consume constantly are calorically dense, meaning just a few bites provide lots of calories.
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Experts tell us to consume at least some combination of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. However, five servings is bare-bones minimal, meaning limited in its effect to promote health and lower the risk of death from the variety of chronic diseases. On the other hand, if you increase to 10 servings a day, you cut your risk of heart attack and stroke by 28%, according to a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. What’s more, your odds of premature death are reduced by 31%.
Are frozen fruits and vegetables healthy?
A serving is not much when you consider the whopping portion sizes we typically consume, especially when we eat out in a restaurant. For fruit, it’s 4 ounces, which is one-half cup of berries, chopped fruit, etc., or one whole piece of fruit (about the size of a tennis ball). Go with fresh when possible, or frozen, to get the most benefit, and avoid canned fruits in sugary syrup, dried fruits, and fruit juices because they provide too much sugar.
For vegetables, a rule of thumb for a serving is one cup of raw leafy vegetables or one-half cup of cooked vegetables. Again, fresh is best, and frozen is the next best.
Thankfully, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, there are lots of good choices, which means you can choose among them according to taste preference. Go with variety because no single fruit or vegetable provides all the healthy nutrients you need.
Here are suggestions for healthy fruits ― blueberries, blackberries, watermelon, cherries, apples, mango, papaya, avocado, and citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit).
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For vegetables, experts suggest sweet potatoes, broccoli, leafy greens (kale, spinach, beet greens, collard greens, etc.) carrots, Brussels sprouts, green peas, asparagus, and cauliflower.
We need to face the truth that we are our own worst enemy when it comes to health issues. We eat all the wrong things because we like the taste of sugar and fat, plus we have been doing this forever and getting away with it. At least that’s what we think. Not so, and a quick look at statistics reveals that despite great advances in medical science, the same chronic, lifestyle-oriented diseases not only still plague us, but are getting worse year by year as we continue to get fatter.
It’s time we break the cycle. Loading up on fruits and vegetables is a good place to start.
Reach Bryant Stamford, a professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Hanover College, at [email protected]
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