Imagine two tomato plants. One is in nutrient-rich soil, gets plenty of bright, direct sunlight and is given all the water it needs. The other is in depleted soil, gets mainly filtered sunlight and is given just half the water given to the other. Both plants may live, but only the first one may truly thrive.
Like the second plant, we, too, can get by on insufficient nourishment – poor diet, little exercise, not enough sleep, and so on – but we won’t thrive. We can’t. How could we when we’re not giving our bodies what they actually need to function as they were designed to do? We adapt, but over time, those adaptations actually help spur the onset of disease and dysfunction.
And sadly, those have become the new normal in this country.
Even as we are honored to serve ever more patients who take ownership of their own health, who make wise choices to create vibrant wellness for themselves and their families, overall, our nation seems more and more defined by illness. Nearly half of all American adults are “managing” at least one chronic health condition; 1 in 4 of us have two conditions or more. Nearly half of us take at least one prescription drug each month, and about 1 in 5 take three or more. Overall, today’s youth are expected to have poorer health and shorter lives than their parents.
Much of the blame can go to the standard American diet, which – as a new study in Nature points out – contributes to obesity while leaving us malnourished. “This is the ultimate paradox of the Western diet,” writes Charlotte Hilton Andersen in Shape.
Thanks to America’s wealth and industry, we are now producing food that is increasingly tasty but decreasingly nutritious, leading to a generation of malnourished people and an epidemic of disease—not just in America, but in many first-world countries….
And developing nations, too. As economies grow and personal wealth increases, we see more of a shift to Western lifestyles – and Western illness. One study has predicted that by 2020, 70% of deaths in developing countries will be due to largely preventable, non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Despite all we know about the relationship between diet and disease, we collectively continue in our usual ways. The latest numbers – released in last week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC – are not encouraging.
And the tale they tell is a familiar one: Most Americans don’t meet the minimum daily standards for vegetable and fruit consumption – even as plant-based foods provide the broadest and most diverse sources of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and other nutrient. And those minimum standards aren’t all that much: just 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables.
If you were to have only a side vegetable and green salad with your dinner each night, you’d be about halfway – at least – to meeting your most basic veg needs. Yet not even 9% manage to do this. Just over 13% hit the mark for fruit consumption.
How can we encourage more healthful eating? It’s hardly a simple question. There’s no easy answer. For it’s not just a matter of personal knowledge, motivation and will. There are political, economic and social aspects that make it easier to just stick with the conventional, hyper-processed American diet. There are powerful corporate interests at stake.
Yet we’re already seeing attitudes towards food start to change. More and more consumers are taking action, demanding things like the removal of harmful ingredients from food products and the labeling of GMOs. Organics and farmers’ markets are booming. More restaurants are focusing on using higher quality ingredients and creating farm-to-table cuisine. Scientists are showing that organic, sustainable farming methods can yield just as much bounty as industrial, engineered harvests – and in at least some cases produce more nutritious foods.
It’s a start. And a good one. And one we’ll do well to keep building on – for the sake of ourselves and the Earth, our home.
Image via Earthen Organics