The Standard America Diet (S.A.D.).
According to the 2011–2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data, an estimated 25.2% of U.S. Americans have diabetes. That's one quarter of our population! And of those with diabetes, only an estimated 5% were identified as having Type 1 diabetes, meaning at least 20% of our population has diabetes that can be managed and even reversed with diet and lifestyle.
In addition to high diabetes rates, U.S. states have incredibly high rates of obesity as well. In 2016 in Iowa for example, 18.4% of 18-25 year olds were considered obese*, 33.4% of 26-44 year olds, 37.1%of 45-64 year olds and 30.9% of those aged 65+. [Source] It is no surprise, then, that our cancer rates in the U.S. are also extremely high. In 2012, the U.S. ranked #8 in the world for lung cancer, #8 for breast cancer, #16 for bladder cancer, #4 for kidney cancer and #7 for female endometrial cancer. [Source] And that is just scratching the surface. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) estimates up to 23.5 million Americans have an Autoimmune Disease. In comparison, cancer affects up to 9 million and heart disease up to 22 million. [Source] There's no gentle way to say it. The majority of U.S. Americans are fat, sick and living in a way that is likely to reduce life span and compromise quality of life.
Note: *If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 25 and 29.9 you are considered overweight. If your BMI is 30 or over you are considered obese.
Now before someone gets really upset at me, please know that I do acknowledge that genetics play a part in this as well. However, I love what Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. (a.k.a. The Paleo Mom) has to say about health and genetics:
[Science is making a fact abundantly clear: our genetics do not determine our health fate. In fact, genetics don't even determine which genes our cells express (meaning which ones are turned on and thus control the proteins being produced by the machinery in our cells). Environment does. And the field of research that is broadening understanding of how environment controls which genes are turned on or off in our bodies is called "epigenetics", a term roughly meaning "outside of our genes". The signals to our epigenome begin even before conception. In fact, your parents' environments even as children affect your epigenome. Yes, the epigenome is inheritable. But, it's also dynamic and at any one time represents the sum total of the environmental influences experienced by your cells to date (from conception to present), with the current environment exerting the strongest impact.
Although clearly we have identified many diseases that caused by specific genes (which is a different situation that what I'm discussing here), in the case of most chronic illness, genetics only increase susceptibility to disease, rather than causing the disease itself. Studies show that genes account for only 10-30% of our risk for chronic disease, while the other 70-90% comes from our environment. And the reason for this is how our environment affects our genes (or rather which genes are turned on or off by affecting our epigenetics).
Environmental factors that impact your epigenome include:
-the foods you eat
-the foods you don't eat
-nutrient status (whether or not your deficient in certain nutrients)
-whether you smoke
-environmental or pharmaceutical hormone exposure
-medications and drugs
-your social and family networks
-infections (current and past)
-the gut microbiome
And as you can see, most of these are things you can control. We are starting to understand that those things that correlate with better health (getting enough sleep, managing stress, being active, having tight social and family networks, not taking medications or being exposed to toxins, not smoking, not drinking, eating a nutrient-dense diet including lots of veggies) achieve their benefits to health via positive changes to our epigenetics.
That doesn't mean that our genetics don't represent an uphill battle (in many cases, they do). And because the epigenome has a very long memory (at least 2 generations!), it is likely that we can't 100% "fix" our genes with better choices. But it does mean that genetics (generally) don't doom us to failure. With persistence in controlling those things within our power to control (like diet and lifestyle), we can change the genes that are turned off or on in our bodies and make a genetic shift toward health. This is good news.]
Did you notice the top three bullets listed as environmental factors that impact your epigenome?
the foods you eat
the foods you don't eat
Everything we put into our mouths is either helping our body to attain its optimal health or promoting dis-ease. Consequently, if you're like most U.S. Americans, your diet probably looks something like this:
Is anyone else disturbed by the fact that most U.S. Americans are fulfilling 63% of their daily calories with processed food? It is no wonder that we are experiencing dis-ease at such alarming rates. Furthermore, many of the problems with the animal food consumption have to do with the practices by which the animals are raised, including confinement, hormone use, abuse of antibiotics, and animal feed loaded with chemical pesticides and herbicides. The chart below shares additional data, denoting intake values (as % of the population) for various food categories:
DATA SOURCES: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2010 for average intakes by age-sex group. Healthy U.S.-Style Food Patterns, which vary based on age, sex, and activity level, for recommended intakes and limits.
So what's a person to do? In my personal experience, there are 5 very basic (note I said basic; I didn't say easy) application steps a person can take to drastically improve her diet and, as a result, improve her health.
Stop eating refined sugar and refined grains (or all grains if you have Autoimmune Disease)
Eliminate hydrogenated oils
Drink pure water (1/2 your body weight converted to oz, per day) rather than soda and juice
Eat a "Perfect Plate" (fill 1/2 the plate with nonstarchy vegetables, 1/4 with starchy vegetables and 1/4 with quality protein)
Eat the Rainbow (a wide variety of colorful plant foods provides a healthy dose of phytonutrients)
If you need some help getting started, we would love to partner with you, and meet you where you're at in your personal health journey. At Simply Nourished we love to help our customers make steps towards better health and improved quality of life. Stop by anytime during business hours and one of our knowledgeable team members will be ready to help you bring wellness within reach.
Simply Nourished is on Winter Hours for the rest of March. Winter Hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 11-6 and Saturday 10-2. We hope to see you soon!