I can hear the counterpoint playing in my mind, “But we’re all going to go some day anyway so why should I change my diet?” Yes, I know, but what if I told you that you could improve the quality of your life, your long-term health, and lower your risk for certain health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes IF you start eating healthy foods now? Would that be enough to entice you to make some adjustments? I have some data to back that up.
A 2017 research study that was recently published concluded that about 1 in 5 deaths are associated with a poor diet. This equates to about 11 million deaths globally. Poor diet can contribute to many health conditions, but the study specifically noted cardiovascular disease, certain forms of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Daily consumption of 15 dietary factors were examined across 195 countries:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Omega-3 fatty acids (from seafood)
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids
- Red Meat
- Processed Meat
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Trans fats
The researchers found that on average people around the globe are not eating enough of the healthy dietary factors (those bolded above) and eating more than enough of the unhealthy dietary components. Of the 15 factors, diets high in sodium, low in whole grains, low in fruit, low in nuts and seeds, or low in vegetables are at the greatest risk.
Aside from sodium, the association between a poor diet and diet-related death was stronger due to low consumption of healthy food and not necessarily due to overconsumption of unhealthy foods. This suggests that promoting the intake of healthy foods might be more effective than working to remove unhealthy foods from our daily diets.
“This is good to know. So now what do I do?”
We often hear messages like “Avoid. Limit. Eliminate. Reduce. Stop!” when it comes to what we eat. Based on what we’ve learned through this research, let’s flip those negative messages on their head and try positive ones, such as “Add. Eat More. Have that. Increase. Yes!”
Try a new approach to “dieting” and focus eating more healthful foods rather than concentrating on eliminating a whole bunch of stuff. Taking all that we’ve learned from the data, here are some practical changes that you can start making today:
- Switch your grains to whole grains.
Whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, whole grain cereal, oatmeal, whole wheat flour, quinoa, etc. What makes whole grains so much better than refined grains? The main reason is fiber. Our most recent USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends making half of all the grains you eat whole grains. To get you started, here is a photo of all the whole grains I regularly have in stock around the homestead.
- Eat more whole, fresh foods.
Not only are you likely to eat more eat fruits and vegetables, but you are likely to reduce your consumption of sodium. The majority of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods. Do most of your grocery shopping in the produce department and pick up staples from the middle aisles like those whole grains I mentioned. Taking a class at The Chopping Block is a great way to learn how to cook and incorporate more fresh foods into your daily routine.
- Say YES, PLEASE to vegetables and fruits.
Solid rules to live by:
- A serving or a piece of fruit at least once a day. I always have mine in the morning with oatmeal.
- A serving of vegetable with lunch and dinner. If you can have one with breakfast, BONUS! Once you’ve put a serving on your plate, look at it, then double it. If you don’t know what to make, keep a spring mix around and whip up a side salad.
- Add nuts and seeds to your daily diet.
With protein, healthy fats, and fiber, they are little nutritional powerhouses. Throw a handful in a bag to have with you in case hunger strikes. I love topping salads or my morning oatmeal concoction with some chopped nuts and chia seeds to add crunch.
While big changes to our food systems need to be made to have a global impact, individually we can add good, nourishing foods to our daily menus to take care of ourselves and those around us.