By Carlee Frank
Welcome back to the third week of a healthier you! Now that you’ve added exercise to your new and improved diet, how do you feel? Maybe you’re tired and a bit stressed out, or you are energized and hopeful—either way, keep pushing forward.
Most of us want to see results the next day, but lifestyle changes take time. Hopefully last week, you were able to sit down with your calendar and block out four times per week to exercise, even if it is only a brisk 20-minute walk. If you haven’t found the motivation to continue, or are just tuning in this week, I challenge you to re-read weeks one and two and join the Healthier You club. Stay determined –your health is worth it!
Now, let’s talk about the standard American diet. While your mind might wander over images of apple pie and malt shakes, I’m not talking about the nostalgic foods of our past, but rather the average diet of 20th and 21st century Americans. The standard American diet has been defined as, “rich in red meat, dairy products, processed and artificially sweetened foods, and salt, with minimal intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, and whole grains.” Now, America is not the only country with nutritional difficulties; nearly every country in the world has portions of its population suffering from starvation, and others eating overly processed foods.
So, what makes a food “overly processed”? Think of it this way —our bodies were designed to eat what we can hunt, grow and gather. Some may argue that we could potentially grow the potatoes found in our favorite fast food French fries, but those very same fries also contain starch, dimethylpolysiloxane and dextrose, and I doubt we could grow those ingredients. So, for argument’s sake, let’s focus on what our bodies do need.
According to Food Pyramid, we need carbohydrates, fats, proteins and water (the macro nutrients), and various vitamins and minerals (micro nutrients), all of which are found in fruits, vegetables, proteins, oils, etc. Revisiting the standard American diet, a 2007-2010 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 87 percent of Americans have vegetable intakes below the goal; 75 percent have fruit intakes below the goal; and 86 percent of Americans have dairy intakes below the goal. The study also found that 70 percent of Americans have an “added sugars” intake above the limit; 71 percent have a saturated fat intake above the limit; and 89 percent have a sodium consumption above the limit.
So, what does this all mean? Well, when we do not eat the proper nutrients, our digestive system cannot power basic functions such as energy production, cellular repair and growth, or fight off infections, regulate sleep and mood. Over time, eating overly processed foods –such as high fructose corn syrup –can also harm our digestive system.
While this all sounds incredibly depressing and hopeless, just wait, there’s hope! We, the average American, can do something about this. We can choose to eat whole fruits and vegetables, avoid processed and fast foods, and be more mindful of what we put in our bodies. Again, ask yourself how your meal or grocery haul can be healthier, but this time keep in mind the additives floating around the market. Begin reading the ingredients section of your favorite foods to gain greater insight into your weekly nutrient intakes. Don’t beat yourself up over the number on the scale. Instead, value your body –we only get one, so let’s treat it well.
Next week, we will discuss stretching. Although underrated, stretching is one of the most beneficial activities to the human body. See you then!
Bloomfield, HE; Kane, R; Koeller, E; Greer, N; MacDonald, R; Wilt, T (November 2015). “Benefits and Harms of the Mediterranean Diet Compared to Other Diets”.