By Kelley Eddings
Special to The Press
Why do you eat?
That may seem like a silly question, since it has such an obvious answer: because I would die if I didn’t!
Correct. That is the short answer.
But what if I told you that what you eat can either be helping you or slowly killing you?
Now you might have a different view of food.
The food choices we make daily are contributing to our health on a deeper level than simply keeping our bodies going day to day and preventing hunger.
Food is either feeding our bodies what they need or tearing our bodies down and causing us to become sick.
I want to examine some very basic ideas of food and what the experts say we should be eating (and not eating) in order to achieve optimal health and prevent disease.
First, back to the question of why we eat. Yes, because it is one of our basic needs – food, water, shelter (and I’m going to add “love” to that).
But also, because it’s fun to eat!
We live in a time and place full of food options – restaurants, grocery stores, markets, sporting events, convenience stores…you get the idea. Food is pretty much everywhere. Eating gives us an instant boost of energy and fills that need. Food brings families and friends together and is often the centerpiece for social functions and celebrations.
People bond over food and because of food.
We also live with an abundance of marketing from both big and small industries wanting us to buy their food products.
So, basically food is everywhere we go and everywhere we look.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when those food choices are contributing to a health epidemic in our country.
We are literally eating ourselves to death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39.8 % of adults in the United States are considered obese, which accounts to more than 9 million people. The CDC also stated that 18.5 % of children ages 2-19 were considered obese.
Obesity can contribute to health risks such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death, states the CDC.
Let me emphasize the word “preventable.”
If we can prevent it, we are causing it.
The word preventable is also good news – it means we can do something about it!
“If you change your diet, and do it very vigorously, you have enormous power. You can reverse heart disease. You can prevent it,” states Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C., President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
I have been following Dr. Barnard, along with several other physicians who emphasize the importance of nutrition, by listening to podcasts and reading articles and books on the topic of reversing disease with nutrition.
When we think of getting sick, we think of taking medicine.
But what if we start viewing what we eat as our medicine?
The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, who has been known as “the Father of Medicine,” is quoted as saying “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
There are powerful words in that quote.
We already know why we eat – but what we eat can make all the difference. That difference can be choosing between a fulfilling, healthy life and early death.
We already know what we shouldn’t be eating, or too much of that type of food. We just don’t want to face that fact. It’s true!
But that’s human nature. We don’t want to give up the fun foods that taste good because, well, they are fun and taste good! Completely understandable.
The best strategy is first to make the decision to make some changes. This does not mean “going on a diet.”
In fact, just throw the word “diet” out of your vocabulary right now. Diet means what you eat anyway, not what you don’t eat, although that’s what most folks think of when they hear the word.
Next, establish your “why.” Why do you need to make some changes to what foods you eat? The answer there is as simple as why we eat – because you want to live. Not just survive, but live. You want to feel better, look better, and live a more fulfilling life with the ones you love.
Now on to what we should be eating. This is a topic that is widely debated and almost everyone has an opinion on what foods are healthy and what foods should be avoided.
I have a short answer, but it comes with a long explanation, much longer that I can provide within one column in the newspaper.
Simply put, we should be eating more plants and less animals and their products.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “plant-based diets benefit heart health because they contain no dietary cholesterol, very little saturated fat, and abundant fiber. Meat, cheese, and eggs, on the other hand, are packed with cholesterol and saturated fat, which cause plaque buildup in the arteries, eventually leading to heart disease.”
Does this mean you need to just eat salad and give up on all your favorite foods? Absolutely not!
In fact, you’ll probably discover that you’re eating more than before by adopting a more plant-heavy way of eating as opposed to what’s known as the Standard American Diet, or “SAD,” which I find immensely ironic. The SAD is filled with lots of animal products, processed foods, and foods and beverages with added sugar.
Start by exploring new foods to add before taking out the ones you feel you just can’t give up…yet. Take small steps to eliminate in order to give yourself time to make a transition over from one type of eating to another.
Another helpful and extremely strategy is to know what is in your food. Read the ingredients – the less, the better. If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t ingest it (unless it’s “turmeric,” which is actually extremely good for you).
Going back to the “why” question regarding why we eat – we eat to live, and we eat so we can live. We should eat in a way so we can live longer.
With the holiday season now in full swing, food is going to be everywhere. Don’t just give in and allow yourself to feel miserable with foods that are tearing you down. At the same time, don’t deprive yourself to the point of feeling miserable, either.
If nothing else, just think before you eat. Being aware of what you’re eating is a good starting point!