Wednesday, June 18, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAY: The Elephant in the Room

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS:  The Elephant in the Room

"What we know is that people who eat the way we do in the West today suffer substantially higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity than people eating any number of different traditional diets."  --- Michael Pollan from In Defense of Food 2008

Michael Pollan writes in several of his books, including Food Rules, about “the elephant in the room” – the pattern of eating a Western diet and a deepening confusion about nutrition.  I have been thinking about his statements and I disagree with Mr. Pollan. Maybe it is because of where I grew up (Sacramento, California) and how I grew up (access to lots of fresh fruits and vegetables as a child and my mother enjoyed cooking).   Dinners were a family event.  My two brothers and I were expected to be at the dinner table when dinner was ready.  We were not allowed to eat in our bedrooms in front of TVs.  We had fruit for snacks after school.  Our house on Bausell Street was built in a walnut orchard in Sacramento.  We earned money picking up bags of walnuts, then shelling them.  No wonder I love walnuts so much!

I am not confused about nutrition.  For more than half my life, I have studied nutrition in relation to my health, my extended family’s health, and the absence or presence of disease.  I have been mindful of what I eat (most of the time!) and where my food is coming from.  This lifelong interest in the relationship between food, health, and disease is largely the reason why I went to University of Alabama at Birmingham to study public health in graduate school. 

It is clear that food and agriculture are Big Business in the U.S.  The more you process food, the more money you make.  The more processed food you eat, the sicker people will be.  The sicker people become, the more drugs will be prescribed by doctors because doctors don’t learn about nutrition in medical school.  They are taught to give pills, not kale and kiwi.  The more drugs doctors prescribe, the more visits you have to make to see if the drugs are working.  The more visits you have to make to the doctor, the richer the doctor gets.  And you are still sick.  

It is clear that eating foods filled with sugar, salt, and fat cause us to want to eat more foods with sugar, salt, and fat.  There is a scarcity of health literacy in this country.  You are what you eat.  When people learn to question the quality of the foods they eat and ask what the ingredients are they need to be healthy, then we will shift the burden from treating disease to preventing disease.  When people start asking about the quality of the water they drink and the chemicals used to grow the foods they eat, then we will begin to shift cancer morbidity and mortality. 

Become clear about what you are eating, who grew it, where it was grown and with what chemicals, if any.  How many days was it between when the food was harvested and when it was on your dinner table?  How far did someone have to drive your food to get it to your local store so you could buy it?  Become clear about these questions.  Learn the answers.  No elephants allowed.  

Nancy Heinrich
Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.