It’s a discussion that has to be had, whether we like it or not. Not a day goes by that we don’t read, see or hear a news story telling us how our collective health is deteriorating.
Not a day goes by that we are not bombarded by a walk, run, climb, dance-off, spin-a-thon or some other activity designed to raise money to eliminate one disease or another in our lifetime. We hear it all the time: just one more race, one more donation and this will be the year we find the cure for (fill in the blank). From breast cancer to diabetes to heart disease to prostate cancer (and all sorts of diseases in between…), we search for a cure.
I thought it would be interesting to see where all this frenetic activity and fundraising has really gotten us…and offer a simple approach to healthy living.
$5 billion was spent in 2011 on cancer research.
1.6 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year and nearly half of them will die, making it the second most common killer of Americans, (second only to heart disease).
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) tells us we are winning the war on cancer, due to lifestyle changes like reduced smoking and earlier detection (I didn’t realize early detection was a lifestyle choice…), but the facts reveal a very different picture.
According to their own statistics, reversal in overall mortality rates has been minimal and due largely to a reduction in lung cancer deaths from reduced smoking in men rather than to advances in treatment. Overall five-year survival rates for all cancers have remained virtually static since 1970, from 49 to 54 percent for all ethnicities combined, and from 39 to 40 percent for African Americans.
Cancer incidence has escalated to epidemic proportions over recent decades, with lifetime risks in the United States now reaching one in two for men and one in three for women. Yikes! The overall increase of all cancers from 1950 to 1995 was 55%, of which lung cancer accounted for about a quarter. Meanwhile, the incidence of a wide range of non-smoking cancers, such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and adult brain cancer, is increasing at proportionately greater rates, including an alarming rise in childhood cancer of over 20%. (All statistics are age-adjusted for incidence and mortality rates by the NCI.)
The Heart of the Matter
Since 1949, we have spent more than $3.5 billion on heart disease research to arrive at the conclusion that heart disease is largely preventable and almost completely reversible.
And yet, for more than 40 years, this leading killer of both men and women takes the life of someone just about every minute of every day.
Ask just about anyone what causes heart disease and you’ll likely get an answer that mentions diet, exercise and obesity, with diet first. If we know causes most heart disease, what are we researching? New drugs to treat it, because recommending dramatic diet changes is considered radical and somehow subversive, that’s what.
We spent $1.9 billion on diabetes research in 2010 and the facts are scarier than a horror movie. According to Dr. Dana Dabelea (University of Colorado in Denver), Type 1 diabetes rose 23% among young people with Type 2 increasing by 21%...both during the first nine years of the 21st century.
This chronic disease contributes to the deaths of more than 230,000 Americans each year with more than $174 billion spent treating it last year alone.
Jerzy Gruhn, head of Novo Nordisk’s US business has said that diabetes is ‘expanding dramatically’ and can even be called a ‘pandemic’ (seriously, he said pandemic…) with some models forecasting the number of affected people doubling to 55 million by 2025.
‘We unfortunately don’t see a decrease in diabetes, but an increase, ‘ Gruhn said.
What’s Eating Us Is What We’re Eating
While a diet high in saturated fat may increase risk by passing on toxic chemicals that accumulate in fatty tissues, fat per se cannot be incriminated as a major cause of cancer, according to the NCI. In Mediterranean countries, where up to 40% of the average diet is composed of olive oil breast (and other) cancer rates are low.
Linking lifestyle to the diseases that are robbing us of our collective health has become commonplace and yet studies remain ‘inconclusive.’ And so we continue on as we always have, making choices that we know compromise our health (whether studies back it up or not…) and depending on pharmaceuticals and radical medical procedures to save us from illness and create some semblance of quality of life.
Should we be spending more research dollars on the effect of diet on health and the creation of disease? If the Harvard School of Public Health is to be believed, then then answer is yes. In an article written about the food guidelines provided to Americans by the federal government, they say we have sort of missed the boat on guiding people toward healthier food choices. Certainly, the guidelines tell us to choose more vegetables and fruits, nuts and whole grains, but they also are far too lax with the recommendations for red meat, refined carbohydrates and dairy foods. According to the experts at Harvard, while being encouraged to eat more produce, the real elephant in the room remains un-addressed: “MyPlate is silent on the large portion of the US diet that’s junk: sugary drinks, sweets, salty processed foods, refined grains, and the like.”
And the new guidelines just released this year? They tiptoe around the issues with vague recommendations like less sugar and junk food and less saturated fat in our diets. Oh, and eat more veggies and fruit. The recommendations were, upon their inception, quite brilliant at giving Americans sound nutritional advice. I was thrilled. But then lobby groups got their grubby paws on the guidelines and the governing bodies were forced to walk the recommendations back so as not to offend special interests. The interests of the people? Not so important as it turns out.
Is there any real proof that lifestyle choices can reduce your risk of disease and even help to turn the tide once you have been diagnosed? For me, the answer is clear as I am a cancer survivor who treated my illness with diet and lifestyle alone.
According to nutrition expert, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of The China Study, the largest epidemiological study, experimental research shows people who change their diets from animal-based to plant-based can slow the disease process and even reverse it.
In an interview on The Huffington Post, Dr. Campbell said (in part), “This is what our experimental research shows. I also have become aware of many anecdotal claims by people who have said that their switch to a plant-based diet stopped, even reversed (cured?) their disease. One study on melanoma has been published in the peer-reviewed literature that shows convincing evidence that cancer progression is substantially halted with this (a plant-based) diet.”
In the end, is there a better answer than compromising our bodies, depending on pharmaceuticals and simply hoping for the best?
The cure for what ails us is in the kitchen.
Where do we begin? Simply stated, five small changes to your diet can change your health. A few tweaks each week to what you choose to consume can result in a new lease on life and reduced risk of disease in just a few months.
Eating real food, mostly plant-based and a normal amount will help you to get where you want to go. Not everyone can or even wants to eliminate animal foods from their diet, but to maintain a healthy body you must choose organic and naturally-fed animal foods. In the end, a diet of whole foods, produced as Mother Nature intended, not manufactured or engineered is the key.
Here are some things you can do to get things moving in the right direction while you give your diet an overhaul.
1. Eat whole grains like quinoa which is also a rich source of complete protein, just like that found in eggs.
2. Add hot spice to your foods. The capsaicin in hot peppers revs circulation, helping the body to pump blood more quickly, sweat out toxins, digest more efficiently and energize metabolism
3. Eat vegetables-9-12 different ones in a day. Now before you panic and allow marketing to brainwash you into thinking that’s impossible, check this out. Make a salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radish…you are 4 veggies in already. Make a simple vegetable soup with onion, carrot, celery, cabbage, mushrooms…5 more. Pull together a stir fry from a package of frozen pre-chopped vegetables and you will have 3-4 more. You have just hit 12-13 vegetables without breaking a sweat.
4. Add daikon and shiitake mushrooms to your diet. Daikon is a root vegetable that looks like a long white carrot and tastes like a radish. That peppery taste comes from compounds that help the body to rid itself of toxins, break down fat and digest efficiently. Shiitake mushrooms have been revered in Asian healing practices for thousands of years for their ability to break down accumulated fat in the body, cleanse plaque from the veins and arteries and lower blood pressure, a delicious form of heart health.
5. Add chia seeds to your diet. Just 1 tablespoon a day provides us with protein, fiber, essential minerals like calcium and potassium, omega-3 and other key nutrients. These nutrient-dense seeds are rich sources of fiber and are hydrophilic (meaning they hold 10 times their weight in water). Adding chia to your diet daily (just stir 1 tablespoon into 8 ounces of water and drink immediately) controls hunger, keeps the body nourished with essential nutrients…and keeps us hydrated. Remember, a lot your desire to snack is really thirst. When we are hydrated, we are less likely to crave sweets and snacks. With the fiber, ability to hydrate and nutrient density, chia may be Mother Nature’s perfect diet food.
At the same time, try a little experiment. Eliminate one ingredient each week that you know doesn’t serve your health and replace it with a healthy one. For instance, swap out soda for sparkling water and fresh juice. Change the white rice in your pantry for brown rice. Ditch white sugar for coconut sugar.
Combine this with the five steps above and in no time, you’ll have transformed your pantry, your eating and your health.