Our health is our most important asset. Having stated the obvious, I'll now try to redeem myself from sounding like I'm trying to sell you a book. I'm not.
I'm an average 30-something, married, fully employed at a desk, with 3 loving children; just a 'regular guy'.
So why should you listen to a 'regular guy' when it comes to your health and nutrition? You shouldn't! You should consult your doctor or nutritionist with concerns about your health (Web MD doesn't count!). With all the (mis)information that pervades the internet, most of us act as our own worst personal adviser, replacing professional hands-on consultation with hours of web research and crossing fingers. This is an opportunity for me to share my experiences in my own personal journey with regards to attaining a healthy lifestyle for myself and my family. Along the way I'll share stories, tips and recipes that have inspired this 'regular guy' to be more proactive in these areas. A little information goes a long way.
"An apple a day..."
I know you've heard this one, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", or how about "Carrots are good for your eyes"? As a child this was my first introduction to the idea that food had a direct correlation to our well-being. The problem with these parables is that it takes a lot more than an apple or a carrot (a lot, lot more) to keep the Doc in his office. If we were to correct that famous first phrase to be a bit more accurate, it would be more like: 'It takes 2 apples, 4 carrots, a bunch of spinach, a beet, fresh kale, three oranges, and a positive mental attitude to keep the doctor away' (Did I mention that this should be organic produce? And this was just for lunch!). This list is far from being complete, but you get the idea.
In grasping the American health dilemma, it became painfully obvious to me that much of what we eat isn't because our body needs it, it's because we have conditioned ourselves to believe that our 'appetite' is an equivalent to our hunger.
You're at the grocery store and want a quick bite before work, do you grab a banana or a doughnut? An apple or a breakfast bar?
How about lunch? Pack a 3 bean and kale salad or grab a burger at the nearest drive through?
These are important decisions that we make everyday, both consciously and subconsciously, that in the end, will affect how long we live, and the quality of that life. So why did 70% of us pick the latter choices? Appetite. More specifically we have conditioned ourselves to know that certain foods make us feel "good". I'm using the word 'good' very loosely here, as we all know that nutritionally those foods are the least nutritious for us. So why does our brain trick us into thinking that these foods are what we want? Addiction.
"Whoa! Wait a minute here! Addiction? I don't use drugs, I don't smoke, don't drink..." Our classic use of the word addiction invokes a number of social issues, from poverty and theft, to the dissolution of the functional family life. Unfortunately, the current mainstream idea of addiction is only applied to certain products or chemicals, while completely omitting others, and though Dr. Drew has done a lot to expose the dangers of chemical addiction and the process of recovery , we have a long way to go as a society until we can actually come to terms with how addicted we really are. The word “addiction” strikes fear in our hearts; the social stigma of the word runs deep, as does our fear of it. One of the first issues that I had to overcome was my personal aversion to the word, but it has made all the difference. So what is it that we are addicted to? What could possibly be in our food that would make us “food addicts”?
Excessive salt has been shown to stimulate synaptic responses in the brain that mimic nicotine stimulation, and is similar to the response a user gets from hard drugs. Not that salt gets you “high” per se, but our brain gets excited when we “salt up”. Yes our body needs salt for proper functioning, but the levels that American's consume is far out of whack with our needs. Throw MSG (monosodium glutamate, also known as “super salt”) in the mix and you are living dangerously. MSG is more addictive than salt and is intentionally used in many foods in your cabinet, food producers are not required to label MSG and can simply call it "spices" or "seasonings".
Keep in mind that for salt to be properly processed in our bodies, we need to match the salt intake with potassium, and I don't see any potassium shakers on my table. Nutritional recommendations for salt intake range 1.5 to 4.2 grams per day (that's less than a teaspoon!! Governmental recommendations are only slightly higher). Limit salt intake and eat more bananas and you are making a good start to balance your body's internal chemistry. MSG should never be a part of your diet, it has been directly linked to many forms of cancer, and someday will be outlawed in the US, it's only a matter of time.
C'mon, you can't tell me it never crossed your mind. Yes, sugar is addictive! Again, the brain gets a real thrill when this stuff enters your bloodstream and starts firing off euphoric synaptic responses that actually do get you “high” (give your kid some candy 30 minutes before bed and my point will be proven, good luck calming them down!). We have known about the physical effects of sugar for decades, major food manufacturers bank on this. High fructose corn syrup (super sugar) is the crack-cocaine of the food industry: perfectly legal, addictive, and totally harmful to our sensitive blood sugar levels. Healthy recommendations for sugar state that we should be taking in less than 8 tsp a day of refined sugar. Our body has no need for refined sugars, as all of our sugar intake would have been met by eating healthy organic fruits. Limit refined sugar intake by passing on office sweets, soda and candy. Eat fruit to curb your appetite and provide you the healthy energy you need to bang out those TPS reports.
The 'flavor enhancers' listed above are only the start. Though they are the most common and most pervasive when it comes to food-based substance abuse, the list of chemicals that processed food manufacturers are legally allowed to use in their products run in the tens of thousands. Many of them have either addictive, or detrimental properties to our health.
I bet this is in your cabinet and you don't even know it. Sulfur dioxide is an industrial replacement for sulfuric acid and shares many of the same toxic properties. Most commonly sulfur dioxide is used as a food preservative. You know that bag of dried fruit you bought in an attempt to eat more healthy? Best bet is that sulfur dioxide is listed on the back. Listed as a “dangerously toxic” substance by occupational safety organizations in both the US and Canada for inhalation dangers and damaging results when applied directly to the skin, but apparently use in food is still considered “okay”. Though not specifically addictive, there are concerns that continued ingestion can cause complications like asthma, allergies and even cancer.
The fact that very little has been done to ensure that dangerous, toxic chemicals don't make its way into our food is an immediate cause for concern. Lack of non-biased testing, and legislation that typically favors the 'flavors' and the companies that make use of them, is all the more reason for us as individuals to take charge of our health. Read your food labels, and do the research on what exactly all those multi-syllabic chemicals are in our food so you can make an educated and enlightened choice on what it is your subjecting your body's sensitive chemistry to. The small changes oftentimes have the biggest impact.