Thursday, December 2, 2010

160. Take responsibility for health

The nutrition people say people are not exercising enough; the exercise people say that people are not eating right. Either way, they both agree that what is happening in this country regarding diet, exercise, obesity and sickness is not working.

Simply put, America is the fattest nation on earth.

One consequence of being fat is death by heart disease, cancer and other obesity-related illnesses. Two-thirds of us are overweight; half of us take a prescription pill at least once a week. More than 100 million Americans have high cholesterol. Some scientists believe that our kids might be the first generation not to outlive their parents.

Another consequence is that we spend far more per capita on health care than any other society in the world. We have a health care system that is failing and that is being used as a source of political contention. Some corporations and many small businesses cannot afford to offer their employees reasonable health care; other corporations are making billions in selling the food that makes us sick and the pills we use to treat our sicknesses. Health care costs are growing at an unsustainable rate, costing taxpayers millions.

What if we could reverse this trend-a trend that is projected to see the amount of overweight people in America rise to close to 75 percent by 2020? What if we could prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes? What if by changing our diet, we could save our companies millions and our country billions in healthcare costs? What if we could be healthier without taking a pill or without asking the government to subsidize our food costs? What if we could be personally responsible for our well-being-making the change ourselves, rather than relying on the government to regulate everything or pharmaceutical companies to develop a magic pill?

Increasingly, scientific evidence says we can, but it takes a personal commitment-changing what we know and believe about our diets. It takes some personal sacrifice, like true patriots, for the betterment of ourselves and our country. It takes some research, some dispelling of myths, and looking past years of brilliant marketing. It's not easy, but it can be done.

There is a growing community of scientists, nutritionist and doctors that are strongly advocating, based on the research, a plant-based diet-that means a diet where all or nearly all of our calories come from whole plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, starches and legumes.

In The China Study, authors and researchers Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Thomas Campbell II found more than 8,000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease. Their research focused on comparing countries and cultures with their corresponding diets and rates of illness. Campbell found that, "People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease ... People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored."

What they and others also found was when countries and cultures started changing their diets, that is to say started adopting an American diet, they started suffering the consequences. In the documentary "Eating," Mike Anderson subtly notes, "When people start eating like Americans, they start dying like Americans."

A diet of meat and dairy increases the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Total cholesterol levels, one cause of heart disease, are highest in the standard American diet- an average of 210. In comparison, the average total cholesterol level of vegetarians is 161, vegans 133.

It is estimated that 70-80 percent of all cancers are diet and behavior related. Compare breast cancer, which inflicts 22.4 women out of 100,000 in the United States, but only 6.3 in Japan and 4.6 in China. Similar associations are found with other cancers-such as prostate and colon.

In a plant-based diet, you get fiber, cancer fighters, anti-oxidants, low fat, low saturated fat, no cholesterol, low pesticides and no hormones. In a meat and dairy-based diet, you get exactly the opposite.

As for concerns regarding a plant-based diet, unfortunately the information is often financially driven by the meat and dairy industries. We do not need nearly as much protein as we have been led to believe, the World Health Organization states we need 4.5 percent of our calories from protein; the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition only 2.5 %. Billionaire Steve Wynn, who not only became a vegan after watching the video "Eating," but also ordered a copy for each one of his 10,000 employees, called the idea that we needed animal protein one of the biggest conspiracies of non-sense by our government.

Calcium is heavily promoted by the dairy industry, but it is interesting that the countries with the highest rate of calcium consumption (United States, Finland, Sweden and England) also have the highest rates of Osteoporosis. A lack of exercise is more responsible for Osteoporosis than a lack of calcium.

Dr. Campbell wrote, "The science in clear. The results unmistakable. Change your diet and dramatically reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity." What Dr. Campbell is saying is that we need to stop treating illness and start preventing illness.

This change, however, requires more than just voting someone out of office. If Americans changed to a plant-based diet, we would be much healthier, save on healthcare and insurance costs, be able to feed more people, reduce the costs of government subsidies and regulation (make government smaller), reduce the environmental impact of farming, reduce the political influence of health care corporations, and be a little kinder to animals. It would solve so many problems.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, you have to "Be the change you want to see in the world."

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