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The Standard American Diet is S.A.D for More than One Reason

What will become of a generation that battles rampant health issues from a young age? The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has a national health plan that could be reasonable and attainable for the Jewish community

| 27.06.18 | 19:40
The Standard American Diet is S.A.D for More than One Reason

Did you know that about one half of American adults suffer from a chronic illness associated with poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity? (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2015).  That translates to about 117 million American adults whose chronic disease could be positively altered by adhering to a diet rich with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and a consistently active lifestyle.

Americans’ S.A.D diet contributes to cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, as well as some neurological conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. This isn’t to be taken lightly folks. We are talking about life-altering diseases that can be curbed, pushed off, or even completely prevented if we make healthy diet and lifestyle choices. 

Let us honestly consider these statistics: which American can say he is unaffected by this astounding reality? How many spouses, children, siblings, colleagues, or students are one degree away from a relative or peer with a preventable chronic illness? How many people are suffering daily at the hands of poor nutrition and lifestyle choices? How much money is spent on medication and cure attempts, and how much productivity is lost?

To add fuel to the fire, nearly two-thirds of all adults and one-third of children fall into the overweight or obese categories: hundreds of thousands of youths who struggle with weight issues. What will become of a generation that battles rampant health issues from a young age?

Numerous components of this eating pattern contribute to the infamous SAD title.  Most importantly, there is overconsumption of foods high in calories and low in nutrients, combined with underconsumption of foods lacking sufficient nutrients. 

More specifically, the American diet is usually too low in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and too high in calories, saturated fats, refined grains, sugar, and salt.  Put simply, most Americans are eating too much junk food and not enough real food.

Yet, on a refreshingly positive note, the consensus amongst scientific research shows reasonably strong links between nutritious eating patterns and decreases in risk of the chronic diseases mentioned above.  Moreover, healthy lifestyle choices lead to immediate increases in our health and productivity. 

Specific dietary recommendations by the DGAC include: higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish and nuts, combined with lower intakes of red and processed meat, sugar, and refined grains. 

Yet, perhaps even sadder, is that even with the above knowledge of the real possibility of reversing the likelihood of chronic disease by adjusting our diets, current trends in national eating patterns over the last decade do not show any major shift away from the SAD diet, and toward more healthful eating patterns.

If current research strongly suggests that proper nutrition can have a massive impact on the national burden of chronic disease, why are national dietary trends not changing? 

Perhaps there may be a too wide lack of knowledge in the general public about nutrition, and/or limited access to healthy options.  But even with knowledge and access, change is not guaranteed. 

As we know, behavioral changes are tough, especially on one’s own.  In fact, the DGAC emphasizes the need for a revolution in national health consciousness to permeate every aspect of society.  They call on partnerships between parents, families, schools, food retail, health care institutions and health providers, in order to create a revolution that will be self-sustaining.

Sounds great. 

Yet, there is still one critical component of this ideal plan that is missing, and that is national unity.  Success on a national level is possible only if each member of society feels a sense of responsibility for the well-being of every individual within his shared social strata.

The Jewish people are one nation, and we are unified by our unique essence.  The lofty national goals set by the DGAC are actually quite reasonable and attainable for the Jewish community.  We’re small, organized, creative and motivated.  Furthermore, we have an inherent sense of responsibility for each other.  If the DGAC believes in the American public, then all the more so, we can surely believe in our own abilities to create this positive change, thereby adhering to the Torah’s principle of “v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem” – “And you shall watch yourselves very well” (Deuteronomy 4,15).

References:

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. (2015). Scientific report of the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committee. Washington (DC): USDA and US Department of Health and Human Services.

Mordechai Katz has a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, and is the founder of The Jerusalem Center for Functional Medicine. 

You can find him at: functionalmedicine.co.il & nutrition@functionalmedicine.co.il