6.16.2011

"Healthy"

I was talking with a coworker today about how whole grains have become so prevalent in the American diet.  I would guess that 9 out of 10 people on the street would insist that people should eat plenty of them on a daily basis.  We were talking about how that could have happened if eating whole grains were, in reality, not only unnecessary, but harmful.  How can so many people be convinced that they NEED something that will ultimately do them potentially more harm than good??  That is an excellent question.  Got me thinking…who can you trust when it comes to health? 

Let’s think about that.  In a perfect world, I would answer: the government, doctors, health-food companies, pharmaceutical companies, and anyone else claiming to want to make me healthier.  I would definitely place these parties at the top when it comes to food advice in a perfect world.  The problem is that the world is not perfect.  There are other motivators in the real world that seem to steer our trusted advisors.  More often than not, those motivators are dollar bills.

Let’s start on the medical side…Now, I am not saying that doctors are motivated by money and don’t want to help get people healthier.  In fact, I have the utmost respect for doctors and nurses and the rigorous training and schooling that they must endure to gain their statuses. What I am saying is that perhaps the system in which the doctors operate does not give them enough tools to help patients live healthy lives.

The entire American healthcare system is designed around helping to repair damaged people.  We have cutting edge medicines and procedures to cure illness, to fix broken bones and torn ligaments, and even to make fat people skinnier.  That is all great, and I am proud of what our country has discovered in these arenas, BUT…what does our healthcare system do to help us AVOID breaking?  There is virtually no preventative value in our current system.  Bottom line is that the system is taking on too much responsibility to try to make people healthy via medicine and surgery.  I firmly believe that the healthcare debate/problem in our country is far less complicated than made out to be.  Insurance companies all claim that it is the “cost of care” that drives rising health costs in the US.  I agree.  Let’s save that money that we are spending on “care” and put it towards “prevention” via healthier lifestyle education.  Instead of opting for the costly gastric bypass surgery, how about teaching people to lift some weights and to cook food that doesn’t need a microwave? Costs of treating cardiovascular disease are forecasted (by the American Heart Association) to come to a cool $818 billion in 2030.  Come on.  We cannot let that happen.  It’s insane to call this an ‘epidemic’.  Most of these ‘sick’ people can fix themselves with some good food.  Rx: eat salads.

So we have established that the healthcare system doesn’t really advise us much on how to eat and live a healthy lifestyle, so who else do we turn to?  Sadly, that answer usually falls somewhere between advertisers and the USDA.  I say “sadly” because none of these parties are at all objective.  For example, the US Government spends approximately $5 billion on farm subsidies per year (direct payments to farmers) to produce: corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice, and some other nuts, seeds and grains. The government is practically in the grain business.  Coincidentally, every diet that the USDA has recommended includes a nice base of grains despite much research that grains are not too good for us.  Why don’t they subsidize vegetables?  Because grains make more money.  By the way…for you grain-junkies, I ask you this: can you name a benefit to eating grains that you cannot get by eating vegetables?  No.  So why are we supposed to eat them again?  (Not rhetorical, please tell me). 

Lastly, I don’t really need to spend much time on explaining why marketers of food products cannot be trusted.  They spend over $10 billion (a 2004 estimate, probably much higher now) in annual advertising, and they use names like “Lean Cuisine” and “Healthy Choice” to dupe us.  Have you ever met someone that looks “Lean” and feels “Healthy” that eats nothing but “Lean Cuisine?”  If so, I would like to meet him.  Don’t buy this garbage. Moving on.

 My point is simply that there are countless different viewpoints around proper diets, nutrition, and exercises…all claiming to be the ‘healthiest.’  If we continue to listen to what ‘they’ tell us with no objection, we will continue to suffer from the epidemic that is poor health.  This is a big, expensive problem…take action, question authority, and make an effort to find your own definition of ‘healthy’.

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