We have inevitably reached the time where the Internet has saturated consumers’ brains with an overload of disparate information. Supercharged headlines with strong verbs compete on infinite scrolling compelling an audience to click, read and respond.
Add to this equation the phenomenon of “fake news” and the prognosis is clear: millions of numbed, exhausted brains unable to differentiate facts from fiction, and unable to focus and prioritize their basic physiological needs for human survival. Herein, I am calling your attention to one need that is critical for human survival: FOOD.
Food is a vital component of our health, nourishment and well-being. The food that we eat is what the body will use to create, replace and regenerate new cells, neurons and hormones. Literally, we are what we eat.
Yet, today, we are becoming increasingly disconnected from food. We no longer know the origin of our food and its production methods. We no longer know the vast array of unpronounceable and unrecognizable additives and preservatives added to our food, let alone their immediate and long-term health effects. We no longer know what we are eating.
We place our trust in the companies that make our food and the governments that regulate it. We leave control of our food choices – and inevitably our health – to big food companies, fast food chains, restaurants, and fad diets. It is not surprising to see why we are suffering from major nutrition-related chronic diseases including obesity, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
And here is where we are today.
Consumption of Processed Foods and Obesity
By 2030, the obesity rate in the United States is projected to reach a whopping 47%.
By 2030, the obesity rate in the United States is projected to reach a whopping 47%. According to a 2015 study published in PharmacoEconomics, factors contributing to the epidemic of obesity and overweight include an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and a nutritional transition to processed foods and high calorie diets.
Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Cancer
A 2018 study published in BMJ Open, confirmed that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significant increase of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer.
Colorectal Cancer Rates Surge Among Millennials and Generation X
A 2017 research study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that young and middle-aged adults born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born around 1950, when risk was lowest.
Rectal cancer has been increasing longer and faster among Millennials and Gen X. Between 1974 and 2013, rectal cancer incident rates increased by 3.2% annually in adults age 20-29 years.
Between the mid-1980s and 2013, colon cancer rates increased by 2.4% annually in adults age 20 to 29 years and by 1.3% annually in adults age 40 to 54 years since the mid-1990s. Rectal cancer has been increasing longer and faster. Between 1974 and 2013, rectal cancer incidence rates increased by 3.2% annually in adults age 20-29 years.
American Cancer Society researcher Rebecca Siegel, who led the study, explained that some of the factors that contributed to the obesity epidemic – namely “changes in diet, a sedentary lifestyle, excess weight and low fiber consumption” – were “independently associated with increased risk for colorectal cancer.” While it is not clear why younger people are increasingly developing the cancer, Siegel states that “risk factors for colon cancer include eating meat, especially processed meat, smoking and obesity.”
Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease
By 2050 Alzheimer’s disease is expected to affect almost 50 million people in the US.
By 2050 Alzheimer’s disease is expected to affect almost 50 million people in the US according to a recent article published by Dr. Lisa Mosconi, Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC)/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are not inevitable outcomes of aging or bad genes.
Aligned with a recent BMJ Open study linking cancer to consumption of ultra-processed foods, studies by the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical have also linked the risk of cognitive decline and dementia to consumption of ultra-processed foods.
Dr. Mosconi underscores the importance of implementing lifestyle changes to avoid the onset of Alzheimer’s. These include exercise, cognitive activity, social engagement and eating better – i.e. eliminating ultra-processed foods.
What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?
According to a study published in the online journal BMJ Open, ultra-processed foods account for more than half of all calories in the US diet and contribute 90% of all dietary sugar intake.
Ultra-processed foods are habit-forming, high in empty calories with minimum nutrients, and designed to appeal to our taste buds, leaving us to crave more. They are generally cheaper to produce, sold in super-sized packaging at attractive prices.
Ultra-processed foods use additives including sweeteners, emulsifiers, preservatives, colors, flavors and partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. These include mass-produced sodas, soft drinks; packaged snacks and sweet baked goods; confectionery and desserts; reconstituted meat products like cold cuts, chicken and fish nuggets; instant noodles and soups; frozen or shelf stable ready meals; margarine, processed cheese, and most creamers.
About Those Preservatives and Additives
A 2014 study on the effect on food preservatives and flavor additives, published in the International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, found that food preservatives and taste/color/texture enhancers have been proven to cause pathological adverse effects on health including upper respiratory system symptoms, allergic skin reactions, gastrointestinal disorders, asthma, migraine, conjunctivitis among others.
Big Food Companies and Government
A major loophole in a 57-year-old law allows companies to determine on their own that substances are “generally recognized as safe” and add them to our food without ever informing the Food and Drug Administration.
According to the nonpartisan, nonprofit, investigative news agency Center for Public Integrity, a major loophole in a 57-year-old law allows companies to determine on their own that substances are “generally recognized as safe” and add them to our food without ever informing the Food and Drug Administration, the agency responsible for protecting our food.
Essentially, this means that people are consuming foods with additives, preservatives and other ingredients that have not been reviewed by regulators for immediate dangers and long-term health effects.
Consumption of Food Prepared Away from Home and Health Risks
Frequent consumption of food prepared away from home is associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and percent body fat as well as increased risk for overweight/obesity, cardiometabolic risk factors, and type 2 diabetes.
Over the past four decades, the American diet has been shifting towards eating out more frequently and cooking at home less. An Economic Research Service (ERS) 2012 report found that household spending on food prepared away from home has been steadily increasing from 25.9% in 1970 to 43.1% in 2012.
In terms of nutrition quality, a study in the Journal of Environment and Public Health published in 2016 revealed that food prepared away from home tends to be energy dense, with higher amounts of total sugar and fat than meals prepared at home.
The same research revealed that “frequent consumption of food prepared away from home is associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and percent body fat as well as increased risk for overweight/obesity, cardiometabolic risk factors, and type 2 diabetes.”
Cooking at Home Linked to a Healthier Diet
When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all – even if they are not trying to lose weight. — Julia A. Wolfson, MPP
According to Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study, “When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all – even if they are not trying to lose weight.”
It’s About Cooking, It’s About Time…
It is about time that
you take food into your own hands — it is your health, it is self-care.
It’s about time that you reconnect with food – that you know your food, from its origin to your mouth. It is about time that you take food into your own hands – it is your health. Start cooking. It is empowering; it is health care; it is self-care; it is 360-degree well-being, and it is delicious.
The first wealth is health. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Where to begin? Start simple. Make an inventory of your favorite childhood dishes. Do your research and compile the recipes. At the grocery store, READ LABELS. Avoid foods with preservatives and additives by skipping the aisles. Focus on the perimeter sections: fruits and vegetables, meat/seafood, dairy and eggs. Buy clean, organic foods. If you don’t know the source of your produce, then don’t buy it. Last but not least, be grateful that you have access to healthy food and support your local farmers’ markets.
Ready to cook? Set the stage for a relaxing escape. Turn off your phone. Turn on your favorite music. Engage, create and enjoy the process. Engage your five senses and appreciate the beauty of raw foods; feel their texture; enjoy their scents and raw flavors, and learn about their nutrients. Chop, dice, slice; master the use of your hands. Delight in the rich aromas of sautéed onions, peppers and garlic. Cook simple. Cook fresh.
You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients. — Julia Child
Focus on your intention: your cooking will be a gift of health, nourishment, love and delight for you and your loved ones. Sit at the table; be grateful. Chew each bite slowly and thoroughly to extract the nutrients. Chew – the more you chew, the more you’ll enjoy the richness in flavors, the more your body will absorb nutrients more efficiently.
Be radical; prep your kitchen and cook. And remember: no one but you is responsible for what you eat and your health. These are non-negotiables for me, and hopefully for you.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ― Hippocrates