You can tell a lot about a person’s health just by examining what he or she eats. Disease and nutrition are intimately linked. As much as the wrong foods can cause ill health, the right foods can be protect the body from damage resulting from other causes of disease. Ironically, here in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, many (if not most) people are suffering from malnutrition. Not the protein-deficiency malnutrition found in the third world, but a form that is self-imposed.
The prefix “mal” literally translates to mean “bad” and the types of “bad” nutrition that we suffer from result mainly from excesses rather than deficiencies. The typical diet in America contains gross excesses of processed foods packed with refined sugar and abnormal fat. This shift in balance caused by excessive food processing occurs at the expense of fiber and nutrients found in natural foods that are so vital for optimal health.
CHOOSING LIVING FOOD
When it comes to food, you can almost think of it as being living or dead. Living food, as you would expect, appears in its original form—a stick of broccoli, a carrot or fresh shrimp. Living food provides for much more than a source of energy. Minerals, fiber, healthy fats, natural enzymes and all of the nutrients essential for good health can be found in forms that are easy to digest and naturally assimilate in the body. These vital nutrients are hard to duplicate.
A tasteless, hard pear, if left in the windowsill long enough, will ripen into a soft, sweet delicacy. During ripening, the deeper flesh is protected from oxidation by the tough outer skin. Ripening occurs as enzymes present in the fruit break down the hard tissue into sugar. When we consume the pear, natural enzymes aid digestion.
There are many types of enzymes present in different types of living food. Beyond digestion, the body has the ability to absorb certain enzymes for use in other ways. Enzymes that break down proteins, called proteases, have anti-inflammatory properties and may protect against atherosclerosis. Processed food is totally devoid of natural enzymes. All the qualities that make living food desirable (highly absorbable nutrients, just the right balance of sugars and favorable fats, antioxidants and digestive enzymes) also make living food highly susceptible to spoilage. Food preservation, especially when it includes chemical preservatives, decreases the nutritional value of food. Living food is best when consumed at the peak of freshness. Fortunately, we live in a time when fresh food is more available than ever before.
The typical diet in America contains little food that resembles its natural origins. Food that has been pounded, pulverized, over-cooked and over-processed could certainly be classified as dead. Dead food has no resemblance to the original food source and almost exclusively comes in a synthetically derived form—always with an over-abundance of starch, sugar and fat, designed only to appeal to our senses of smell and taste. If there are any significant nutrients present, they are usually synthetically derived additives that never match the nutrient potential of real food. Most often this type of food comes in a package or a box that is also designed to appeal to our senses.
THE COMMERCIAL FOOD INDUSTRY
“Factory farms” and industrial food production could easily be targeted as the source of our dietary woes, but we can only blame ourselves. The commercial food industry only gives us what we want. We have a natural craving for foods that are high in sugar and fat because the immediate need for energy is preferential over other nutritional requirements. This is quite a change from how it has been for most of human history. For many thousands of years humans were relegated to a very high fiber, high nutrient, low energy diet—not by choice, but by availability. With the advent of choice, our natural cravings pushed us to consume a diet very high in energy, but otherwise deficient in vital nutrients and fiber.
Reliance on high-energy, processed foods is the root cause of the American obesity epidemic that has evolved over the past fifty years. Excessive body fat is associated with increased risk of heart disease, increased wear and tear on joints and ligaments, increased risk of certain types of cancer and increased risk of chronic disease in general. Often “central” obesity is accompanied by an alarming collection of signs and symptoms including elevated fasting blood glucose, hypertension, decreased HDL cholesterol and increased blood triglycerides. This condition, referred to as insulin resistance syndrome, metabolic syndrome or syndrome X, now affects somewhere between 25% and 50% of the population.
The shift in our food supply has occurred within a period of only a hundred years—almost overnight in relative terms, and certainly not enough time for the human body to adapt to such a drastic change. Though it is more convenient for a busy American lifestyle, the overall costs in terms of human health are enormous. Our total healthcare expenditure would be dramatically reduced if the American populace simply started making better food choices.
An ideal diet should consist predominantly of whole vegetables and whole seeds (grains, nuts, and beans), followed by whole fruits and rounded out with a variety of free range meats, seafood, and carefully chosen oils. Better choices in food slow the absorption of glucose, strengthen cell membranes, decrease inflammation, provide fiber for optimal digestion and toxin removal, and provide for optimal nutrients and minerals. Though most Americans are regularly making poor food choices, good food choices are more available than ever before. We are truly living in the “Golden age of food”—if you take the time to look for it.