It seems to me that one big difficulty in solving this huge dilemma we are facing is that there are a million differing opinions on how to deal with it. The one thing that most people can agree on is that the way we eat is the primary contributing factor to these rising health problems. While some people think its simply a matter of diet and exercise, the numbers show that we DO diet and that we DO exercise (or at least spend staggering amounts of money in the diet and fitness industries....) but there has been no positive change.
So, what is the solution? It's my belief that we have to completely rethink what we put into our bodies. Rather that focusing on quantity (calories, fat grams, carbohydrates) we need to be thinking about QUALITY. One key finding of ALL nations and groups of healthy people (whole communities with consistently healthy weights, low incidences of type 2 diabetes, low levels of heart disease, etc) is that their diet is made up of mainly unprocessed foods (or minimally so): whole grains, dairy, quality proteins and fresh fruits/vegetables, all with no added chemicals- like artificial flavors, salt, sugars, colors or preservatives.
Is the food that you are eating really food?
Chances are, probably not. The food industry has decided to cash in on our concerns and it seems like everything you look at in the grocery store has some type of "healthy" label: TRANS-FAT FREE, MADE FROM REAL FRUIT, LOW FAT, NO SUGAR ADDED, MADE WITH WHOLE GRAINS, NO ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS and my personal favorite: ALL NATURAL.
None of these means anything, at all. Chances are, if you turn these packages around, you will find a long, long list of ingredients. Each probably processed to a fare-the-well.
To get the long term health we desire, we have to do our due-diligence. We've got to check EACH and EVERY item we put into our grocery carts. If you want to keep it simple, if something has more than 5 ingredients and any of them aren't things you'd stock in your pantry, put it BACK! Avoid products made primarily with sugar or white flour (also known as "enriched" flour). This will mean a few extra long grocery trips or even a few trips where you come out with half of what you needed or wanted. It might mean trying a different store than you are used to. A year ago when I began doing this, I had trips like these. Now, a year later, I know which products are quality, REAL foods and which to avoid.
As you start to really read labels, you'll be surprised at what you find.
Take the following as an example: Quaker granola bars-- the following is from their own product website, cut and pasted. Notice the buzz words: "whole grain", "no high fructose corn syrup"
Now, let's take a look at the back of the package (again from their own website):
How many different ingredients went into this "wholesome" product? I'm counting 37 ingredients. If you break it down into its individual components: sugar has been added 9 times in various forms including corn syrup and salt has been added 3 times. There is also the undisclosed "natural and artificial flavors".
Products like these aggravate me to no end. They advertise as a "healthy" choice and yet there is really nothing healthy about them. You'd be better off making a batch of oatmeal cookies at home and serving that up! Every time I go shopping or turn on the TV, I see some ridiculous food trying to pass itself off as healthy-- gummy candies (MADE WITH REAL FRUIT JUICE), sugar loaded breakfast cereals (MADE WITH WHOLE GRAINS), high fructose-artificially dyed yogurt tubes (LOW FAT). Most of these are geared towards kids and they wonder why we are unhealthy?!? Sheesh.
So, my advice to you-- Start now. Read! Read! Read! Forget anything you see on the front of a package, only the ingredients matter. If your family asks why you don't buy something, tell them. After a year of doing this for my 5 year old, he understands why I buy the food I do. He also understands what constitutes a healthy choice and what is a treat. If we each do this (and its never too late to begin!) we will begin to turn the tide and help our children lead healthier, longer lives.
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