The importance of nutrition isn’t new to us. Almost every magazine, television show, and advertisement makes at least one reference to “eating clean.” Unfortunately, the allure of junk food isn’t lost on us. And, in the case of USA, unhealthy eating has led to an alarming number of deaths.
A recent study shed light on the fact that about 702,308 deaths in the US in 2012 were the product of cardiometabolic deaths caused by a poor diet.1 Before we go on to talk about ways to switch to a healthier diet, it’s important to discuss the study.
Diet And Cardiometabolic Deaths
Cardiometabolic diseases include hypertension, diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, nephropathy, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and other cardiovascular disorders.2 This particular study focused on deaths caused due to type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. It reflected on the fact that certain dietary choices aggravate the symptoms of these disorders, and hence increase the possibility of death. Here are the dietary factors that contributed to these disorders:
- High intake of sodium, which led to 66,508 deaths.
- Low consumption of nuts and seeds, which caused 59,374 deaths.
- High intake of processed meats, which contributed to 57 7,66 deaths.
- Low intake of seafood as well as omega-3 fats, which led to 54,626 deaths.
- Low intake of vegetables, which caused 53, 410 deaths.
- High intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, which caused 51,694.
While these numbers might seem staggering, they represent the reality of unhealthy eating. And, they stress on the need to prioritize health, have more public health planning, and devise strategies to improve health.3 But, before we discuss a few easy ways to improve your diet, it’s important to identify what leads us to eat junk food.
Why We Eat Unhealthy Food
An easy answer to why we eat unhealthy food is that it’s delicious. But, the one thing we don’t always focus on is that food is addictive. And, while food addiction is a controversial topic, studies state that specific foods, especially those that are rich in fat and/or sugar, might promote “addiction”-like behavior and neuronal change.4
This addiction might be one of the reasons why we binge eat. However, in reference to the study, there are certain reasons why we’re addicted to foods that cause cardiometabolic deaths. They include:
- Salt: This condiment is a staple in most kitchen pantries. And, although it might seem like an easy thing to give up, doing so comes with withdrawal symptoms like lowered appetite and slight nausea while eating.5
- Sugar: Whether it’s desserts or a morning cup of coffee, most of us have sugar in one form or another every day. However studies indicate that sugar withdrawal symptoms are extremely similar to the ones of substance abuse. Hence, there is a certain “dependency” that sugar intake brings with it. Excessive sugar intake activates dopamine, which activates the brain’s reward and pleasure center. In turn, this causes cravings and addiction.6
- Processed Food: We know that processed food is bad for us. But, it’s hard to give them up since they share pharmacokinetic properties with drugs of abuse. This means that the addition of fat and refined carbohydrates causes processed food to be absorbed in the system easily. This leads to “addictive-like” eating.7
If you suspect that you might be suffering from it, do consult a professional at the earliest. Alternatively, if you’d like to make the transition to eating clean easier, there are a few ways to go about it.
Ways To Eat Right
You don’t need a rule book to follow to eat healthier. Simple choices can make a huge difference. Here are a few things you can incorporate easily into your lifestyle:
- Eat Seasonal And Local: According to Ayurveda, eating seasonal and local produce is healthier for you. One reason for this could be the fact that food that is shipped tends to lose its nutritional value due to exposure to air, artificial lights, and temperature changes. Local and season produce, however, is fresh and flavorful. Generally, it is at its peak state and hence is full of nutrients. Besides this, it’s also a more sustainable form of eating.9 10
- Incorporate Fat In Your Diet: Eating healthy fats (polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and omega 3 fatty acids) is important to reduce the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. So, opt for foods like seafood, nuts, and olive oil.11
- Control Portion Size: An easy way to not overeat, is to use smaller plates and save a little food for later.12
Apart from this, make sure to fill half of your plate with vegetables, and the other with fruits. Opt for whole grains and lean protein. Be sure to check sodium levels in the ingredients list when you’re grocery shopping. Lastly, replace sugary drinks with plain water.
Eating healthy might seem like a drastic change initially. But, with a few changes in your lifestyle, you can get there. And, at the end of the day, a few dietary changes seem like a small price to pay for the health benefits they offer.
|↑1, ↑3||Micha, Renata, Jose L. Peñalvo, Frederick Cudhea, Fumiaki Imamura, Colin D. Rehm, and Dariush Mozaffarian. “Association between dietary factors and mortality from heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the United States.” Jama 317, no. 9 (2017): 912-924.|
|↑2||Srivastava, Ambrish K. “Challenges in the treatment of cardiometabolic syndrome.” Indian journal of pharmacology 44, no. 2 (2012): 155.|
|↑4||Corwin, Rebecca L., and Patricia S. Grigson. “Symposium overview—food addiction: fact or fiction?.” The Journal of nutrition 139, no. 3 (2009): 617-619.|
|↑5||Tekol, Yalcin. “Salt addiction: A different kind of drug addiction.” Medical hypotheses 67, no. 5 (2006): 1233-1234.|
|↑6||Avena, Nicole M., Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 32, no. 1 (2008): 20-39.|
|↑7||Schulte, Erica M., Nicole M. Avena, and Ashley N. Gearhardt. “Which foods may be addictive? The roles of processing, fat content, and glycemic load.” PloS one 10, no. 2 (2015): e0117959.|
|↑8||N Gearhardt, Ashley, Marney A White, and Marc N Potenza. “Binge eating disorder and food addiction.” Current drug abuse reviews 4, no. 3 (2011): 201-207.|
|↑9||Morningstar, Amadea. Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners: Familiar Western Food Prepared with Ayurvedic Principles. Lotus Press, 1995.|
|↑10||Eating local produce has great benefits. Indiana State Personnel Department.|
|↑11||Fat. Australian Government Department Of Health.|
|↑12||How to Eat Healthy.