Newsflash: We are not “just fine”

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If I could have a dollar every time someone said, “I grew up eating highly processed junk food, and I turned out just fine” then I would surely be rich. And another one I’ve been hearing an awful lot lately is, “Easter only happens once a year so my kids will be getting candy.” Before I dive into the dozens of facts that prove we are truly (and unfortunately) not “just fine” I must first get this holiday thing off my chest.

Yes, Easter is once a year, but so is…

  • Christmas and Halloween and several other candy-filled holidays
  • Every kid’s birthday in the class
  • The junky packaged snacks given to kids after soccer practice and church service
  • Candy-filled party favor bags
  • The “100th Day of School” celebration
  • Visits from the ice cream truck
  • The Box Top “cupcake party” at school
  • The candy “reward” from the treasure box
  • The sucker from the bank
  • The frozen yogurt fundraiser for the elementary school (sorry but contrary to popular believe frozen yogurt is not “real food”)
  • The piece of candy after dance class
  • The visits from the in-laws bearing edible “gifts”
  • The playdate at someone else’s house where Oreos are a standard snack
  • The list goes on…and on…and on

My personal philosophy is that if I almost never give my children highly processed junk food they’ll somehow manage to still get plenty of it (from outside sources), and guess what…that’s been ringing true for quite some time now. I personally think one special treat a week is plenty and that’s what seems to work for us. It is a rare enough treat for it to actually feel, well, special. Seriously, if your kid eats a piece of candy after almost every meal how can it even be considered a special “treat” anymore? As I’ve said time and time again the problem is not necessarily the sweet treats themselves, but it’s the quantity in which they are consumed!

Sugar consumption is out of control

Did you know that according to a recent 60 Minutes story that “Americans are now consuming nearly 130 pounds of added sugars per person, per year?” Yikes! That’s more than a third a pound per person per day (approximately 3/4 cup a day!), and I would venture to say that most people don’t even realize they are consuming this much “added sugar” because it lurks in unexpected places like beverages, salad dressings, dried fruit, condiments, yogurt, crackers and even bread. “Sugar” comes in many different forms, which means it’s listed under many different names like brown rice syrup, honey, cane juice, agave, Sucanat, corn syrup, etc. making ingredient labels tricky.

Some scary statistics…all related to the food we eat

So how is it that we are “just fine” when:

  • “Our children have the destiny of a shorter life span than their own parents…your child will live a life 10 years younger than you because of the landscape of food that we’ve built around them.” (Source: Jamie Oliver)
  • “We spend our lives being paranoid about death, murder, homicide, you name it…it’s on the front page of every paper. Any doctor any specialist will tell you … diet related disease is the biggest killer in the United States right now here today.” (Source: Jamie Oliver)
  • Coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer – four of the top ten chronic diseases that kill most of us – “can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food.” (Source: Michael Pollan)
  • “Two-thirds [of America] is statistically overweight or obese.” (Source: Jamie Oliver)
  • “[To reduce heart disease] a government commission in the 1970s mandated that we lower our fat consumption. ‘When you take the fat out of food, it tastes like cardboard,’ says Dr. Robert Lustig. ‘And the food industry knew that, so they replaced it with sugar…and guess what? Heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and death are skyrocketing.’” (Source: 60 Minutes / CBSNews.com)
  • “Americans enjoy the cheapest food supply in the world, spending the smallest share of their income on groceries of any country.” (Source: Chicago Tribune Reporter)
  • “No other nation on the planet spends as much as we do on medical care.” (Source: Robyn O’Brien)
  • “People are fed by the Food Industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the Health Industry, which pays no attention to food.” (Source: Wendell Berry)
  • “Despite the fact that 25% of the population takes expensive statin medications and despite the fact we have reduced the fat content of our diets, more Americans will die this year of heart disease than ever before.” (Source: Dr. Dwight Lundell, Heart Surgeon)
  • “I freely admit to being wrong. As a heart surgeon with 25 years experience, having performed over 5,000 open-heart surgeries today is my day to right the wrong with medical and scientific fact. …The injury and inflammation in our blood vessels is caused by the low fat diet recommended for years by mainstream medicine.” (Source: Dr. Dwight Lundell, Heart Surgeon)

If you aren’t personally overweight or don’t experience any major health problems I can understand how you might think your health and eating habits are “just fine,” but how do you expect to feel, let’s say, 10 years from now? Plus I would venture to say that today there’s not a single person reading this that doesn’t know someone with a food-related health problem like heart disease, certain types of cancer, hyperactivity (in children), asthma, diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol, autoimmune disorders, and/or constipation. And the amazing thing about all of this is…as soon as you change your diet the majority of these food-related health problems are completely reversible.

I used to think we were “just fine” as well

I admit I thought our family was just “fine” and healthy before we cut out processed food. After all none of us have ever been overweight or had any serious medical problems. I grew up on my fair share of Doritos, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, candy and other sweets, and while still eating highly processed food I successfully completed my first sprint triathlon. Overall I felt like a young and active mommy. And while we didn’t get on this “real food” bandwagon to solve any health issues, the events that took place soon afterward were surprising. My HDL (a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol number that should be high) went up by 50%! My younger daughter’s constipation completely disappeared and her asthma improved 10-fold. I suddenly had more energy (I used to think experiencing “afternoon slumps” was normal, but those days are long over for me). Not to mention it just made sense to know where our food comes from and to not eat from packages with ingredients we couldn’t even pronounce.

Still to this day I honestly didn’t think our eating habits were “that bad” before cutting out processed food. We were never ones to frequent McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza or the prepared frozen food aisle, and sodas only made rare appearances in our house. Apparently all the refined grains and added sugars we were consuming was making a much bigger impact than I thought.

The point is this is our wake up call, and it’s time for some serious change. Smoking cigarettes used to be viewed as harmless and now look what’s happened to that industry. I fully expect the big food companies to follow in those very same footsteps because highly processed foods are clearly causing health problems. And if we, as consumers, “vote with our dollars” then they will surely get the message.

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