3 Simple Steps to Grow Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Community
I’m extending Rick’s one step to three that will produce life long benefits to your waistline, your wallet, your community, and our planet.
As we enter the traditional Holiday Season the US economy is still sputtering and money is tight for many people. Even though money is tight, we are a nation where two-thirds of adults and nearly one in three children in the US are overweight or obese. African American girls and Hispanic boys, and American Indian and Alaskan native adults, are especially affected.
Body weight is one of the main contributors to preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, but according to research by the Institute of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson foundation only 3 of 100 women in the US adhere to habits that maintain healthy body weight.
And while the US spends double per person on healthcare compared to the other 21 wealthiest industrialized countries, we have the worst health. In fact, the health we get for our money ranks 72nd in the world, according to World Health Organization.
Why is that? According to John Abramson, M.D., of Harvard University, one third of American healthcare expenses are for services that don’t improve health or make it worse. Not only that, but the November 2010 issue of Discover magazine points out that more than half of all medical procedures used today lack any evidence of their effectiveness. This is equal to wasting $700 Billion, more than the 2010 US Defense Budget!
We are overweight, short of cash, and our healthcare spending fails to deliver. Sounds pretty grim. The solutions are surprisingly simple, and involve choices we make every day about what to eat and where to buy it.
1. Eat a plant-based diet.
John Robbins’ research on societies where people routinely live to be 100 years old with few health problems found that 90% of calories are from nutrient dense vegetables, fruits, beans, and raw nuts and seeds. In contrast, these foods are only 7% of the Standard American Diet (SAD), while processed foods are 51% and dairy and animal foods are 42% of our diet.
And no, this doesn’t mean eating “nuts and twigs” as some carnivores complain. Delicious recipes for a plant-based diet, and strategies for a sane approach to making gradual dietary changes are available from Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician who is an expert on the impact of nutrition and health.
Vibrant health comes from eating a high proportion of calories from foods with highest levels of nutrients per calorie. Nutrient dense foods are colorful plants like dark leafy greens, orange and yellow squashes and fruits, red tomatoes, sweet peppers, and strawberries, and purple grapes, blackberries, and blueberries. These plants contain a wide range of protective compounds that can actually reverse chronic conditions and diseases.
Dairy and animal foods can still be eaten, but in lesser amounts, and organic as much as possible.
2. Buy organic food.
Organic foods have been found to provide more nutrition than foods that are conventionally grown or raised. The most important foods to buy organic are the 12 vegetables and fruits with the highest chemical load identified annually by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and animal foods. The EWG has a handy downloadable list of the “dirtiest” and “safest” veggies and fruits that you can keep in your wallet.
3. Buy local.
When you buy local more money stays in the community. A comparison of people who buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program by the New Economics Foundation, an independent economic think tank based in London, found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally. “That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive,” says author and NEF researcher David Boyle.
When money is spent elsewhere—at big supermarkets, non-locally owned utilities and other services such as on-line retailers—money flows out of the community. Only 18 cents of every dollar go to the grower, 82 cents go to various middlemen. Cut them out of the picture and buy your food directly from your local farmer.
When you buy locally grown and produced foods they are fresher and cost less to transport. Most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. And this is when taking into account only US grown products! Those distances are substantially longer for produce imported from Mexico, Asia, Canada, South America, and other places.
Improve the health of your body, your wallet, and your community by eating a plant-based, organic diet that is locally grown and purchased.
I found the following helpful in learning about the relationship between what we eat, who we buy it from and where, and the size of our waistlines and wallets:
Health at 100: How you Can Dramatically Increase Your Life Span and Your Health Span, by John Robbins.
Eat Right America provides an online nutritional assessment and guidelines for improvement from Dr. Joel Fuhrman.
Environmental Working Group’ s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides is available as a PDF or iphoneApp.
Growing Local Value: How to Build Business Partnerships that Strengthen Your Local Community, Laury Hammel and Gun Denhart.
Time magazine article on the impact of local economies.