Famous Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme once said, "You don't need a silver fork to eat good food." The problem is, when we start equating "good" food with "healthy" food, fulfilling this decree starts to get more than a little complicated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is responsible for one in four deaths in the United States. Among the top risk factors for heart disease are obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and poor diet. Factors one through three are undeniably linked to number four — poor diet.
Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 percent of Americans have either diabetes or pre-diabetes by age 65. Whatever we're currently doing to reverse these trends apparently isn't working. Too many people still are not making the kind of tide-changing food choices that might benefit their health. This is occurring even though more and more research is showing that sustained, thoughtful changes in diet can make the difference between health and illness; sometimes between life and death.
An early study using data from a long-term epidemiological probe into women's health by Harvard nutritionist Walter Willett concluded that heart diseases could be reduced by at least 80 percent by diet and lifestyle changes alone. According to Frank Hu, current head of the Harvard Medical School Department of Nutrition, researchers through the years studying the link between diet and health and have found the Mediterranean diet stands alone as a benchmark for healthy eating. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, and fish while de-emphasizing red meat and dairy.
Nutritionists also point to the vegetarian diet and the Asian diet as a means of increasing longevity and decreasing the risk of chronic disease. Yet the Mediterranean diet continues to be favored, due to the salt and starch in the Asian diet and the belief that the vegetarian diet lacks important nutrients.
In fairness, it's not like people are not trying to eat better. According to newly released survey findings, most Americans are flat out confused about what counts as a healthy food choice.
According to the International Food Information Council Foundation's annual Food and Health survey released this week, approximately eight in 10 survey respondents said they have found conflicting information about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid; more than half said the conflicting information caused them to second-guess their choices.
Even though respondents viewed dietitians and health care professionals as the most trusted sources for guidance on food choices, many respondents said they turn to their friends and family for advice. And, in practice, that may not necessarily always be a bad idea.
Despite the connection between poor diet and many preventable diseases, only about one-fifth of American medical schools require students to take a nutrition course.
According to a CNN report, the International Food Information Council Foundation survey involved 1,002 American adults. It found that nearly 60 percent of respondents ranked being "high in healthy components or nutrients" as one of the top three factors for a "healthy" food. More than half of respondents ranked "free from artificial ingredients, preservatives or additives" among the top three factors, and nearly 50 percent ranked " that I need to build a healthy eating style" among their top three factors. Being "organic" and "non-GMO," were less likely to be ranked.
"Our biggest trend over time has to do with purchasing factors, and we know that taste and price have always been the top two factors that have driven purchasing, with healthfulness following behind in the third spot," Dr. Roxanne Sukol, preventive medicine specialist at the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic, told CNN. She was not involved in the new survey. "In terms of what is healthy, we know that it doesn't always beat out what tastes the best or what has the best price, in terms of impacting a food purchase," she added.
Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, too many individuals and families continue to have trouble connecting with healthy fresh food on a regular basis. Why is this? Some experts continue to believe it is to a great extent due to the fact that many people live in "food deserts." A term first coined in the 1990s, it is commonly used to describe places void of ingredients needed to make a healthy meal and with an absence of supermarkets within easy walking or transit distance.
But as researchers dig deeper into the question of why so many Americans eat poorly, they've come to realize the problem is far more complex than a matter of physical access. It is also a socio-economic issue. It is a condition deserving of a new term — "food mirage," with access to healthy food an illusion because it's unaffordable for far too many Americans.
Nobody seems to know what to do about this situation.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.