Open a magazine, turn on a radio, unfold a newspaper, switch on a TV – the news headlines of North America’s print and electronic media all reflect a lingering interest in personal health issues and a growing concern for the state of our national health care systems. It seems everyone has a quick fix remedy for our ills and a full blast opinion about how to repair health care.
The result? Political ‘visionaries’ throw together another multi-million dollar study, manufacturers market another ‘cure-all, cure-none’ product and consumers as taxpayers continue to pay for ‘good’ health through their noses. Instead of getting what we pay for – medicinal comfort and medical care – we get bureaucratic smokescreens and bandwagon promises.
Real issues demand real solutions. Before agreeing to a $15 million government study of obesity or consenting to pay $15 for a book that describes how broccoli alone fights cancer, understand that we make ourselves sick by what we eat, drink and breathe and that we can effect good health in the same way. The reason we have a crisis in health care is that we’re spending too much money on expensive medical diagnostics and treatments and ignoring the root cause of our health problems – a highly processed food supply with progressively less nutrition.
Our federal governments and the national food processing industries would like us to believe that all foods are created equal. For example, the venerated but simplistic Canada Food Guide (CFG) measures good health by its ratio of recommended daily servings. For instance, the CFG advises that three to 8 servings of grain products daily will contribute to better health but in its boiled-down approach, the CFG provides way too many opportunities to make wrong choices. One slice of white bread is not as nutritionally valuable as a slice of whole grain bread and a slice of whole grain bread is not as nutritionally sound as a slice of whole wheat bread with added dietary fibre. Yes, white bread is more popular and less expensive than whole grain bread products, but do not let anyone tell you that four slices a day contributes to good health.
In Germany, they have laws that limit the use of white flour in the baking industry. On a per capita basis, Germans eat more bread than any other culture. In Canada, the slice of white bread has become a symbol for a North American food industry that is not only tasteless but empty of nutritional value.
For several years, North Americans have been preoccupied with the amount of fat in the food supply. In their rush to meet consumer demand, food manufacturers have created a plethora of fat-reduced products. However, knowing that natural fats add a lot to the overall tastefulness and enjoyment of food, processors often substitute modified fat and carbohydrates in the form of starches and sweeteners to approximate mouth-feel, the aesthetic of taste that provides a satisfying eating experience. Taking out natural fat and substituting modified fats and carbohydrates may reduce one perceived problem but it creates a myriad of other issues and contributes to widespread health problems such as obesity, high blood sugar and cardiovascular disease.
Herein lies the difficulty. Too much energy and too many dollars are spent trying to shore up an ageing population with high-priced medical procedures and treatments when the cost of illness can be reduced in the first place by focusing on building a strong, nutrition-centred agricultural industry. Developing and managing our agricultural production to produce highly nutritious crops that optimize medicinal properties and lead to improved health is a singular necessity. Canada is the world’s largest producer of lentils (a highly nutritious, maximum-fibre plant protein), yet only two out of every 1,000 Canadians eats them regularly. It is proven that a diet enriched with plant proteins such as lentils, chickpeas, split peas or red kidney beans can go far in helping reduce blood cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Our agricultural system is based on growing vegetables, fruits and especially root crops high in carbohydrates, starches and sugars which can lead to increased health problems in people predisposed to certain diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. If we desire a healthier population and a less costly health care system, then we can start by growing, producing and marketing a healthier food supply.
According to government statistics, eight million Canadians (over 80 million Americans) have cardiovascular disease, over four million (over 46 million Americans) live with arthritis and almost two million (over 23 million Americans) suffer from diabetes. Fifty-eight percent of Canadians (sixty-five percent of Americans) are overweight. Our collective lifestyle includes eating highly processed, non-nutritious foods and this has led to serious medical problems in our population. As a result, our national health care systems are in crisis, trying to cope with the result of negative food choices.
You can never fix a problem unless you address its root cause. In the case of our beleaguered health care system, the federal government would do well to better manage our agricultural production so as to increase the value of nutrition in our food supply. Perhaps it is time that standards were in place to ensure that the food we eat is as nutritious as possible.
Copyright © 2008 Positive Living Inc. and Lorraine Mignault
All Rights Reserved.