What’s wrong with the American diet?

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 23, 2013

“The American diet trades convenience for chronic illness.”
Those are the words of Dr. Chris Nagy, chief medical officer and director of Your Personal Wellness Center. He spoke to an audience of about 175 people Thursday evening at the Center for the Environment facility on the Catawba College campus. Nagy’s presentation was entitled, “The Standard American Diet: History, Health, and Disease.”
“We’re not winning the war on health,” Nagy said in his opening remarks. On average each person makes 200 decisions per day about food — and in America, not all of those decisions are good ones.
Audience members were asked to reflect upon the recent skyrocketing numbers in chronic illnesses, obesity and food allergies, as well as America’s place in world health. According to the World Health Organization, Nagy said, the United States ranks 37th worldwide in health system efficiency, 22nd in mortality, and spends more on health care than any other country.
America acts as if chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, are inevitable. They’re not, Nagy said. They’re just what we’re used to, and those 200 decisions per day can help prevent or accelerate the onset of chronic illness.
Nagy said that health, in the end, comes down to diet, and what a natural human diet is, or what foods keep our cells and genes in working order. Not only does a good diet provide essential nutrients and enable healing, it can trigger genetic reactions as well. Nagy revealed that while certain illnesses may be genetically programmed, it’s a person’s diet that determines whether or not they become expressed.
After all, he said, the food we eat has changed, but our genes haven’t. Natural super foods like broccoli, blueberries and even butter help nourish cells and genes, while grain-based foods are really just another vehicle for sugar.
Changing a poor diet into a healthy one is simply a matter of changing a habit. Nagy encouraged audience members to take responsibility for their own well-being, because no one else would do it for them.
“The way out of this mess that we’re in is education.” Nagy said.
Today, individual health is up against industrialized food giants. Modern day agriculture poses lots of problems to health by marketing genetically engineered foods and foods with reduced nutrients, shipping produce that’s lost its freshness, using confined animal feeding operations and engaging in production methods that cater to a base desire for salt, sugar and fat.
“It’s not hard to become overwhelmed,” Nagy said, “but nobody gets from here to there in a snap of the fingers. It’s the little steps.”
One of the most important steps to staying healthy is getting the right vitamins and minerals. Nagy suggested taking a multivitamin and a supplement for fish oil — a component for a healthy brain. Vitamin D is also essential to a healthy body, and can be acquired naturally by getting 20 to 30 minutes of natural sunlight each day.
Magnesium is another must-have mineral, and eating foods with probiotics — things that help maintain a healthy gut — is essential. Probiotics are found naturally in fermented foods such as kimchi (fermented vegetables), miso (a thick paste made from crushed soybeans, barley, rice or wheat and a mold known as koji), kefir (fermented milk) and kombucha (fermented sweet tea).
When it comes to changing dietary habits, some tips are to eat whole, locally grown foods and to cut out or limit processed foods. Nagy said that he believes the keys to staying healthy are to control insulin and inflammation levels. To do so, he recommends a diet that is low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and high in fat — that’s good fats like ghee, avocado, coconut oil, seeds and nuts. Exercise, addressing stress and getting plenty of sleep are also key to maintaining health.
Finally, Nagy asked the audience to use critical thinking when it came to their health and encouraged them to start taking charge of their own health immediately.
“It’s never too late,” he said.