Some experts claim our country is in a constitutional crisis. As a physician, I see our country in a medical / health crisis. Our population spends 18 cents 0f every dollar on health care. That is 2.5 times higher than the health care cost of other industrial countries. Yet, we have the world’s highest rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and a host of other chronic illnesses. Our longevity, for the first time in our history, is decreasing, not increasing. So, what is wrong with our national health? And what is our government doing for us?
The Democrats want to expand our health care system, covering all citizens. The Republicans plan to increase competition with the hope of reducing health care costs. Both approaches will fail. Neither party is willing to address the core issues – the dysfunction of our government’s food / health programs and the dysfunction of our health care system. In truth, we do not have a health care system; we have a disease management system (or a symptom management system), which is costly, ineffective, and difficult to access.
Our government is controlled by our industrial agricultural industry and our pharmaceutical industry. Our government preaches the standard American diet, which is the least healthy diet on the planet. Our government subsidizes the farmers who raise the least healthy crops. Our government fails to ban food ingredients that are banned in other countries. Our government supports a pharmaceutical industry with easy approval of questionable drugs. Our government does little to support other options for better health.
The result? In the U.S. there were 4 billion prescriptions last year, which equates to 12 prescriptions per person. That is, by far, the highest use of prescriptions in the world. Our pharmaceutical companies make a fortune while our national health declines. We have an 8-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry for constipation. Those pills work short-term, but do they address the causative factors for constipation? Does our health care system ever address the causative factors for disease? Or promote the pathway to wellness?
In 1960 the average adult male weighed 165 pounds; in 2019 the average adult male weighs 195 pounds. In 1960 2% of the population had diabetes; in 2019 10% of our population has diabetes. In 1960 one in 100 people had psychiatric / cognitive symptoms; in 2019 one in 5 people have psychiatric / cognitive symptoms. All of our illnesses – medical / psychiatric / behavioral / cognitive – are increasing. For our older population, by the time someone reaches age 85, each person will have a one in two chance of suffering with dementia.
Would expanding a dysfunction health care system lead to less disease? No. Would more competition in our health care system lead to better health statistics? Probably not. As for cost, the American public has the wrong perspective. Our population spends 9% of their income on food. Europe spends 20% of their income on food. Americans have cheap, subsidized food, but we pay more on the back end – we pay the most for medical treatment (because we have the highest level of chronic medical / psychiatric / cognitive illnesses).
What can we do? We can give up the illusion that our government’s policies, from either party, will dramatically change our health. We need to take control of our own individual health. That means that each one of us needs to re-evaluate our regular daily diet, our level of exercise, our level of stress, and our level of support / love from others. Those four areas, when revised and re-designed, can create a pathway to better health, lower medical costs, and greater longevity. BUT … we have to do it on our own.
Here are my suggestions for each of the four areas. For diet, forget eggs and bacon for breakfast, a Bic Mac for lunch, and chicken for dinner. Forget the standard American diet where 25% of our food comes from animal sources, 65% comes from processed foods, and just 12% comes from plants. We need to switch our diet toward plant based whole food meals. We need to eat more vegetables, more fruit, more berries, more nuts, and more seeds – with minimal beef, plus reduced chicken, pork, and fish (animal protein). That diet change will lead to a reduced risk of all of our diseases – medical / psychiatric / behavioral / cognitive.
For exercise, are you aware that only 5% of Americans exercise 30 minutes every day? Too many of us have become progressively sedentary – at the office and at home. For the best reduction of disease rates, men need to exercise (walking is fine) 90 minutes per day, and women need to exercise (walking is fine) 60 minutes per day. Exercise does more than burn calories; it improves circulation, activates the immune system, and changes the expression of crucial health genes. All Blue Zones (where people live the longest) incorporate exercise into their daily lives.
For stress? That is a tough one – because life is stressful, especially in today’s chaotic world. But a pill is not the answer. Valium may reduce your anxiety, but it also increases risk of dementia. What can you do? Two suggestions. Try to incorporate a break in every work day. A short walk. A brief period of meditation. Anything to allow your body to reset / lower your stress hormone cortisol. More importantly, you need to give yourself a better chance to rejuvenate your body on a daily basis. The best pathway is daily fasting at night. Just from 6 pm to 6 am? 7 pm to 7 am? Or 12 hours at night. No eating late. Getting to sleep by 10:30 pm. Allow your body to heal every day / every night. That will prevent disease.
Lastly, support and love? With your next visit to a restaurant, glance around at the tables. How many people are on their cell phones? Too many. Studies show that we are experiencing less personal 1:1 time and less family / friend time. A virtual family does not equal a real family (or close friends) – with real, life contact. Studies also show that loneliness kills as much as a pack of daily cigarettes. So, do not become addicted to social media. Do not let yourself become too isolated. That – much like the American standard diet – will lead to increased illnesses.
In summary, we are living in a toxic environment. Our government is not helping. Our food industry is not helping. Our work load is not helping. Our technology is also not helping – at least in terms of our health. We need to take control of our health and implement changes in those four main areas. If we can re-design each of those areas, we will create better health with reduced dependence on our government and our dysfunctional, highly expensive health care system. Don’t wait to vole at the ballot box. Vote every day at the grocery store. At the gym. At home. Those changes are the real solutions for a better, healthier, longer life.
For this blog, instead of focusing on the best possible healthy diet, I am going to focus on the worst possible, least healthy diet. Specifically, the below list of foods underscores specific items that are dangerous to your health and longevity. These toxic foods are associated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes, and a host of chronic physical illnesses.
I still encourage you to focus on the positive components of your daily diet with more vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. I encourage more fish, especially Pacific Salmon. I also encourage more exercise with daily walking (10,000 steps) and weekly strength training. I also encourage the components in the previous blog on the 12 ways to extend your life span.
However, these are the foods that will make you sick – not with the first bite, but overtime. They contain ingredients from contaminants to toxins to hidden high-does sugars that will result in inflammation, degrading your body’s ability to rejuvenate and repair, weakening your immune system, and creating the wrong environment for the development of chronic diseases.
When you were younger, your body was better able to assimilate these toxins. As you grow older, your body is less able to metabolize the toxic sugar, less able to degrade the contaminants, and less able to eliminate the toxins. Collectively, they disrupt your normal physiology, causing intracellular havoc, DNA errors, a decreased rate of repair, and an increased rate of aging.
So, avoid these foods (as much as possible) …
Most foods in fast food restaurants
Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs
French fries and potato chips
Sugary fruit juices
High calorie coffee drinks
Bacon and sausage
Pastries and cookies
Cakes and frosting
Low fat yogurt
Low carb junk foods
If you can avoid these foods, you will stay healthier …
You will live longer …
Especially if you replace them with our other healthy habits …