“Did you really become a Nutritionist?? [pause] Why?”
That’s probably the most common reaction from folks who have known me for a while when they hear that I’ve embarked on this new chapter. I am usually left nodding and smiling awkwardly, slightly tongue-tied and wishing I had a quick clever answer that would explain it all. Clumsily, though, I usually just blurt out “Because it really all starts with food!” This sometimes leads to conversation but usually just gets a quizzical look in response. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you are curious enough to let me explain further….
As some of you know, I was a corporate securities attorney in my prior professional life and for the last 15 years I have been dedicated to raising a handful of boys. What possessed me to go back to school and start this career, and why you are here reading, if I had to guess, are essentially the same – either we have/are personally, or someone we love has/is, struggling with health and lifestyle issues (I detail my personal journey here), and we keep hearing about nutrition being the missing piece of our health puzzle. If that is the case, why don’t our doctors ever talk about this? Simply put, it’s not part of their training, nor is it what they’re paid to do…and therein lies the problem.
Where Are We At?
Sick & Tired…and often Fat
Last year, Americans spent over $3.5 TRILLION on medical services – that’s more than the national deficit, our country’s food bill AND the profits of all US corporations combined! So, what do we have to show for all that money poured into seeking better health? Let’s look:
- In the US, nearly 70% of all adults have chronic health conditions – among the most common and costly are heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis;
- Two in four of us have two or more chronic conditions;
- Seven of the top ten causes of death in our country are chronic diseases;
- Asthma, obesity, learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, diabetes and other degenerative conditions affect nearly 10 million children – ALL of these conditions were considered “rare” only a generation ago; and
- The US has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality amongst developed countries.
The sad truth is that compared to our international peers we are living shorter lives with poorer health. We can no longer ignore that we spend the most money on health care and yet we are sicker than we have ever been. At the same time, though, never before in history have we as a nation been more obsessed with diet and nutrition. Food trends and new diet fads dominate our newsfeeds and social media creating a lot of “noise”, so clearly food has something to do with our health, right? Of course it does: Food is powerful and it impacts every part of our bodies from our brain, to our gut, to our hormones, to our heart and even our skin, hair and nails. Simply put, the food we eat either makes us more healthy or less healthy, there is no neutral food.
So, Why Is This Happening?
Let’s Call It the Story of “I’s”…
If you had to guess what the top three LARGEST MANUFACTURING INDUSTRIES in the United States today are, would “food processing” even make your list? Yeah, it wasn’t on mine either. The reality though is that something as simple as food has turned into big industry, aka Big Food, and if we know anything about any industry it is that profit comes before all else. This drive for bigger profits by Big Food has taken shape through the use of chemicals, antibiotics and toxins which strip our food of their natural vitamins, minerals and important nutrients – the result is devitalized agriculture and denatured food on our plates, with our health paying the biggest price. The disturbing fact is that the food we eat today does not even come close to resembling the food our parents and grandparents grew up eating and our bodies are being robbed. Quite simply, industrialized food is making us sick.
Because of its size, Big Food is able to wield great influence in the nutritional advice we are given. Most of us are all trying to eat healthy, right? The government and experts say to eat “low fat” “reduced sodium” “whole grain” “low cholesterol” and “sugar free”, even “vegan” and “gluten free”, and we are all trying to be good and do what we are told. But yet we keep getting sick and tired and often fat, so what gives? The ugly truth is that everything, from university research to advice from doctors to guidelines from government agencies, is influenced by money, bias and politics. When Coca-Cola funds the studies meant to shape elementary school lunch programs, we have a problem. Influence on nutritional advice has become just as toxic as our food.
Our bodies are designed to naturally stay in “homeostasis” or balance and when something is “off” and falls out of balance, our health suffers. Crappy industrialized food – and this includes all that food that is labeled as “healthy” – puts a huge strain on our body creating an imbalance. For example, when we eat processed foods, they almost universally break down into and raise our blood sugar. In order to offset this increase in blood sugar, our body needs Magnesium. But where does our body get Magnesium to balance our blood sugar? If it is not IN the food we eat, then our body has to dip into its own stores of Magnesium, until eventually we’ve used it all up and become deficient, creating an imbalance. So why does being deficient in something like Magnesium matter? Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and impacts blood pressure, metabolism, immune function and many other aspects of health. Here are some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency:
- Anxiety & Depression
- Muscle Cramps
- Hormone Problems (ever experience cramps or crave chocolate around your cycle? There’s a reason for that…dark chocolate is a decent source of magnesium – your body is talking to you!)
- Disrupted Sleep
- Calcification of Arteries
- High Blood Pressure
That’s not a pretty list – guess what else depletes our Magnesium? Caffeine – in any form (audible groans, I hear you.) Sadly, though, it’s not just processed food that creates imbalances. Now that Big Food is monopolizing our food supply, some whole foods, because they are grown under industrialized conditions in over-farmed soil and treated with toxic chemicals, don’t even contain their own natural nutrients. For example, one would have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamins as our grandparents would have gotten from just one orange when they were kids. On that note, terms like “fortified,” “minerals-added” and “enriched” are there just for marketing – our body can’t actually use the things that have been added back into our processed food. Following bad advice and eating industrialized food has resulted in imbalances throughout our body. What’s a body out of balance? Sick…and tired…and often worse.
One of the more dangerous things affected by an imbalance is Insulin. Insulin is an incredibly important hormone produced by our pancreas with the main task of balancing our blood sugar. Every time we eat something made up of primarily carbohydrates, that food is digested and broken down into glucose which raises our blood sugar. Normally, the pancreas senses this and sends Insulin over to step in and rebalance things by escorting glucose to our cells where it is used to make energy. Problems result when crappy nutrition or excess fat on our body create an excess of glucose in our blood. Our cells don’t want to get “overfilled” with the glucose so they essentially lock their doors to Insulin and become “Insulin Resistant.” Once this happens, glucose doesn’t enter our cells to make energy and instead just keeps circulating in our blood. Our pancreas sees all this glucose and freaks out, producing more and more insulin BUT the cells keep their doors locked and this cycle goes on repeat, hard. Eventually our pancreas wears itself out and viola! we ultimately develop Type 2 diabetes. Long before we get to diabetes, however, our health suffers significantly from this dysregulation of our blood sugar and we develop a host of problems ranging from low energy, increased body fat, hormonal imbalance and high cholesterol to premature aging, dementia, cancer and heart disease. Fun fact: Alzheimer’s and dementia are now referred to in the medical community as Type 3 Diabetes. As you can see, imbalanced blood sugar and insulin issues are no joke.
Immunity & Inflammation
Chronically dealing with persistent nutritional imbalances and insulin resistance puts a big strain on our immune system, and our body’s natural response to this is to develop inflammation. Sometimes this is visible to us – think frequent colds, joint issues, tendonitis, puffy skin, bloated belly – but other times it is unseen and quite deadly. For example, for years we’ve been told cholesterol was to blame for heart disease but science shows now that the core of all cardiovascular disease actually stems from inflammation. The sad part is that we keep blaming inflammation for medical problems instead of trying to figure out why we are inflamed. Put simply, our body inflames as a response to imbalance and injury – for example, when we are low in magnesium, our tendons tighten up and become stiff and so our body inflames and causes pain (tendonitis) hoping that we address the real problem (magnesium deficiency). Similarly, when a diet lacking certain enzymes causes a build-up of proteins that injure our arterial walls, our body inflames and signals cholesterol to come heal the walls. When our cholesterol is high, it’s telling us that there is an injury and an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Inflammation is really just a messenger, a symptom of a problem, it’s not THE problem. Sadly, however, modern medicine responds by trying to suppress the inflammation – Advil for the tendonitis and statins for the cholesterol – rather than listening to the body’s signals and looking for the root cause of the problem. When we fail to address our inflammation properly, our health suffers significantly.
Whew! That’s a lot, But an Easy Fix, Right?
Sort of …
I’ve covered a lot of ground but hopefully you are seeing that when it comes to our health, it actually does all start with food. You might even now be thinking: “So all I need to do is avoid bad advice and crappy industrialized foods that cause imbalances, insulin issues, immunity problems and inflammation, right?” The answer is SORT OF…. what to eat is actually not the hard part – instead, the problem is that even the most nutrient dense diet in the world will not benefit you unless your body is poised to take advantage of it. This is why the old phrase “You are What You Eat” is being changed to “You Are What You Absorb.” The good news is that with the right wisdom YOU can harness the power of nutrition to help prevent and, even better, reverse the trend of chronic disease in yourself and those around you. THIS, my friends, is why I became a Nutritionist. It is my passion to help you be Nourished Wisely.
My next posts will discuss what the first things are that you should focus on now to improve how you benefit from the food you eat. If you would like more personal help, please see my services here.