Friday, May 27, 2011

Moving Beyond SAD: Embrace the Mediterranean Lifestyle

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid
The standard American diet is often referred to as the acronym SAD. The SAD is indeed sad when we consider the impact that it has upon the health and wellbeing of Americans. The increase in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes is of great concern. Lifestyle choices have a large impact on the development of chronic illnesses. In 2005, one of every two adults had at least one chronic illness. With the current increasing trend in obesity, this number is expected to rise with serious social and economic outcomes.

The SAD is a result of US farm and economic policies. Laws were created throughout our history that gave advantage to companies. These companies in turn controlled what crops farmers would grow and how food was developed from them. High fructose corn syrup and soy protein isolate are two examples of food additives cheaply created from subsidized corn and soy crops. Processed foods flooded the markets and Americans responded by buying them up. It appears that now the devil is collecting what is due. What is truly sad is that our children won't even have a chance. Obesity rates in children have skyrocketed with a concomitant increase in chronic diseases. Many healthcare professional are expecting children born today to have shorter lifespans than their parents.

Across the globe, people developed eating patterns that were consistent with their natural environments. This way of eating offered people the greatest advantage for survival. The Mediterranean diet is a prime example of this. I can wax poetic on the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet pattern, but there are wonderful resources that already exist. Instead, I'd like to focus on a few of the Mediterranean eating and lifestyle habits that Americans can easily follow in their natural environments.

1. Tend a garden: This is not a foreign concept in American history. Most families used to have to grow their own food. Gardening has become almost quaint with our busy lifestyles and the greater availability of convenience foods. If gardening is too challenging you can frequent farmer's markets weekly or join a Community Supported Agriculture group. Either way, you'll be connected to the land and the life-giving foods that come from it.

2. Plants, plants and more plants: Place focus on eating more plant-based foods. We certainly aren't lacking for protein in the US. What we are lacking is eating more plants. Every meal and snack of the day should contain plant food. We can explore eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that offer a bounty of nutrients.

3. Go fishing: I mean this metaphorically, but if you actually can go fishing more power to you! Replace eating beef and pork with fish. The fish in the market today is fresher than ever and there are many wonderful options that come from our lakes, rivers and oceans.

4. Be a little nutty: Nuts are a plant-based source of protein and healthy fats. Many nuts such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans and peanuts are cultivated in the US. Nuts can be used to enhanced the flavor of recipes or they can be a satisfying and nutritious snack when paired with a fruit or vegetable.

5. Cook and eat together: Nurturing is an innate human instinct, although some are more in tune with it than others. Our convenience-oriented environment has made it more difficult to become in tune with our more natural nurturing instincts. Cooking food to share with your family and friends is a great bonding activity. It is part of being human. Get everyone involved and enjoy the experience!

6. Get on your feet: Gardening, cooking, and walking to the market are all activities that support health. Life used to be very physical and now we have to exercise to replicate what we used to do on a daily basis for survival. An interesting thing is that all the exercise in the world won't save you if you sit for hours on end in a day.

A new US Food Guide will be unveiled June 2nd, 2011. Word has it that it will be very different from the Food Guide Pyramid of the last decade. A new icon was developed to more simply help Americans adopt the Dietary Guidelines into their lives. Whether or not the Food Guide is wonderful, all Americans can make little changes to move them to a healthier and closer relationship with the land that they live on.

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