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Have you ever paused to take a look at your family’s health history? I was required to do an assignment for a college nutrition course where I gathered information for my own “health genome”. This informs of any health issues in siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I was supposed to make a report of any known instances of cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease (heart diseases, high cholesterol, etc), type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, eating disorders, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Now, my extended family on both sides is HUGE! My mom was one of seven children, and my dad is one of seventeen children (yes, you read that right! Three of those are half siblings). As I began to pull in health information from as many of them as possible, I learned that three of my four grandparents experienced adverse heart conditions. Of my 22 aunts and uncles, there are six known cases of various types of cancer, a good handful of pre-cancerous polyps, a high number of them are on blood pressure medication, and there are a handful of other recurring medical conditions among the bunch…
I’ve lived over 3/4 of my life without my mom alive. She passed away in a car accident when I was young and this has had a profound effect on how I view life with my family. From this, I am highly motivated to do everything I can so that my own kids don’t have to experience the same loss. Knowing that my own chances for developing a variety of health conditions are high, I find myself wanting to do everything in my power to be my healthiest. There are many good reasons for wanting to lose weight, but in my opinion, working towards optimal health is the best reason of all.
Before I go on, I want to make sure to stress that I realize that sometimes these things just happen. Sometimes we develop health conditions for reasons that we don’t understand. I assure you, I pass zero judgement upon anyone for their unfortunate health circumstances. But I do know that there are actions that we can take to reduce our risk of developing such conditions.
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
– Hippocrates (460-370 BC)
The following are a list of the top chronic conditions that we have the ability to reduce the risk of developing based on our diet choices:
The United States is facing a major obesity epidemic. With our over abundance of “quick grab food” options at the drive through, the processed foods in the grocery store, and the lack of physical activity (perhaps due to too much Netflix binging?) it’s a no brainer that America’s waistline is expanding at an alarming rate.
Check out these facts about obesity from the CDC:
- The prevalence of obesity was 42.4% in 2017~2018. [Read CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data brief]
- From 1999–2000 through 2017–2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4%, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. [Read CDC NCHS data brief]
- Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. [Read guidelinesexternal icon]
- The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. [Read paperexternal icon]
Obesity-related conditions including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, are the leading causes of preventable, premature death (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013).
Obesity can be decreased or overcome through these effective tips:
- Choose to eat foods which are low in saturated fat
- Choose food and beverages which are low in added sugar
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Reduce intake of fatty meats, processed foods, and foods with high salt content
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (or not at all)
Heart disease includes blood vessel disease (coronary artery disease), heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), heart valve disease, disease of the heart muscle, and heart infections. These diseases can lead to larger complications such as heart failure, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, peripheral artery disease, or sudden cardiac arrest. The good news is that many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices!
The Mayo Clinic has a hefty list of recommendations for avoiding heart disease, but we’ll just focus on the dietary recommendations:
- Control your portion sizes
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- East more whole grains
- Limit unhealthy fats (no more than 5-6% of total calories from saturated fat & NO trans fats); monounsaturated fats are preferred
- Choose low fat protein sources such as fish, lean meat, legumes, and low fat dairy products
- Reduce sodium intake (no more than 1500 mg per day)
- Plan and create menus ahead of time
- Treat yourself on occasion
Decades of research have effectively demonstrated that diet can directly affect cancer risk. Some of the foods we eat, such as red meat, salt, and highly processed food, have been shown to heighten the risk of developing cancer. While cancer can be developed by genetics and environment, these two factors usually amount to smaller than 30% of one’s lifetime risk of getting cancer. We have control of the majority of factors that help in reducing risk of cancer. These dietary recommendations are associated with a lower incidence of cancer rates:
- Eat foods high in anti-oxidants. These come in the form of our bright colored fruits and veggies (i.e. dark green leafy kale, orange bell pepper or fruit, purple beets, red tomatoes, etc.)
- Eat low glycemic foods (This article from medicinenet.com will teach you about the glycemic index, and what a low glycemic food is); High glycemic foods are associated with greater risk of developing certain types of cancer
- Increase your dietary calcium intake (Foods highest in calcium: dairy products, dark leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, fortified cereals and fortified orange juice)
- Maintain a healthy weight
Type 2 Diabetes
The connection between Type 2 diabetes and diet is overwhelming (There is a small number of occurrences where type 2 diabetes is caused through genetics, or occur naturally). Both type 2 diabetes and obesity are strongly tied with each other, and are both influenced by dietary choices. Sedentary lifestyles and dietary habits are both the cause of rapidly increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes. Rapid and substantial weight gain, combined with high quantities of added sugar in food and drinks play a major role in developing Type 2 diabetes. The dietary recommendation for preventing type 2 diabetes is to consume a diet low in added sugar and total calories
What would it be worth to you to conduct your own personal family medical research to identify and work to avoid these health conditions? What if you were to find out for yourself that you have effectively eliminated your own risk of developing obesity, heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes by living your healthiest lifestyle? So here’s your homework, if you’re able, go call your grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, and siblings (they’ll love catching up with you!), compile a list of all of the health challenges they are facing (this will help you to identify the risks that you are up against). Then go and implement the health recommendations to overcome your specific risks. Don’t wait until it’s too late!
An awesome side effect of eating more fruits and veggies, avoiding processed foods and added sugars, and all of the other above recommendations, will be the weight that you will lose in the process!
Let’s do this! Let’s make our “why” to be the healthiest version of ourselves!
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