Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why healthy living is revolutionary

Recently, and I may have posted the link, I stumbled across a website with "100 Revolutionary Acts" towards better health. At first I thought that the website was awesome, a great idea and resource, but then I started thinking about it... why is being healthy a 'revolutionary' act?
(Revolutionary meaning characterized by a marked or sudden change or a break away from the status quo)

Some recent observations:

- I saw this sign in the DC Metro for 7-11 that pictures a Big Gulp full of a sugar filled drink, what looks like chicken or hot wings, and a brownie, with a tagline that says "budget your time, not your taste." Is that what many people think a normal meal or a late night snack should be? Is that kind of processed, sugary and fatty 'cheap' food really people's 'taste'? Is having a different taste 'revolutionary'?

- The line for the metro elevator is always full when the escalators are out... when escalators don't work they become stairs, is taking the stairs 'revolutionary'?  

- Colorado is the healthiest state when it comes to obesity, but it still has over 19% of its adults qualified as obese! (This does not include adults considered overweight.) Why is a state with slightly less than 1 in 5 obese adults the best obesity rate in the country?

- Working for a reknowned cancer organization I see the strong correlation between the spread of the 'western diet' (and with it obesity) and cancer (and othe non-communicable diseases like heart disease and diabetes) throughout the world! Why is a break away from the 'western diet' revolutionary?

When did healthy food and healthy living become a revolutionary concept?

Let me just throw this out there- The high carb, high protein 'western diet' has led to high obesity rates, high cancer rates, high diabetes rates, high heart disease rates, and the spread of this diet is increasing all of those rates worldwide! These rates are the reason that people who are disease free are considered 'revolutionary'! Yes, I just stated that people who are 'disease-free' could be considered healthy because that is what the norm has become. What healthy should mean is fit, energetic, and leading healthy lifestyles and therefore at a low risk for all of those diseases.

I very often get comments from people saying "You are soooo healthy!" or "I could never be vegetarian, I don't know how you do it!" Yes, training for triathlons is a little extreme and not something everyone does or can do because of the time commitment, their current fitness levels, not to mention they might just not want to, but when did my eating vegetables become a fascination for people? Eating vegetables should be normal, not something that sets me apart. Another question I get all of the time: "But where do you get your protein?"

We have been led to believe for a number of years that we need far more protein than we actually do, and this has been helped along by special low-carb diets like Atkins and Southbeach. The CDC recommends 46 grams of protein each day for women ages 19-17+ and 56 grams a day for men ages 19-70+; most cuts of beef provide 7 grams of protein per ounce, meaning that your favorite steak place's 8 ounce filet is as much or more protein than you need in an entire day! Add to that the chicken or turkey you had with your lunch, the cheese on that sandwich, the yogurt with breakfast, not to mention that whole grains and vegetables (if you are eating them of course) also have protein in them, and you get far more protein than you need for the day. You don't need high protein foods or dairy with every meal, for instance protein is used to repair muscle tissue so its best to have it after a workout, you don't need it to fuel before a workout. Too much protein can be converted to fat in your body the same way that excess carbs can be converted to fat in your body. Another misunderstanding we have is portion size - food labels and nutritional information that is given out in grams and ounces is useless if we don't know what a gram or ounce of that food actually looks like.

I am going to make this as simplified as I can- look at a plate. 1/2 should be non-starchy vegetables and some of it fruit, 1/4 should be dairy/lean protein, and 1/4 should be whole grains or startchier vegetables. If you can make your plate look like this every meal you will for sure be getting enough protein, healthy carbs, and most of the nutrients that your body needs - fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals.

Are you an endurance athlete? - make it more like 1/3 whole grains. Trying to add muscle? - make it more like 1/3 dairy/protein. Trying to lose weight? - make it a smaller plate. This basic model can be changed to fit your needs, the USDA just released a 'my plate' feature but it still categorizes corn and potatoes as vegetables and  dairy as a separate category. wrote a good piece on it that outlines a better way to look at the plate, more along the lines of how I picture it.

Does every single one of my plates look like this? No. Do most of them? Yes. Especially when looking at the entirety of my meals over the day. I prefer whole grain heavy in the mornings - oatmeal or cereal with fruit and supplements like maca, raw cacao and hemp; green leafy vegetable at lunch like a salad; one snack of raw almonds, a different snack of fruit with yogurt; and some combination of vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu, quinoa, etc. cooked for dinner. All of that pretty much evens out to the distributions of my ideal plate.

Is my plate revolutionary? I think many people believe that is what a plate should typically look like, but its not what most people's plates actually look like.

I'm not trying to buck the status quo, I am trying to reestablish it. Healthy living should be the norm, not revolutionary!

Who is with me? Who wants to establish vegetables as a normal part of their diet? Who wants to walk up and down the escalators turned into stairs? Who has a taste different than big gulps and 7 eleven chicken wings? Who thinks obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease should not be increasing around the world? If you are with me then I guess you are a revolutionary too!

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