How Does Diet Impact Health?
Atkins? South Beach? The Zone? Trendy diets and nutrition research results change almost daily. Still, amidst all the hype, study after study show that good food choices have a positive impact on health, and poor diets have negative long-term effects. Know the facts:
- A healthy diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to perform, maintain wellness, and fight disease. Americans whose dietary patterns fit the USDA's Healthy Eating Index have a lower incidence of major chronic disease.
- Unfortunately, the standard American diet (S.A.D.) is heavy in saturated fats, partially-hydrogenated oils, refined carbohydrates, and highly processed foods.
- This diet, in combination with a sedentary lifestyle, large portion sizes, and high stress, is blamed for the increase in obesity and associated diseases in the U.S. (64% of the U.S. adult population is overweight or obese). Diseases associated with obesity include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and certain cancers, including breast cancer in women.
In short, what we eat is central to our health. Food acts as medicine to maintain, prevent, and treat disease. For more information about how food works in our bodies, see What Do Specific Foods Do?.
Eating Too Much or Too Little
Obesity is rising rapidly, and, as we saw above, is associated with many serious, even life-threatening, diseases.
However, eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia (binge eating and purging), and binging eating disorder, are also on the rise. In reported cases alone, anorexia and bulimia affect nearly 10 million women and 1 million men (primarily teens and young adults) in the United States. Additionally, an estimated 25 million people suffer from binge eating disorder. All are significant threats to health and are often chronic.
The average age of sufferers is plummeting, claiming control of children as young as elementary school. Peak eating disorder onset among girls occurs between ages 11 and 13. Eating disorders are also appearing more frequently among middle-aged women.
The increase in both eating disorders and obesity dramatically demonstrate that diet is not just about giving your body sustenance. Nourishing yourself engages every aspect of your being-physical, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual. When any of these aspects are unbalanced, eating behaviors can suffer.
Nutrition involves our relationships with family, friends, the greater society, and the world. We need to make decisions about what and how we eat that foster, not only our health and wellbeing, but the health of those around us and our planet.