How Does Diet Impact Health?
Atkins? South Beach? The Zone? Trendy diets and nutrition research change almost daily. Still, amidst all the hype, study after study shows 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 physically, maintain wellness, and fight disease. Americans whose dietary patterns include fresh, whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, and fish have a lower incidence of major chronic disease and especially of diet-related diseases.
- 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. (according to the Center for Disease Control, over a third of the U.S. adult population is 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 health, as well as 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 binge-eating disorder, are also on the rise. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, in the United States alone, 20 million women and 10 million men have suffered from an eating disorder at some time in their lives. These disorders 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 men and 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, community, the environment, 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 of our planet and environment.