When my mom’s dementia became apparent in 2006, I started reading everything I could find about it. I started out thinking the cure would be a pill, but I quickly learned that the currently available Alzheimer’s medications were not all that helpful. Fourteen years later, not much has changed. Results are varied from patient to patient, but at best, they seem to delay the need for advance care by six months. Benefits have been described as “modest,” and for some drugs, 30 – 50% of patients see no benefit. (source)
I also thought Alzheimer’s was only about genes — and we can’t control what genes we’ve been given. Further research informed me that there’s a strong connection between chronic diseases and our food and lifestyle .
But it’s not just Alzheimer’s.
Diseases affected by diet:
· Alzheimer’s and other dementias*
· cancer (some types)
· heart/vascular disease
· liver disease
· metabolic syndrome
· stroke (ischemic)
· type 2 diabetes
*Note: There is a clear, established connected between diet and Type 2 Diabetes, and Type 2 Diabetes is linked to a two-fold or higher increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. (source)
And our lifestyle actually matters more than our genes.
Our genes do not hardwire us for chronic disease. Rather, they influence about 25% of our total health. Our lifestyle choices such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress, and toxic exposure determines the other 75%.Dr. Dale Bredesen, author of The End of Alzheimer’s (source)
This is good news! We can’t change our genes, but through our lifestyle, we can influence a great deal of our health.
As I was researching this connection between food and health, I thought of my farming grandparents. They ate red meat, and eggs, and bacon, as well as plenty of vegetables from their own garden. No one counted calories or worried about fat. And they were some of the healthiest people I’ve ever known, well into their old age.
So I asked, “When did all this start?” And as I looked at historical data regarding diseases, I noticed a lot of lifestyle diseases began increasing in the 1950’s, then ramped up even faster toward the end of the 20th century.
Check out these charts showing the increase of cases of diabetes and autoimmune diseases over the last 70 years.
So what changed in the middle of the twentieth century? One of the most significant changes was that we started doing less food preparation at home and shifted more and more to the factory. This includes eating out more — especially fast food — but it also reflects that processed food has become the largest percentage of the food we bring home from the grocery store. (This chart just shows the change over 30 years. I imagine the change from 1950 to 2020 would be much more stark.)
A woman who remembers the shift shares her thoughts:
After World War II, food was changing. During the war, food shortages and rationing brought in newly created processed foods. Some cookbooks [came out] with new ingredients such as margarine/oleo, shortening, boxed cereals, and cake mixes. Foods that could save you time in the kitchen. Television was new to America and as households were starting to get their first televisions, advertising had a brand new way of getting you to buy what they wanted to sell. There were government films showing you how to eat and what to eat. When you look back now things become more clear… and we can see how we were steered to purchase what they wanted us to, and convinced that this was the better way. – gDonna
At first, some commercially produced food had ingredients much like homemade food. But as time went on, manufacturers sought cheaper and more shelf-stable ways to make their products. Over the last 70 years, much has changed.
In 2012, more than 80 percent of the calories Americans ate were purchased in ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat form. These tend to be higher in fat, sugar and salt than food that require preparation. source
The problem is we’re not eating food any more; we’re eating food-like products.– Dr. Alejandro Junger
The bottom line
Here’s where all my research and personal experimentation has led me…
Try to eat food that’s as close as possible to the way God (or Nature) made it.
Whether you believe it’s God or Nature, it makes sense that
we were created for health, and
our bodies were made to run best on the foods this planet provides.
It’s not that I think everything man made is bad for you. But the more man messes with food, the more likely it is he wades into territory where he can’t see the long-term effects of the molecular changes being made. And I think, rather than having to research each and every new ingredient that comes along, it’s easier to just stick to simple foods as close as possible to their original state.
Movies I recommend which expound on this topic.
See the other Trail 1 articles.
The Real Food Grocery Guide — a thorough guide to how to shop for real foods, this book also includes a good introduction to the why and what of choosing real food over processed food.