Americans Can Greatly Reduce Chronic Disease by Not Eating the Highly Processed Western Diet
A human body has been developed like a complex machine that requires energy to run. Most machines, for instance, cars and other electronic devices require a source of energy presented in the most refined forms. Cars, for instance, will only need fuel that requires no further processing than just combustion to release energy.
Human bodies are engineered differently in that they carry out some processes of refining their sources of energy. For this reason, people consume plants and animals parts and the body processes these raw materials into a source of energy. Additionally, bodies convert some food into building parts that are utilized to form or repair body organs. This is one very crucial aspect of living things that differentiate them from man-made machines. Any fault in the process of food intake, digestion and assimilation may cause decline of health in the body, and there are many factors that can lead to this situation.
Classically, the main cause of human diseases was infectious organisms. This was also the main cause of deaths and disabilities among people. The other causes of death and disability among people were accidents, wars and natural catastrophes depending on the part of the world.
On the other hand, today the leading cause of death and disabilities among people is a rather new peril called lifestyle diseases. Another group of diseases that continue to claim people’s lives is chronic diseases. Chronic disease is described as a disease whose course goes beyond three months. Such a disease alters a person’s lifestyle permanently and one has to live with it. However, there is a very thin distinction between chronic and non-infectious diseases; mainly because most chronic diseases are non-infectious. Some examples of noninfectious diseases are various heart diseases, arthritis, and strokes among others. An example of a disease that is caused by microorganisms and it is still chronic is HIV. However, most chronic diseases are not infectious and are caused by people`s lifestyle.
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According to statistics presented by the World Health Organization (WHO) chronic and non-communicable diseases have been the leading cause of deaths in the recent past. For instance, in the whole world in 2002, a total number of deaths caused by these diseases were 35million, which was 60% of all deaths. Later on in 2005, 70% of deaths were caused by chronic and non-communicable diseases. The diseases, featured prominently in this list, included chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, stroke, heart diseases, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Still, the same year, 90% of the senior population in the US suffered from one of the above stated diseases. Additionally, 77% suffered from two of the diseases listed above. In all the above cases, the lives of the affected people had been affected permanently and they had to adjust their lifestyles (Temple 23).
However, the data has changed since then and deaths caused by chronic diseases in the US in 2012 amounted to about 80%. Another new characteristic of this data is that diseases, such as diabetes, have also risen in prevalence and effects (Challem 35). According to various organizations and the WHO, the cause of the situation described above is sedentary nature of people’s lives. It has been found that most people are not active for long periods of time. This has been occasioned by technological breakthroughs that led to development of machines that make work easier. The second possible cause is pollution that has led to an increase in radiation exposure.
Despite the two reasons given above, food and nutrition may be the cause of many diseases. There has been a great shift in types of food consumed by people, especially after the industrial revolution. The availability of processed food among Americans has increased greatly to a point of overtaking non processed foods. Additionally, the level of processing has increased: this has been so especially due to belief that this is the refining process..
This paper will expound how highly refined foods cause chronic diseases among Americans
The paper will also shed light on how Americans can stay healthy, consuming nutritious foods. Additionally, the paper will expound the possibility of saving a lot of money through proper nutrition. This is very crucial as the US uses about 75 % of its healthcare budget on curing chronic non infectious diseases (Aurelianus 67).
In order to understand how food processing affects human bodies, it is important to understand the evolution of humans and their nutrition. Human beings have evolved in the wild consuming wild food in its raw form. This food included plant parts such as leaves, fruits, and flowers and also animals’ parts. Consumption of these foods in their raw form had two effects.
- The most crucial one is that no nutrients were lost. Because there were different types of food at those times and the amounts were naturally balanced, the diet was balanced. This meant that a human body was holistically catered for in terms of nutrients. All organs had enough nutrients for growth, repair and optimum functioning.
- The second importance of this approach was that there was smooth and continuous intake of food. For this reason there was not rapid influx of some nutrients or materials in the body. This is because foods weren’t refined and it took time to digest and liberate vitamins, sugars and proteins. Afterwards, man learnt a few processing and preservation techniques. This also came with the discovery of fire. Techniques associated with this age include salting, roasting and sometimes boiling. However, it is important to note that the salt in use in those early times was not refined and had very little amounts of potent portions. For this reason, it had fewer effects on the users. Such techniques as roasting and boiling only served to soften food with very minimal loss of nutrients. For this reason, it did not have adverse effects on people. Therefore, all organs were well nourished and their activities kept operating at the optimum rate.
- The next age in this co-evolution came when food cultivation became a common practice among people, which made people lead a settled life. However, the greatest effects of this were that people grew food crops that they preferred. Foods that were unpopular were not cultivated. Additionally, those needed in small quantities were ignored as mass production was adopted. This came with an age where balanced diets among people started becoming a problem to maintain. Nowadays the problem has increased to a very large scale due to various issues.
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One of these issues is the current need for mass production which has led to overproduction of some crops while others have been left out. However, the main cause of chronic diseases is food processing. For instance, pioneer food processing involved the removal of jam and bran in corn and wheat. This converted food into a time poison (Horstman 47). First, the seed coat of such grains as wheat and corn has a wide range of B vitamins. The simple act of sifting leads to loss of these crucial nutritional components. Corn jam has very essential nutritional components and regulates the rate of digestion and assimilation.
In detail, it is the combination of the seed coat and the jam that slows down digestion of sugars such that there is controlled and regulated flow of maltose and other sugars in the blood. This means that when sugar is released slowly, spleen and liver are not overworked. If corn or wheat is sifted, the only component left is the endosperm which stores sugars that are meant for growing embryo during germination. This part is very rapidly digested and absorbed into the blood system, leading to a wide array of body problems. The first problem is that spleen has to work very hard to produce insulin to regulate the sugar. In such an instance, spleen is overworked. Secondly, sugars generate osmotic pressure. Once in the blood system, they lead to over absorption of water and hence increase blood volume and hence strain vascular activities. When this cycle is repeated regularly, it leads to increased blood pressure followed by unrest in this system. The above process occurs in various people while it may fail to occur in others. Another step that may follow it or replace it involves a release of proper amounts of insulin. This causes conversion of excess sugar into fats that are stored in the adipose tissue.
The ultimate end of this cycle if constantly repeated is overweight
Due to repeated cycles of intense work caused to spleen, the latter may fail to work correctly, leading to lack of insulin needed to regulate the utilization of sugars which may cause diabetes. This organ can also fail to work due to poor nutrition as highly refined food lacks nutrients. Diabetes is a chronic disease that a patient has to learn to leave with. One way of living with this diabetes is a regular dose of insulin injected after meal to control the metabolic breakdown of sugars. The government of the USA spends large amounts of money to avail insulin at an affordable price to many patients all over the country. Moreover, even more resources are spent to deal with disabilities and amputations caused by this disease. The blacks are genetically predisposed to this disease and are more affected. The government, patients and their families also spend a lot of time and resources to deal with the effects of diabetes. Diabetics have a wide range of problems, especially regarding to precision in terms of administration of insulin. Sometimes little or excess is often administered due to changes in the bodies. This causes fluctuations in the amount of fluids in the blood. This may affect the blood pressure and the functions of the heart and can lead to heart problems. In turn, increased blood pressure affects the function of some organs, such as kidney, whose functions, for example, reabsorption depends on blood pressure (Preedy 76). High blood pressure can lead to rapture of kidney tubules leading to kidney failure. In the USA as in all other countries, the kidney transplants procedure is expensive and out of reach for most people. This complicates the issue further as there are problems with getting a willing donor and compatibility issues.
On the other hand, the continuous cyclic deposition of fats from consumption of refined sugars leads to obesity. Obesity is associated with consumption of foods with excess sugars or fats. The excess fats are deposited in various parts of the body in varying amounts. Some researchers argue that due to proximity of these fats and lack of control from the brain, some fats are developed into hormone producing glands that poison the body and may lead to development of cancer. On the other hand, an increase in the body weight due to increase in fats is not accompanied by proportional increase in the internal organs. These organs remain the same in terms of size. This means that the heart has to pump the blood to a larger body and this makes overwork. Kidney has to filter blood and is also overworked if the person suffers from obesity and these conditions may lead to many heart conditions.
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Additionally, development of adipose tissue around the heart and other vital organs increases as one becomes obese. This reduces the working space for the heart which ultimately leads to heart problems. 75% of the healthcare budget in the USA is spent on chronic diseases of which heart diseases and cancer amount to around 80%. This means that if people do not eat processed foods, the amount spent on heart diseases can be greatly reduced. As discussed above, refining and sifting of cereals for various reasons have been the main cause of heart diseases and also diabetes.
Another effect of obesity is overworked and strained joints in the legs. This occurs due to increased pressure exerted on the knee joints, which end up in inflamed joints. This inflammation of the joints is called arthritis. This happens due to the relationship between three variables, that is pressure, force and area. The weight of the whole body is exerted on very small area in the knee join. This greatly increases the pressure between the two moving parts and can interfere with the mobility of the patient. Although arthritis is very unlikely to cause death, it is a leading cause of temporary disability among the middle age and old people in the USA.
Generally, food processing and refinement has for a long time led to loss of nutrients. Highly processed foods have become very accessible to the population to a point where it is no longer profitable for traders to deal with fresh food products in terms of opportunity cost (Gracey 98). Various nutrients are meant to nourish various parts of the bodies. In the event that such nutrients are left out of the diet, such parts are either malformed during their development or cannot function properly. In some other cases, they fail or cannot repair themselves after an accident.
Research has shown a direct correlation between the increase in arthritis in the USA and the decline in the intake of dark green vegetables. Such vegetables are rich in magnesium and calcium that can prevent and or reverse some cases of arthritis. Calcium when consumed regularly in a diet helps to burn fats in the body, hence reducing the pressure on the knee joints. Additionally, calcium and magnesium are major components of bones. If included in a diet, they lead to formation of healthy bones and cartilage in the joints and hence to reduced instances of arthritis. Processed foods lack vitamins and minerals that are essential for formation of synovial fluid that prevents joints from grinding. Lack of this fluid causes the bones to grind which renders a person immobile.
Elements, such as iron, are an essential component of blood, liver and spleen. This element is found mostly in green vegetables, animal parts and sorghum. The main challenge is that it can only be found in available forms in fresh foods. Processing of such food destroys it or converts it to forms that are not available to the body. Apart from the reasons given above, low amount of iron can hinder the action of spleen, leading to diabetes when little or no insulin is produced.
Many other industrial chemicals are introduced during food processing. For instance, it is not hard to note that sifted flour is usually brighter that the sifted grains. Some whiteners have been used for a long time until it is now acceptable. Though hypochlorite molecule is not poisonous, there is an amount or a level that is allowable. On the other hand, preservatives are always added to food products such as milk products and other foods. These additives are not necessarily safe but their effects in the short run are not yet established. Some researchers have linked these preservatives with many types of cancer that have come up, and that were rather rare in the past.
A wide array of acids have been utilized to preserve fruit juices and also to flavor various soft drinks. Although there is no direct link between such acids and any chronic disease, it is medically known that sphincter muscles at the entrance and exit of the stomach can develop cancerous growth due to overexposure to acidic conditions. It is also important to note that these acids are refined sugars. Cancer ranked second in 2012 among the chronic diseases that claimed most lives in the USA. If those fruit juices were taken fresh, sphincter muscle would not have been exposed to acidic conditions and instances of stomach cancer would be reduced.
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Fats, Salts and Sugars
Fats in the body can build up due to intake of fats or excess sugars. They are the main contributors to excess body weight. Fats, as seen earlier, cause or worsen arthritis and also reduce the working space for the heart and other essential organs.
Salts are solutes that trigger osmosis in the body. Their presence in the blood system causes a rise in the blood pressure as it boost absorption of water into the blood. The salt available for domestic use in the shops is refined with very large quantities of active ingredients. Those include sodium chloride and iodine. On the other hand, some of the ready-made foods in the USA, such sausages, bacon etc, are very rich in salt. Consumption of such food leads to instantaneous effects on vascular activities. The amount of water in the blood increases and this affects the blood pressure. Repetition of this cycle can trigger vascular problems and many heart diseases.
For the reasons discussed above, the government needs to take a step on the levels to which foods should be processed. The amount of salts, sugar and fats in food should be regulated. As a result, the number of chronic diseases can be reduced and a lot of money used to treat these diseases can be saved. Additionally, the number of cases when people die at their productive age can be reduced. People can also take a step and consume fresh foods. This can be achieved by deliberate action to buy fresh foods.
On the other hand, food processing cannot be stopped right away with in today’s world. This is so especially because it is a major way of preventing post-harvest losses. Foods in most cases are processed and refined so that they can be stored. Most of the foods in the raw forms will go to waste. Sometimes, such foods get infected by fungus or other microorganisms making them unsafe for human consumptions.
Another reason why food processing cannot be done away with is because of the busy lifestyle people have adopted. Today, every family is not responsible for production and the preparation of foods they consume. This is due to the fact that every family is specialized in doing what they are good at. However, all individuals need food to survive. Some of them have no time whatsoever to prepare food which boosts processing and value addition to a point where ready-made food has been availed in the market. In order to stabilize the supply, products have to be stored in a form that they can last longer. For these reasons, additives and salts are added to preserve the products.
Salting of bacon and other types of food is a technique that dates back to centuries. Excess salts are added to make food unsuitable for microorganism. The developers of this technique concentrated more on eradication of microorganisms and forgot that the food was to end up in human bodies. Sugars, on the other hand, have been used for many centuries to make food taste better. People and organizations have invested in sugars and a shift from this product may lead to massive losses suffered by citizens and the government. However, consumption of sugar is harmless in itself. Harm is brought about by excessive consumption.
Sugar is an irreplaceable source of energy which is used to provide and reimburse energy before or after a strenuous activity. For this reason, it is important for people to learn how to consume this product safely. The best way of consuming it is by ensuring that it is within the body caloric requirements. One should not consume sugars that their bodies cannot burn. Firms and also individuals can also learn how to process it without necessarily converting it into reducing sugars. Sometimes, it can be also combined with other components such as proteins and vitamins to ensure that its absorption into the blood system is slow.
Fat is another product that is almost impossible to acquire without processing. Households cannot get fats for various uses unless they buy them from shops. Fats and oils are very crucial to human bodies. They protect our vital organs from shock and are a good source of metabolic water. Everybody should have some amount of fats in their bodies for these crucial functions. In addition, fats are also a good source of energy. However, people should consume these products sparingly as they are needed in very little amounts (Sosa-Morales 87). Too much of everything is poisonous and even too much of vegetable oil will overwork the liver, deterring its functions.
All the highly proceeds foods have a set of characteristics that make them to be preferred by consumers. One of them is that these products are very cheap due to economies of scale. If every household was to produce and prepare its own food, this would be expensive and food would probably be out of reach. However, mass production reduces per unit cost of food, making it cheap. The cost is even lower as many firms are specialized in food production and processing and the competition lowers the price.
Food preservation and post-harvest handling have been a major sensitive issue. For centuries, households have been unable to do this effectively. Firms have come in and taken this role. They process food for storage and hence extend their shelf life. However, on the same issue, some firms have often overdone the addition of preservatives, additives and chemicals, whose long-term effects on people are either unknown or ignored (Richardson 76). Some good examples include addition of organic acids and some alkanoates to preserve soft drinks which can inflame stomach and cause cancer. High levels of high fructose corn syrup are a step take by some traders to mimic fortification of food and dupe the consumers. These additive sugars affect the body adversely, and may lead to diabetes and problems related to obesity.
Food production and processing has become a very profitable business in the USA
Some firms have for a long time made much profit and have ended up in a deep research to increase profitability. One of the ways in which firms have done this is through the growing of genetically modified foods which they sell to the public without duly educating or informing them. GMO foods may contain chemicals that could be potentially harmful to consumers. The transfer of genes could be faulty, leading to transfer of undesired characteristics that are harmful. There is a relationship between consumption and increased cases of cancer (Phillips 78).
Currently, there are no government rules or regulation regarding what should be added to different kinds of food products. This has made food processing firms become very adventurous. Some of them claim to follow the WHO recommendation to fortify food but this is sometimes empty claims or marketing strategies. Some of foods labeled to be fortified with B vitamins or folic acid do not have these components and this leaves the general public exposed. The recommendations and preferences by some people to consume only whole and fresh foods have only been utilized as a marketing strategy while not much has been implemented. The government needs to take a firm step to ensure that foods are fortified and the right nutrients are added. Additionally, people have to take it upon themselves to consume fresh and healthy food in order to lead a happy and productive life.
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It is not always necessary to fortify foods. Foods such as cereals are very nutritious and balanced when whole. For instance, corn and wheat are rich in B vitamins when whole. For this reason, regulations to prevent unnecessary sifting and refining can help in solving this problem. This can greatly reverse the health condition of the nation over time. Refining of these foods convert them to simple sugars that, in turn, leads to a multitude of chronic illnesses.
Although the USA is the land of freedom, some regulations on the genetically modified foods can also assist the population to remain healthy. The most crucial step would be proper education of public on the possible effects of these products. Although GMOs are well tested in the labs over time, they pose a great threat to humans as their effects on them have not been tested yet. Moreover, an increase in the number of cancer among the users of GMOs cannot be ignored.
If these simple steps are followed carefully, the number of people suffering from noninfectious chronic diseases can be greatly reduced in the future. This is because all the organs will be nourished well. Therefore, their development, functions and repair will take place effectively. This can lower the sad WHO statistics and reduce the number of deaths of young and productive people. 75% of the healthcare budgetary allocation goes to noninfectious chronic diseases; if the number can be reduced the resources can be channeled to investment of some other things. This can be done and it is possible as seen in other countries. The USA can attain even higher status (Paul 106).
In conclusion, the USA is suffering more from excess than lack. It is an advanced society that has been able to take care of infectious and deficiency diseases in a great way. However, such societies have become victims of excess they should be enjoying. For this reason, the US population has to take it upon themselves to eat healthy food. The choice of food is a personal one. In most cases, even given a chance, many people would choose to consume junk food for various reasons. For instance, young people may think that it is fashionable. The old ones may think that it saves time. Whatever the excuse, highly refined foods are claiming lives and people should not consume them.