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Health Matters: Nutrition or dieting for good health

Dr. Conway McLean, Journal columnist

Are you on a diet? Many Americans are, with recent estimates claiming 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. And at some considerable cost. Americans spend roughly $33 billion each year on weight loss products. Unfortunately, obesity rates have been going up for years now, with studies revealing about 42 percent of US citizens qualify as obese. Those individuals who are obese can expect to require significantly more care and have a shorter life span.

Obesity is now considered a disease, with many conditions resulting or, at the very least, associated. The relationship of obesity with many of our most debilitating and deadly chronic health issues is complex but close. These problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death.

Most people living in the Western world know very well obesity is unhealthy. If one is a consumer of ANY media, they are aware of this. Unfortunately, many Westerners have developed unhealthy dietary habits leading to this epidemic of adiposity (a term referring to the amount of fat tissue a body possesses). Consequently, many of us would like to lose weight. The dietary changes people make in hopes of losing weight vary greatly. How many fad diets and heralded diet plans have been promoted or sold to concerned Americans.

And more of us are on a diet than ever before. A higher percentage of Americans are on one, not all with a goal of weight loss, others for some specific health reason. Yet nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. As an explanation, some would say Americans are uneducated on the consequences of the foods they consume, on what good and bad food choices are. Others point to the empty calories and chemical additives put into most processed foods. Indeed, the obesity epidemic seems to follow soon after some country’s cuisine becomes dominated by “fast foods” and processed, packaged goods.

Our society has developed a certain divide in how we think about nutrition and diet. When most consider the word “diet”, the implication is that something is being restricted, you’re eliminating certain things from your life. But that is incorrect. The best way to define the term is your diet is the food that you eat habitually. Your diet is whatever you put in your mouth on a regular basis. It helps some to think of diet as a noun and not a verb. One has a certain diet, whether it’s low calorie, high protein, low fat or whatever.

Nutrition is different. A body’s nutrition is crucial to good health maintenance and resistance to disease. Diet and nutrition are two factors that consumers need to know about. The average American has a nutritionally poor one, with excessive and unhealthy amounts of sodium, saturated fat, refined grains, and calories from solid ‘trans’ fats. We eat foods processed with many chemicals and additives, the final product often looks, tastes and feels nothing like what it started as.

Dieting to many Americans implies something you are on for some period of time. Good nutrition, the kind favoring optimal health, is how you eat, long term, year after year. Any nutritional plan used only temporarily will provide for transient improvements, be it weight loss, muscle mass, or some other objective. Once the dieting goal is achieved, most return to their normal diet. Changes of this type need to be made for the long haul.

Medicine has established a definite connection between the foods we eat and our health. About half of US adults have diet-related chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, so the importance is unquestionable. In contrast is the educated individual, who has learned through research and study that certain substances can help to reduce the likelihood of developing many diseases.

Nutrition is the food that our bodies must consume each day for them to function optimally. The long list of substances includes complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and fiber. All humans need these to be at their best, and they should be provided in appropriate quantities and hopefully, from the cleanest, unadulterated sources possible.

Proper nutrition should also include vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. When an individual’s nutrition strays too far from what’s best, illness is either produced or encouraged. Many of the chronic diseases of lifestyle, especially diabetes and heart disease, could be lessened or eliminated with this approach (usually in combination with increased physical fitness).

The variety of diet plans out there could fill a book…..and has many times. From Atkins to paleo, some of the diets proposed have been ludicrous and dangerous. Others healthy and beneficial. But logic and science may be ignored in the promotion of the pursuit of weight loss. (Did you hear about the fellow who lived on only avocadoes since he was told they were good for you?) Some of the better studied have included the Mediterranean, the ketogenic, vegetarian, vegan, as well as the aforementioned paleo.

The goal is to get people to choose the healthiest options they can, ones that will improve their wellbeing. A well-rounded diet is essential for good health and it starts with making healthier choices. Even with a diet dominated by junk and processed food, adding in real whole foods can start the process. Consumers who practice inferior diets need to learn of the consequences, the documented association with heart disease, gout, diabetes, and a plethora of other diseases. Improving your health can start with learning about good nutrition. Then it’s time to add it to your diet. It may not always be convenient but, in this case, convenience can kill.

Editor’s note: Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine in the Upper Peninsula, with a move of his Marquette office to the downtown area. McLean has lectured internationally on wound care and surgery, being double board certified in surgery, and also in wound care. He has a sub-specialty in foot-ankle orthotics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions or comments tdrcmclean@outlook.com.

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