Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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HomeViewpointsJanice CarterNational shame: fronting up to the impact of our SAD diet

National shame: fronting up to the impact of our SAD diet

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There’s a big fat elephant in the room, and no one seems to want to talk about it. What’s more, it’s making an awful mess, but very few, it seems, give a hoot about who set it loose or are making any effort to lead it away.

This beast, I euphemistically refer to, isn’t shaped like an elephant, of course, but does look a lot like New Zealand’s rapidly rising need for nursing homes for its senior citizens and a growing, but not so senior, need for nursing care generally.

Having recently started a new job as a Health Care Assistant in a nursing home, what I’ve been teaching and advocating as a volunteer Lifestyle Medicine Coach for the last 16 years has truly come to life – what you do now determines how your senior years will treat you. A whole lot!

When I am a senior, I want to be independent. I want to be fit and mobile. I want my grey matter to function as it should. I want to be able to prepare my own whole food plant-based meals – even if I’m considered a dinosaur. Some say my expectations are completely unrealistic but I’m giving it my best shot! I want to live like I am living in a Blue Zone even though New Zealand, where I do live, is at the opposite end of the Blue Zone spectrum.

I enjoy my job despite the huge challenges. These old and some young souls who exist in this nursing home need all the TLC they can get. They need their dignity and they need compassion. These are people who have lived (out of habit) a typical Kiwi life, heavy in meat, dairy, and processed convenience food. They’ve known no difference. They’ve lived according to knowledge that was common at the time.  But, as time moved on, our knowledge of nutrition became a respected science.

This science has profoundly changed the paradigm of what is considered a healthy way of eating. No longer is the “meat and 3 veg” routine considered healthy to the likes of Harvard School of Medicine, Oxford University and the World Health Organization.

Dr Michael Klaper explains it in three words: It’s the Food! Indeed, so true – it is the food! When I look at the so-called ‘food’ served up at the nursing home I work at, I can categorically say I totally agree with him. It may not be polite or diplomatic to print my description of what I see served up, but I give it a score of 0/10. Processed food – lots of meat and heavy in dairy – poor quality fruit and vegetables from large tins, overcooked and with no nutritional value – very little fibre and high in saturated fats and sugar. Meals are loaded with cream and accompanied by a disgusting cordial I remember from my 70’s childhood. It’s a chemical cocktail – a daily menu with zero living enzymes or antioxidants. It is a travesty!

We need to go back to simple eating by incorporating more raw foods that don’t need cooking or much preparation. The whole family should be involved in weekly food prep so we teach the next generation the value of unprocessed real foods.

On top of this – almost all of the 50-plus residents keep a large stash of chocolate, biscuits and lollies in their rooms all of which are eagerly consumed. The sugar and fat burden keeps adding to the woes and miseries of the obesity and multiple diseases they suffer. For me, it’s impossible to be quiet when I see the poison these people are being filled with.

The misery and suffering I witness where I work is a result of a lifetime of unconscious eating habits. It’s a pattern ingrained in the Kiwi psyche and an indicator of the crisis to come. No one seems to want to acknowledge it but, unfortunately, the outcome is going to bite hard.

I look at all this from an evidence-based scientific perspective coupled with a good dose of common logic. Food that includes saturated fat (and sorry, but yes, this includes coconut oil, coconut cream and coconut milk), refined sugar, additives, preservatives, chemicals, binders, flavour enhancers MSG, stabilizers, colour flavourings, all turn living food into shelf stable dead food. It’s a chemical cocktail that promotes disease and a huge percentage of New Zealanders habitually consume them every day!

On top of this, it’s frightening to think that the last two generations have been introduced to energy drinks, unhealthy foods from crinkly pretty packages, plus a myriad of fast foods and takeaways. Ultra-processed foods are now highly prevalent and impact the quality of both human and planetary health.

Dr Sue Radd defines ultra-processed foods as “foods of mainly industrial origin, often containing little or no whole foods but many ingredients including food additives such as artificial colours, flavours, stabilizers, emulsifiers and preservatives.

“Ultra processing destroys the natural food matrix. These foods are aggressively marketed and are linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, cognitive decline, dementia, asthma, wheezing, gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, brain cancer.”

She says these foods are harmful because, “they are high in sugar, fat, sodium, food additives, calories. They have no fibre or phytonutrients. Chemicals are also formed with modern cooking such as acrylamides and a host of other chemicals.”

Despite this New Zealanders keep eating this way with absolutely no warning or thought as to the consequences from any authority. We are falling into a bottomless pit – a place where access to help for these diseases won’t be available because of the overwhelming burden on our already depleted healthcare system. Action is needed now because the wall we face grows higher every day as long as this “head in the sand” mentality continues.

So how do you classify food by degree of processing? The NOVA system of cataloguing breaks it down this way:

Unprocessed & minimally processed: fresh fruit, fresh/frozen vegetables, dry legumes, fresh nuts, brown rice, rolled oats, untoasted muesli.

Moderately processed foods: fruit juice, canned vegetables, peanut butter, white rice, all oils, popcorn with butter, Weet-bix, canned tuna, yoghurt.

Ultra-processed foods: jam, French fries and all deep-fried foods, nut bars, muesli bars, commercial biscuits, margarine, potato chips, most cereals, ketchup/tomato sauce, mayonnaise/aioli, all fast food, vegan cheese, vegan meat analogues, frozen yoghurt, iceblocks, candy, chocolate, processed meats, meat analogues.

A time-poor or a lazy nation?

It’s easy to take the lazy route here but the cost is more than financial. Our health is at stake! Certainly, it takes time and organization to cook at home. It takes forethought and preparation. With people working long hours, commuting, families and commitments it can be a tough ask to make everything from scratch or to learn to avoid packaged ultra-processed foods or takeaways.

We need to go back to simple eating by incorporating more raw foods that don’t need cooking or much preparation. The whole family should be involved in weekly food prep so we teach the next generation the value of unprocessed real foods.

 If we don’t start finding ways to do this (turn off the TV- it’s a time thief) we are going to see a pandemic of health problems we may not be able to get help for. We are hit daily with nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, aggressive marketing and advertising enticing us with propaganda on why the next big “health kick” will save our lives. In short:

• We need to learn to stay well. 
• We need to become educated.
• We need to be our own health advocates.
• We need to awaken consciousness in our eating.

Ask yourself – how do I want to be living when I’m 65 and retired? Do I want someone to have to toilet me or shower and dress me? Do I want to be languishing in a wheelchair or a bed because of the lifestyle choices I made?

Every one of the residents where I work is there because of lifestyle choices they made throughout their lives. Remember, ‘genetics load the gun – lifestyle pulls the trigger’.

The medical history of these residents shows a high percentage of type 2 diabetes and stroke, several are wheelchair bound. Others have high cholesterol and blood pressure but worst of all are those with dementia.

Dementia is cruel and heartbreaking. It is an insidious disease and it hurts to witness it. A number are obese and need mechanical assistance to move, get out of bed or use the bathroom. But the powers that be continue prescribing all the foods that created these conditions initially.

So I have to ask, can you not see what is happening? Can you not see why these people are in this state? Are you so blind to the science and the research?

I don’t know the absolute answer here but I hope those who read this will be awakened and start sharing with family and friends a better, healthier way of life through Whole Food Living. This is, after all, why those of us involved in producing this magazine are so deeply passionate and vocal about the benefits of lifestyle medicine.

We’ve yet to see a better, proven way than whole foods as grown – so get growing! Get growing your own food, get growing your knowledge bank, get growing your expertise in the kitchen with the wonderful easy everyday recipes found in this magazine and last but not least, get growing in all dimensions of wellness.

Janice Carter
Janice Carter
Janice Carter is dedicated Lifestyle Medicine Coach passionate about spreading the word on Whole Food Plant Based eating. Tucked away in the most delightful bush setting Janice runs plant-based retreats. She has developed hundreds of WFPB recipes.
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