Sure, everyone knows that an apple is a better snack than potato chips, but do you know that a daily handful of walnuts or a bowl of blueberries can actually improve your well-being and longevity? Steven Pratt, M.D., witnessed the positive results that occurred when his patients with age-related macular degeneration changed their diets to include certain powerhouse foods -- those he has identified as SuperFoods. What are SuperFoods? Many may already be part of your daily meals, while some may make occasional appearances. But all are supermarket-friendly nutrition powerhouses. Here's an excerpt of Pratt's book, "SuperFoods RX:"
The foods you eat every day, from the fast food you mindlessly consume to the best meals you savor in a top restaurant, are doing much more than making you fat or thin. Their effects on your body are making the difference between the development of chronic disease and a vigorous extended life. They can prevent or greatly reduce your risk of vision problems, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and a host of killers. These are not just vague promises; they are facts that are now supported by an impressive and irrefutable body of research.
Most respectable scientists in the world today agree that at least 30 percent of all cancers are directly related to nutrition. Some would argue that the figure is as high as 70 percent.
For example, we know that the people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are half as likely to develop cancer as those who eat the least amount of these foods.
It's not just cancer that's nutrition related: about half of all cardiovascular disease and a significant percentage of hypertension cases can be traced to diet as well. In the Nurses' Health Study (an ongoing study of over 120,000 female nurses, begun in Framingham, Massachusetts,in 1976), the nonsmoking women with a median daily intake of 2.7 servings of whole grains were half as likely to suffer a stroke as other women in the study. Given this, it's particularly alarming to learn that fewer than 8 percent of Americans eat this much whole grains.
Indeed, most of us are eating ourselves to death: only about 10 percent of Americans eat the foods that would enable them to be free of chronic disease and premature death.
Our Western diets are literally killing us. While man evolved on a plant-based diet more than fifty thousand years ago,our modern diet -- the one our parents ate and the one we're eating -- developed only during the past fifty to eighty years. It is not serving us well. We humans are genetically "wired" for starvation, not an overabundance of food. Our genes are set for hunter-gatherer mode, and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and lean, wild game, not for the majority of foods and beverages found in today's supermarkets.
It has been estimated that 300,000 to 800,000 preventable deaths per year in the United States are nutrition related. These include deaths from atherosclerotic disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Here are eleven disastrous developments in nutrition that are ruining your health and the health of most everyone in modern industrialized societies:
1. Increased portion sizes.
2. Decreased energy expenditure; people just don't exercise enough.
3. Unhealthy balance of fats in the diet:an increase in saturated fat, omega-6 fatty acids, and trans-fatty acids, along with a huge decrease in omega-3 fatty acids.
4. An increase in consumption of processed cereal grains.
5. An overall decrease in fruit and vegetable intake from historical standards.
6. A decrease in lean meat and fish intake.
7. A decrease in antioxidant intake and calcium intake (especially from whole foods).
8. The unhealthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats,which is associated with a long list of chronic diseases.
9. A marked increase in refined sugar as an overall percentage of caloric intake.
10. A decrease in whole food consumption, which has led to a marked decrease in phytonutrient intake.
11. A decrease in the variety of foods eaten.
Few people, including health professionals, are aware of the significant recent decline in our overall health status. More than 125 million Americans have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or glaucoma. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one-third of Americans who were born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. Sixty million Americans have more than one condition. It's getting worse every day. In 1996, estimates were made projecting the rate of chronic disease in the future.
Four years later, in 2000, the number of people with chronic ailments was twenty million higher than had been anticipated. By the year 2020, a projected one-quarter of the American population will be living with multiple chronic conditions, and estimated costs for managing these conditions will reach $1.07 trillion.
The most shocking nugget of information in this dismal overview of American health is that the age of the "chronically ill" is declining. About half of chronically ill Americans are under age 45 and, stunningly, 15 percent of that number are children who are suffering from diabetes, asthma, developmental disabilities, cancer, and other disorders.
As a doctor, I see the imperfections of the system every day. The general unspoken assumption among many people is that you can eat whatever you feel like eating and count on a pill or a surgery to take care of the fallout down the line. For many of us, the only diet-related concern, if we have one, is weight control.
What's the answer? Clearly, we need to do better if we want to live longer and avoid chronic disease.
Excerpted from SuperFoods Rx by Steven G. Pratt and Kathy Matthews. Copyright © 2003 by Steven G. Pratt and Kathy Matthews. Published by William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.