PT Tips: Nutrition is a Big Problem with a Simple Solution

Posted on Mar 18, 2011

Posted in: PT Tips

On January 31st the Department of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services released a new set of dietary guidelines for Americans. The guidelines, being both sensible and affordable, provide Americans with the information they need to make thoughtful food choices that emphasize nutrient dense foods and minimize nutrient poor ones.

In America, the majority of adults and one in three children today are overweight or obese according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. That bears repeating….the MAJORITY of adults and one in three children today are overweight or obese! Obesity and its associated health problems have a significant economic impact on the U.S. health care system. Direct medical costs may include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services. Indirect costs include the value of income lost from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism and even the value of future income lost from premature death. Proper nutrition and eating habits are something this country can no longer afford to ignore.

It is surprising to me that such a serious problem has such a simple solution: Eat healthy food and increase physical activity.

The Department of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans  include common sense suggestions including avoiding oversized portions, drinking water instead of sugary drinks, increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, eating out less and increasing physical activity.

Putting such simple practices into place will prove beneficial not only for every individual and family, but also for our country.  Americans can live healthier lives and reduce their risk for dietary related chronic diseases. This in turn, contributes to a lowering of health-care costs, helping to strengthen America’s long-term economic competitiveness.

A New York Times article provides information about the new guidelines.

The complete set of guidelines can be found here

In my opinion, following the dietary guidelines could lead to yet another benefit. It would stand to reason, that if people do indeed follow the guidelines and eat healthy fresh foods, they could easily find those healthy fresh foods locally. AND, should people actually make a shift toward eating locally, we would have the opportunity to make an even bigger health, economic and environmental impact.

Just think about it….there are tons of reasons for people to purchase fresh, healthy food in their own back yard. First of all, local foods simply taste better. Put two apples side by side and I guarantee you the bright red one that was picked a month ago and travelled a thousand miles on a truck does NOT taste better than the one picked yesterday at the local orchard.

Second, if you are eating local food you are eating those foods that are ‘in season’. By eating what is in season and available, you are provided a great variety of fruits and vegetables that change throughout the year.

Third, eating local foods could involve walking to the farmers market…well, that’s exercise! As I recall, exercise in the guidelines as well. See how this all fits together? AND, at the farmers market you have a chance to meet and get to know the people who grow and raise your food. You know where it was grown, and there are fewer steps between your table and your food’s source.

>Finally, eating local food means your money stays in your own community. You are spending money with local farmers who will use the money in your community as opposed to sending your money to another city, state, or even country, where you cannot even ensure that fair wage practices are being enforced.

Who’d a thought that following the guidelines could benefit not only on our health and our economy, but our environment as well? If this ‘trips your trigger’, there are other resources you may be interested in.

Michael Pollin, author of, The Omnivore’s Dilemma believes that the answer to the question “What should we have for dinner?” may well determine our very survival as a species. In his book, he follows each of the food chains that sustain us–industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves–from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating. Very interesting reading.

Yet another literary resource is a book called Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life, written by Barbara Kinsglover. This book tells the (sometimes funny) story of a family that deliberately ate ONLY foods produced in the place that they lived, for an entire year.

Now I realize that eating only those things we grow and raise locally might be a significant challenge but it is not an “all or nothing” proposition. An occasional snack of Cheetos is not going to end the world, although it is hard to get that orange stuff off your fingers. Change starts with baby steps. There are things you can do right now to begin to eat healthy, seasonally and locally. If you want suggestions, the Animal Vegetable Miracle has a corresponding website that offers recipes that you can use on a seasonal basis. Here’s the link:

Spring is the perfect time! Why not start a small garden and give it a shot. Just being aware of where your food comes from is a big step. Have fun!