Sunday, March 28, 2010

What We Eat . . . and What We Don’t

LoneStart Wellness is (in part) about making mindful, positive choices when it comes to nutrition and physical activity. Most of us know what we “should” eat, and what we “shouldn’t,” but, here’s a fun—and interesting exercise (pardon the pun).

Open your refrigerator and look inside. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that Americans waste about 30 percent of all edible food produced, bought, and sold in this country—and even acknowledges that this figure is probably low. In fact, the National Institutes of Health say that if we were to add up all the losses that occur throughout the food chain, Americans, on average, waste about 1,400 calories a day per person. If you’re making mindful, positive food choices, that’s a little more than two full meals.

Remember how mom always said, “Clean your plate. Children in (name the foreign country) are starving.” Here’s another take on this. If you add up all the resources required to grow the food that’s “lost” as it progresses from the farm that produces it, to the processor that converts it to what we buy, to our plates, would you believe that our wastefulness results in 25 percent of all freshwater and 4 percent of all oil consumed in this country? This is for food we don’t eat.

And, there’s more. About 13 percent of all municipal solid waste consists of food scraps and edible discards from our homes and commercial food-service establishments. That's 30 million tons a year. There’s more still . . . When that food reaches the landfills and decomposes, one of the by-products is methane, which has 20 times the global-warming potency of carbon dioxide. Based on Environmental Protection Agency data, rotting food may be responsible for about one-tenth of all human-related methane emissions.

Up to one-fifth of America's food goes to waste each year, with an estimated 130 pounds of food per person ending up in landfills. The annual value of this lost food is estimated at around $31billion. According to USDA statistics, more than 5.4 billion pounds of food are lost annually at the retail level, while 91 billion pounds are lost in our home kitchens, restaurants, and institutional cafeterias. In other words, food-service and consumer loss make up 95 percent of all food waste—96 billion pounds each year.

So, now we’re back to mindfulness. While we’re not advocating cleaning your plate just to avoid waste, we are suggesting smaller servings—the amount we need, no more, no less.

And, look what we can accomplish for ourselves, our individual health and our environment by better meal-planning, using leftovers creatively, and making just enough—instead of too much. It’s a simple, healthful solution. Seems obvious . . . what do you think?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Have You Heard, Diets Are Dead?

It’s true—or should be.

March is National Nutrition Month, and the sad fact is that as a population, we’re unhealthier today than we were at the time of the first National Nutrition Month in 1970. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, almost one-half of all Americans report having a chronic illness—and those illnesses account for 75 percent of our national spending on health care. Furthermore, almost 80 percent of all chronic disease is caused by three preventable health behaviors—physical inactivity, poor nutrition and overeating, and smoking. And, to help us come to terms with our overall condition, the weight loss industry will see close to $70 billion in revenue this year. (That’s 14 percent of the $500 billion a year we spend on groceries.)

What if we reevaluate this relationship of dieting and food?

When we think of a “diet” most of us think of inconvenience, deprivation and temporary sacrifice. In reality, there’s nothing temporary about it—once you achieve your goal, you have to maintain it. Now if we shift the focus from “diet” to, hmmm, say “lifestyle change,” we’re also shifting our focus from negative to positive.

This brings the focus too, to the psychology of habits, and we know habits can be made—and broken. We all get used to doing something a certain way, and before we realize it, that’s the way we do it without even thinking about the “doing” of it. As examples, consider things as simple as drinking water instead of soda, seasoning with herbs instead of salt, choosing whole grains instead of over-processed, refined products. It can be something as simple as not adding sugar to cereal coffee or tea. For many of us, this may not be easy. But it’s doable.

And while we try so hard to “do it,” we’re not getting a lot of help from the food industry.

We try to make healthy lifestyle choices, and the food industry keeps telling us why we “need” soft drinks, chips, Hamburger Helper, pizza that’s double stuffed with meat and cheese . . . you get the idea.

So, back to that “diet” word. Consider that today about 72 million of us in the United States are on some kind of diet, spending that $70 billion we mentioned earlier. That’s a little more than $1000 spent per person “dieting” on average. What would happen if instead each of these 72 million people used that $1000 to make healthier and more nutritious food choices? That averages out to about $20 per week. Now, leave out the soda, fast food, pre-packaged and highly processed choices.

Suddenly, your healthier choices become new habits, and you have a new food-lifestyle relationship. You’re not “dieting”—but look at the result!