Glenn Ellis

Every year, around the world, 11 million people die just because they had a bad diet. Compare this to the fact that only 6 million die, globally, from smoking tobacco products. Let that sink in a for a moment.

A recent study, published in The Lancet, has confirmed your risk of dying are greater from eating a bad diet than they are if you a cigarette smoker!

Like most things, this isn’t rocket science!

Contrary to popular belief, the harmful effects of a bad diet aren’t limited to upset stomachs, heartburn and constipation. In reality, bad diets are the first step in developing the plethora of chronic conditions that are the leading causes of death.

It is widely accepted that heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis—are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems. Without exception, each of these can be linked directly to behaviors associated with what we eat.

Regrettably, we live in a society where commerce and economics reduces us to consumers. As such, we are vulnerable to the exploits of food manufacturers and the agricultural industry and we find ourselves the main ingredient in a recipe (no pun intended) for a health disaster.

Over 100 years ago, this would not have been possible.

Back then, the leading causes of death were attributed to causes related to infection and the lack of hygiene (sewers, running water) in increasingly crowded cities and rural areas as well. The floods of (mostly European) immigrants entering the country accelerated the spread of disease and bacteria. These infections and bacteria were easily spread from person to person, leading to epidemics of outbreaks of smallpox, typhoid, malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and tuberculosis.

With the discovery of penicillin in the 1920’s, and subsequently made available to the public, infectious diseases were brought under control. Through the 1950’s and early 1960’s, vaccines, which had been discovered almost 200 years earlier were being promoted and administered throughout the country, bring the infections from childhood diseases to the point of eradication.

However, the overall health of the population was short-lived. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, we found ourselves facing new threats to our existence. Only this time, they were self-imposed; we changed the way, and what we eat.

The late 1960’s and the 1970’s brought along with it, fast-food; instant meals; and loads of junk foods and snacks. These culprits introduced the next 2-3 generations to incredible amounts of salt; fat; and sweets. The like of which had never been seen.

Current recommendations of limiting daily sodium intake to one teaspoon, are nothing when one considers that consumption a century earlier was low that low-sodium diets to prevent high blood pressure were unheard of. Now, nearly 70 percent of US adults are at risk of developing health problems associated with salt consumption. Similar comparisons can be made for saturated fats and excessive sugar.

Many families are victims of bad diets that they actually are preparing in their very homes. Others of us are living primarily off of takeout meals. In both cases we’re eating over-processed foods that are loaded with salt, and other health robbing additives and preservatives. Making things worse is our love for fried foods! Remember, we are made to feel that the way to reward our children is with a Happy Meal!

Not only does frying make foods taste better, but they are usually fried in trans-fat oils. These oils are among the most dangerous things we are consuming as part of our overall bad diets. They cause inflammation and calcification in the body, leading to high rates of strokes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

All of this brings us to one simple fact: we are not eating enough fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. These are the things that promote health and longevity yet are woefully missing from our typical diets.

The “fix” is simple. Try to make a determination to begin to transition to a healthier diet, elimination the habits and the foods that are leading us to an early grave.

Further complicating the deadly trend is the issue of stress! Since we have established consumption of tremendously bad diets, we need to acknowledge the role that stress plays in our behaviors for food choices.

There is much truth behind the phrase “stress eating”. The stress hormone, cortisol, causes us to crave foods high in fat, sugar, and salt.

For African Americans, this reality is even more important. Studies have shown the link between the stress that African Americans endure regularly as a result of institutional racism.

By the way, there is a downside to changing our diets. The consumer patterns we have established have resulted in with these bad diets had led the agricultural industry to “oblige” our cravings by limiting the supply of fruits and vegetables. In other words, if everyone decided to eat healthy, there would not be enough fresh fruits and vegetables to go around.

What kind of society have we created where how we are eating is more deadly than the threat of smoking?

Talk about a hot mess ...

Glenn Ellis is the health columnist, author and radio commentator. He can be heard Saturdays at 9 a.m. at www. wurdradio.com, and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. at www.wdasfm.com. For more health information, visit www.glennellis.com.

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