Dr Jim Parker BMed, BSc, DRANZCOG, FRANZCOG
Nutritional and Environmental Medicine Health Researcher
Executive Board Member Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine
As the end of the financial year approaches many of us will reflect on the state of our finances and assets. We will consider the state of the economy, investment performance over the past 12 months and make plans for the year ahead. Discussions of “net worth” and “income streams in retirement” necessitate that we consider our current and future personal health to ensure that all our financial planning and hard work are fully realised. Wealth and health are partners in our investment plan. We need to invest in ourselves from a physical, emotional, social and spiritual perspective to achieve maximal returns in both our health and wealth.
The developed world, influenced by western lifestyle, is in the midst of a health crisis, largely influenced by poor lifestyle choices. Making poor lifestyle choices is akin to making poor financial choices. Both decisions result in less than ideal outcomes and loss of quality of life. Although our “lifespan” has increased our “health span” has decreased. Financial and health decisions require us to obtain knowledge and skills, get advice from professionals and weigh up decisions that can impact us in the short and long term.
There has been a dramatic increase in almost every chronic disease over the past generation. These include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, dementia, allergies, developmental problems in children, cancer and the list goes on! Chronic diseases are the leading cause of illness and death and are responsible for the majority of our health care costs. Most of the diseases are preventable and the result of an unhealthy lifestyle not our predetermined genetic blueprint. We now know that our lifestyle choices affect the way our genes function. Our lifestyle choices are a balance of risk and reward, just like our financial decisions.
Modern populations are increasingly overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived and socially-isolated
More than 80% of chronic conditions could be avoided through the adoption of healthy lifestyle recommendations. According to the “Global Burden of Diseases Study”, which is the most rigorous analysis of risk factors for death and disability ever published, 4 lifestyle-related risk factors contribute to the majority of the poor health outcomes from chronic disease. The number one risk factor contributing to adverse health outcomes is now DIET. Tobacco smoking, being overweight and lack of exercise are the other significant lifestyle factors. These risk factors are all preventable and modifiable by healthy lifestyle choices. Our future wealth can be better enjoyed by having better health. An investment in health involves making choices now that provide dividends in the future.
Our health-care system was designed to manage acute health problems, which it does with great expertise, but it is now overwhelmed with chronic disease management. Our “health-care” system has become a “disease-care” system that we as individuals all want to avoid. While there are many government, academic, regulatory and institutional actions being considered and implemented, it is up to each of us to make choices and changes to invest in our own and our families health and well-being.
Eighty percent of the population wants to live in a better state of health but do not know how to pursue it
Where do we start? We can start by looking at the top 4 modifiable risk factors as they apply to each of us at the present time. We can identify which of these are likely to be our greatest personal risks and what actions and changes we might be able to make to address them. This may involve seeking professional advice and support, or making some personal changes. We can all improve the quality of our diet, move more, get more rest and recovery and enhance our social connectedness.
Since DIET has been identified as the number one risk factor contributing to chronic disease and ill-health, this is the first place to start. As we all know there is a plethora of confusing information in the media and from health-care professionals about what is the optimal human diet. There are a large number of recommended approaches including the Mediterranean diet, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian and many, many more. At first glance this may seem an impossible task, but some general principles can be applied, resulting in a common-sense approach that is achievable.
It is not necessary to follow any one type of diet. It is necessary to follow the principles of a long-term sustainable healthy eating plan. This means eating a WHOLEFOOD way
So what are wholefoods? Eating a wholefood way means eating foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, with minimal processing. “Just eat real food”. It sounds simple, but with today’s modern lifestyle, deceptive packaging and advertising, and the pace and demands of contemporary living it can be difficult.
Eat plenty of: vegetables, good fats, eggs, nuts and seeds
Eat some of: grass-fed meats, seasonal fruit, legumes and grains
Eat little of: starchy vegetables and unrefined sugars
Try to avoid: Limit refined sugar, white bread, rice, pasta, sweetened drinks, refined vegetable oils and as many processed foods as possible
If you are aiming for a wholefood eating plan you should never feel guilty when you eat some of the less desired foods, as you know that most of the time you are eating well. No-one is perfect!
Eat food, not too much, mostly plants (Michael Polin)
Optimal health is a continuum from illness and disease to wellness, absence of symptoms and a life of energy and vitality. Eating a wholefoods diet is a journey of discovery and adventure to be enjoyed with family and friends. If we eat well, move more, get adequate rest and engage in fulfilling social relationships we will achieve optimal health and future prosperity.
If you require personalised advice regarding health-related problems the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine has a practitioner list that puts members of the public in touch with medical doctors and practitioners who are trained in Nutritional and Environmental Medicine.
Wishing you the best of health
Dr Jim Parker