Save Your Sight, Join the Food Revolution

by Marcia Dettloff, OD on June 18, 2011

I was watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution last week and was inspired by his challenge to us to make smarter choices in our diet and demand healthier options in our schools, grocery stores and restaurants.  In 2010, NC was the 10th most obese state with 29.4% of adults being obese.  We cannot ignore the skyrocketing rates of obesity and resultant increase in diabetes and other chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer and osteoporosis.

Diabetes is the number one cause of acquired blindness in adults. Current estimates are that it shortens life expectancy by 6 yrs. (compared to 11 yrs for a long term smoker). Yet a 2006 study showed that diabetics are more concerned about losing their sight than dying. Likewise, a 2002 survey by Prevent Blindness America found that blindness ranked third (behind cancer and heart disease) as people’s major fear.

Diabetes alone affects about 26 million Americans and 79 million are pre-diabetic.  If current trends continue, half of the population will be diabetic or pre-diabetic by 2020.  And while historically, diabetes has primarily affected people over 50, there is now a surge in diabetes in people under 20.

Besides the terrible physical toll diabetes places on patients and their families, the economic impact will be catastrophic if we don’t reverse this trend now.  According to the American Diabetes Association, healthcare costs for patients with diabetes are currently 2.3 times higher than those without diabetes and 10 % of all healthcare dollars can be attributed to diabetes.  In 2007, Americans spent $116 billion on direct medical expenses for diabetes and $174 billion in total costs. There is no doubt that complications and costs will be rise sharply with patients developing diabetes at younger ages.

So what can you do?

Sign Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution petition in support of better quality school lunches and teaching cooking skills.  Let the policy, food manufacturers and producers, grocers and restaurateurs know that you demand healthier food options.

Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI)  (adult or  child/teen) to get a general assessment of your weight and health risk.

Change your diet.  Eat a variety of natural, non-processed  foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, lean meat, eggs and fish) in reasonably sized portions to get the nutrients you need without a bunch of empty calories and chemicals.  Substitute oils for solid fats.

Drink water or low fat milk instead of sweetened drinks.  Soda, sports/energy drinks and juice drinks (not including 100% fruit juice) now account for a whopping 46.2% of the extra sugar in our diet and almost 25% of the calories consumed by young adults in the US!

It’s OK to enjoy treats occasionally but make them yourself and don’t stuff yourself silly.  Plan your calories just like you plan your family budget.  If you’re going to splurge on something,  you have to cut back on something else to pay for it.

What’s so bad about processed foods?  Processing tends to remove nutrients from foods while adding salt, sugar, trans or saturated fats and chemicals to give them a longer shelf life or to make up for taste and texture changes caused by processing.  So you’re getting more calories and a bunch of excess chemicals in exchange for less nutrients and an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Read the nutrition label before you buy. Knowing what’s in the food you’re buying is the first step in choosing wisely.  Make sure that “Low Fat” item that you’re buying to “be good” isn’t chock full of sugar.  Check for excess salt, sugars, saturated fats or cholesterol.  Steer clear of products that contain trans fats, hydrogenated oils, MSG or any product that has a long list of ingredients you’ve never heard of.

Cook at home where you can control what goes into your meals. Contrary to popular belief, you can cook fast, healthy and delicious meals on a budget.  For some ideas, check out:

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Recipes

Casual Kitchen cooking blog

WebMd’s Healthy Kitchen Healthy Food Choices

Teach your kids to cook. Food habits start at an early age and kids need good nutrition to be successful in school and grow into healthy adults. They need to learn about food and have basic cooking skills so they know how to prepare healthy, balanced meals.  My son dated a girl in college that literally didn’t know how to cook spaghetti.  Both parents worked and they ate prepared foods or went out to eat EVERY meal, including holidays!  Unfortunately, with both parents working and kids involved in after school activities, this is becoming all too common.  If you don’t know how to cook, learn together.  Between cable TV and the internet there are plenty of opportunities to learn.

Send a message with your wallet. The fastest way to get restaurants and food manufacturers to offer tasty, healthy choices is to buy products that are and avoid products that are not.  Look at the ingredients.  If you discover that a product that you like has trans fats or excessive salt, or whatever, DON’T BUY IT.   Talk to the manager or write to the manufacturer and tell them why you won’t buy their product any more.

Get moving. Changing our exercise habits is just as important in fighting obesity as changing our diets.  The boom in technology has resulted in increasingly sedentary lifestyles.  While a formal exercise program is great, many people just can’t find the time. According to Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic,   increasing your NEAT , or “non-exercise activity thermogenesis”, by adding movement to your daily routine can burn just as many calories, if not more.  Walk or ride a bike whenever possible.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Park across the parking lot and walk from one store to another.  Do some exercises while watching TV.  Hide the remote and the “clapper” and get up to turn the channel or turn off the light.  Make the kids go outside and play instead of spending hours in front of the TV or computer screen.  They’ll burn some calories and decrease their risk of becoming myopic at the same time.

Some employers are installing treadmill work stations to take advantage of NEAT.  Employees can burn 100+ calories per hour walking at the casual pace of 1.1 MPH. is an online community for people interested in this new concept.  I’m really intrigued by the idea but I’m not quite ready to dedicate half my family room to a treadmill so I just ordered this small, portable, Stamina In Motion Elliptical Trainer.  I’ll see how well it works.

The most important thing is to start making changes to your diet and exercise now so that you continue to enjoy good vision and health in the future.

For more information check out:

The USDA’s new My Plate guidelines and their tips and resources for making healthier snacks and meals.

USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 the pdf report is 112 pages long but pages xi and xii (pdf pages 12-13) have a summary of the key recommendations and tables and items in green are highlights.

National Diabetes Statistics 2011 -from the National Institutes of Health

Blog on diabetes -covers hot topics and current research on diabetes

James Levine, MD, Phd- lecture at the Transform 2010 Symposium sponsored by the Mayo Clinic


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