The problem of chronic disease is getting worse and worse across the Western world. More and more people are falling ill at a younger age than ever before. The question for people interested in health is, why? What’s causing the current sickness epidemic? And is there anything we can do to stop it?
Most professionals think that chronic conditions are “systemic problems.” Sickness, like inflammatory bowel is a function of the society we live in, the types of lives we lead, and the pressures of daily existence as members of a highly productive economy. But if you read media reports and science journals, you find some different explanations: people get sick because of the type of food they eat on a daily basis and because they don’t know how to cook from scratch. The picture is complicated and need more investigation.
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Sickness Results From Excessive Inflammation
When you look at the population-level data for a country like the US, you soon realize that not all groups of people are getting ill. Some populations maintain health, despite the systemic issues with the food system and exercise. Omnivores – people who eat both plants and animals – are, on average, borderline obese, with an average BMI of 29. Vegetarians – people who eschew meat but eat dairy and eggs – fare slightly better, with an average BMI of 27, putting them firmly in the overweight category. But pure vegetarians – people who only eat plants – are the only group of people in the country who maintain a healthy weight, with a BMI of 24 on average. Nutritionfacts.org has more information.
What’s driving this isn’t clear. Could they be consuming more health-promoting nutrients? Could they be eating more indigestible fiber? Probably. But researchers now believe that the reason plant-eaters don’t get as sick as other groups is because they get older is because their bodies are less inflamed. Powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals in plants stop cells from becoming inflamed which, in turn, causes them to process energy more efficiently. It’s this efficiency which could be the reason why cells don’t fall prey to the type of dysfunction that leads to common conditions. It has nothing to do with carbs – in fact, most of the world’s best anti-inflammatory foods, like beans and whole grains, are high in carbs and low in fat.
The Social Environment
The other major issue is the social environment. We get sick because our lives are centered around convenient food options that foster inflammation. People don’t regularly go out for parties or meals out at whole food vegetarian restaurants: well not ordinarily. Instead, they go for high-calorie, rich meals to enjoy themselves. Over time, these reduce the ability of the body to maintain healthy function, leading to the problems with chronic disease we see today. The problems can only be solved by lifestyle changes.