Did you know that about one half of American adults suffer from a chronic illness associated with poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity? That translates into about 117 million American adults whose chronic disease could be positively altered by adhering to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, together with an active lifestyle.

Americans’ S.A.D. dietary choices contribute to cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, as well as some neurological conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. This is not to be taken lightly. We are talking about life-altering diseases that can be curbed, pushed off, or even completely prevented if we make healthy diet and lifestyle choices.

Some Sad Statistics

Let us honestly consider these statistics: which American can say he is unaffected by this astounding reality? How many spouses, children, siblings, colleagues, or students are one degree away from a relative or peer with a preventable chronic illness? How many people are suffering daily due to poor nutrition and lifestyle choices? How much money is spent on medications and attempted cures, and how much productivity is lost?

Nearly two-thirds of all adults and one-third of children fall into the overweight or obese categories. Hundreds of thousands of youths struggle with weight issues. What will become of a generation that battles rampant health issues from a young age?

Numerous components of this eating pattern contribute to the infamous SAD title.  Most importantly, there is overconsumption of foods high in calories and low in nutrients, combined with underconsumption of foods containing sufficient nutrients.

More specifically, the American diet usually does not include enough fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and includes too many foods that are high in calories, saturated fats, refined grains, sugar, and salt.  Put simply, most Americans are eating too much junk food and not enough real food.

The Good News and the Bad News

Yet, on a refreshingly positive note, scientific research shows reasonably strong links between nutritious eating patterns and decrease in the risk of the chronic diseases mentioned above.  Moreover, making healthy lifestyle choices leads to an immediate increase in our standard of health and in our productivity.

Specific dietary recommendations by the DGAC (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) include eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, and nuts, combined with eating less red meat, processed foods, sugar, and refined grains.

But it seems the general population has not taken these recommendations to heart, even though people are aware of the real possibility that they could reverse the likelihood of chronic disease by adjusting their diets. Current trends in national eating patterns over the last decade do not show any major shift away from the SAD diet, and toward healthier eating.

If current research strongly suggests that proper nutrition can have a massive impact on the national burden of chronic disease, why are national dietary trends not changing?

Perhaps the general public lacks knowledge about proper nutrition, and/or has limited access to healthy options.  But even with knowledge and access, change is still not guaranteed.

As we know, behavioral changes are tough, especially if done on one’s own.  In fact, the DGAC emphasizes the need for a revolution in national health consciousness to permeate every aspect of society.  They call on partnerships between parents, families, schools, food retail, health care institutions, and health providers, in order to create a revolution that will be self-sustaining.

Sounds great.

A Solution: Achdut

Yet, there is still one critical component of this ideal plan that is missing, and that is national unity.  Success on a national level is possible only if each member of society feels a sense of responsibility for the well-being of every individual within his shared social strata.

The Jewish people are one nation, and we are unified by our unique essence.  The lofty national goals set by the DGAC are actually quite reasonable and attainable for the Jewish community.  We are small, organized, creative, and motivated.  Furthermore, we have an inherent sense of responsibility for each other.  If the DGAC believes in the American public, then all the more so, we can surely believe in our own abilities to create this positive change, thereby adhering to the Torah’s principle of “v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem” – “And you shall very carefully guard your lives” (Devarim 4,15).

Mordechai Katz has a master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine and is the founder of The Jerusalem Center for Functional Medicine. You can find him at: functionalmedicine.co.il & nutrition@functionalmedicine.co.il.