Americans’ poor diets are killing them. In the U.S., over 70 percent of adults are overweight or obese. According to the CDC, obesity has far-reaching health consequences, including higher risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease; increased risk of mortality from certain cancers such as colon, breast, and endometrial cancer; greater risk of joint pain, depression, and worse quality of life.
When it comes to applying for life insurance, underwriters evaluate your application and decipher how much of a risk you would be to insure. In other words, “How close is this person to dying?” The higher of a risk you are, the more your policy premiums will cost. Build (height and weight), blood pressure, cholesterol ratio, diabetes, and heart conditions are some issues that commonly wind up causing increased policy premiums. These issues are oftentimes directly affected by diet and exercise choices.
American Diets Have Changed over the Years, for the Worse
World War II had a dramatic effect on the way Americans ate. After scrimping for many years, Americans saw food as a source of pleasure versus just nutrition. Televisions swarming with food advertisements entered most living rooms. Microwaves began appearing in every kitchen. WWII left the government with a large quantity of unused chemicals – which became America’s fertilizer and pesticides. These chemicals were a pivotal part of creating a huge food surplus and a market for cheap, high-caloric foods.
Diets moved toward a greater reliance on highly processed foods and sugary beverages. These foods and drinks are often high in calories, refined grains and starch, have added sugars and salt, and are low in naturally-occurring nutrients. And not only are the foods themselves less healthy, but Americans are eating more of it.
The prevalence of obesity in America has doubled between the years 1970 and 2000. The USDA estimates that Americans are now eating nearly 2600 calories per day. We’re simply eating the wrong kinds of food. Too many processed foods, not enough vegetables. (Note: not all processed foods are bad for you. Check out this article from EatRight.org for more information: Processed Foods: What’s OK and What to Avoid.)
Unfortunately, the less-than-desirable foods are easier to consume because they tend to be faster to prepare and cheaper to buy. Harvard research has determined that on average healthy meals cost $1.50 more per day than an unhealthy meal. For some individuals, immediately switching over to the Mediterranean Diet, considered one of the better dietary patterns, just may not be financially feasible.
- Rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains
- Provide more than half of the fat from monounsaturated fats (mainly olive oil) which do not raise blood cholesterol levels the way saturated fats do
- Provide moderate amounts of dairy products, fish and poultry, and very little red meat
- Includes wine in low to moderate amounts
Changes You Can Make to Your Diet
You don’t necessarily need to go through your cupboards and start tossing all the boxes of macaroni and cheese, but don’t make it a regular dinner habit. You also don’t need to start buying only organic produce. Start small – even the smallest changes can make big differences.
RealSimple.com shares small food changes that can have big results:
1. Start your day with protein.
Heather Leidy, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, says “Protein increases satiety throughout the day and this leads to reductions in food cravings and unhealthy evening snacking.” This could be the equation for the ideal weight-loss breakfast: a two-egg omelet + low-fat cheese + two ounces of lean meat (such as lean ground beef or turkey). No time to cook eggs? Try Greek yogurt with nuts.
2. Focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t.
Tell yourself you can eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want. Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., the dean of the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition, says “It’s better to eat 800 calories of healthy food than 600 calories of junk food.” His research has linked the consumption of foods such as potato chips, sugary beverages, and processed meats to weight gain, whereas increasing consumption of foods such as vegetables, nuts, and yogurt had the opposite effect.
3. Ask yourself: Does it taste good? How hungry am I?
Linda Bunyard, a registered dietitian at the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, asks “Have you ever eaten just because everyone else was? Or because food was right there in front of you? Break this habit. You only have a limited number of calories to spend in a day, so save them for the yummiest ones.”
4. Forget what you’ve heard about the scale.
You’ve likely heard that you shouldn’t weigh yourself too often because you’ll risk being discouraged by frequent fluctuations due to water retention or undigested meals. However, according to the Journal of Obesity, people who weighed themselves every day lost more weight and kept it off more successfully. David Levitsky, Ph.D., the lead study author and a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University, says “Stepping on that scale affects your decisions through the 24 hours that follow.” It can cause you to choose salad for lunch instead of macaroni and cheese.
5. Try the golf ball trick.
Leave about one-quarter of your normal serving off your plate for every food at every meal for two to three days. Then, as you’re eating, leave two tablespoons of every food (roughly the size of a golf ball) on your plate. Thirty minutes after each meal, are you still hungry? Most likely not. Smaller serving sizes may become habit.
6. Eat your vegetables first.
Traci Mann, Ph.D., a professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota, says the key is to put an unprocessed vegetable on your plate and consume it before any other type of food hits the table at both lunch and dinner. Her research has shown that this habit leads to eating fewer calories.
7. Start meals with water.
Obese participants instructed to drink two cups of water before meals for 12 weeks lost almost three more pounds than did those in a control group, in a 2015 study published in the journal Obesity. Helen Parretti, Ph.D., the lead study author and a lecturer at the University of Birmingham, says “Water fills your stomach and seems to increase satiety, which appears to lead you to eat less at your meals.”
8. Use laziness to your advantage.
“Studies show that if there are candies right by your hand, you’ll eat a bunch,” says Mann. “If you make it so that you just have to straighten your arm, you’ll eat much less. You’ll eat even less if you have to walk across the room.” Put tempting foods in higher cabinets, so you’ll need a chair or a stool to reach them; serve yourself a reasonable portion of dinner, then store the leftovers in the refrigerator before you sit down to eat; and cover sweets with foil instead of plastic wrap so you won’t see them every time you’re in the kitchen.
9. Cook just one more meal at home.
For each restaurant meal that you replace with a home-cooked meal, you can save 200 calories. Simple enough.
10. Prep veggies ahead of time.
Vegetables often require cleaning, chopping, and/or cooking. But when all you want is to dive into a bag of chips, you’re not as likely to clean, chop, or cook. So keep healthy foods in ready-to-eat portions.
Unhealthy diets are among the greatest health challenges of our time and a key driver of mortality and poor quality of life. Exercising and choosing to eat healthily aren’t very fun, per se, but it’s doable. When you’re struggling to make these choices, consider who you are making these choices for.
Obviously you want to be healthy for you (not to mention your wallet) but you also want to do it for your loved ones. Heart disease doesn’t affect just you. Diabetes doesn’t affect just you. Cancer doesn’t affect just you. Your loved ones will be there dealing with the effects of your health issues too.
A healthy lifestyle can help keep your life insurance rates low, premiums affordable, and give you peace of mind for you and your family.
Photo credit to: Jay Wennington