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Healthy nutrition must lead healthcare reform

Inspire Health Event Calendar March 18, 2011

Healthcare reform has fallen short of addressing the true importance of healthy eating because traditionally it has been more focused on treating illness rather than preventing it. While new medical interventions may reduce cancer mortality rates, they are ineffective in reducing the occurrence of major diseases such as cancer because they do not address some of the root causes of the diseases, including poor nutrition, lack of exercise and smoking, to name a few.

Today’s educated and empowered consumer is helping to change healthcare with attitudes inspired by new values and a desire for natural and healthy foods. Consumers are helping to drive this transformation with expanded nutrition literacy. Terms like organic, natural, super-foods, antioxidants, healthy fats and whole grains are becoming mainstream. Consumers also recognize they have been misled as to what “good nutrition” really is and they are now driving the conversation around redefining healthy nutrition.

Why is nutrition important?

Recent research shows whole foods are not only healthier, but they may also lower the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Nutrition is the number one area of interest for cancer patients at InspireHealth, Canada’s leading integrated cancer care centre. They become keenly aware of its importance to promote their health and healing and to reduce cancer recurrence. The centre’s medical doctors, who are committed to healthy living, strongly believe in the healing power of diet. They promote whole, organic, nutrient-dense foods to support the innate power of the immune system.

A recent study found that fibre in whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruit aids the body by promoting bowel movements, lowering blood-cholesterol levels, and improving blood glucose levels. People who consumed higher amounts of fibre, particularly from grains, had a significantly lower risk of dying over a nine-year period compared to those who consumed lower amounts of fibre, according to a new National Institute of Health study released earlier this year. Other studies have suggested fibre may lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Although there’s conflicting evidence about whether or not mortality rates may be reduced by consuming fibre, researchers, led by the National Cancer Institute, concluded, “A diet rich in fibre from whole plant foods may provide significant health benefits.”

This year, the federal government is announcing new labelling guidelines to play their part in re-defining health and nutrition. By restructuring the front-of-package labelling guidelines, Ottawa is attempting to increase consumer awareness so Canadians can make healthy choices and not be misled into buying unhealthy products that are marketed as healthy. Grocery chains and natural food stores are introducing “shopping guides” to assist consumers in choosing wisely. Certain restaurants are also demonstrating leadership by proactively revealing the sodium and trans-fat content of their dishes.

New consumer expectations and demands are forcing food manufacturers to improve their products. Major food corporations are now researching natural foods and studying nutrition to expand their interest in the ‘good-for-you’ market; they are even developing products to help prevent and treat conditions such as diabetes and obesity. While the increased action is promising, overblown health claims made by food companies have also drawn criticism as some take advantage of this trend for profit.

A stronger call for healthy nutrition

It is increasingly important and easy to choose whole foods that are natural, organic, local, seasonal and unprocessed. Eliminate refined, highly processed foods and foods containing ingredients void of nutrients such as artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated fats. Simply put, fresh, real, whole food is the foundation of health and disease prevention. Eating more raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans, chickpeas, peas), nuts, seeds and whole grains ensures optimal nutrients and helps the body to feel satiated. This decreases the desire to eat foods that are lower in nutritional value. Get your daily dose of healthy fats from plant sources, such as nuts, avocados and organic, cold-pressed oils such as flax, hemp, olive and borage. Minimize heat-extracted processed oils and saturated fats. If your diet includes animal products, choose leaner meats, seafood and eggs.

Inspiring healthy change

While pubic interest in healthy nutrition is growing, it is still not considered mainstream for cancer prevention nor for integrated cancer treatment. As recent research shows, only five percent of North American cancer survivors are meeting experts’ recommendations for diet, nutrition, physical activity and quitting smoking. This is a serious concern because using this type of prevention and an integrative approach have proven to prevent recurrence of disease and prolong lives.

While the growing healthcare crisis has generated more discussion about the value of healthy eating, cancer prevention and integrated cancer care must start with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. To do our part, we all must choose to feed our bodies in the healthiest and most wholesome way possible and continue advocating this practice to ensure these concepts become part of health policy. Let’s help shift our healthcare system from ‘disease care’ to a true healthcare system.

Lionel Wilson is Director of Communications with InspireHealth, Canada’s foremost integrated cancer care centre.

This article was written by Lionel Wilson and was presented in the March 2011 Issue of Common Ground Magazine.