The Unhealthy Evils of Convenience
It’s no surprise that Americans are working more and spending less time on food preparation. In many households, both Mom and Dad have to work to keep up with the bills and that leaves less time for meal preparation. The result is that we now have a restaurant industry that makes approximately $450 billion per year and the typical family spends 49 cents of every food dollar on food eaten outside the home. We consume 30% of our calories on restaurant food and if you’re wondering if restaurant food is good for our bodies, the answer is a resounding “no”.
As humans, we are able to consume an astonishing amount of refined, convenient, high-sugar content food with great speed and agility. We literally can take in thousands of calories in mere minutes and the fast-food industry has been extremely adept at pumping our food with all sorts of processed ingredients that extends shelve-live, balloons their bottom line, extends our waist-line and sky-rockets our blood glucose levels.
On a societal level, this unfortunate shift from the home-cooked meal culture of the 1950’s and 60’s to our current fast-food culture has kept our health epidemiologists and statisticians busy as they crunch the numbers on the latest obesity trends. After countless generations of normal-sized humans we now find that our waistlines are ballooning at an exponential rate. According to the U.S. government, obesity in adults doubled from 13 percent in 1962 to 35 percent in 2006 and compared to the average 1950’s adult, we are now 26 pounds heavier. Since obesity increases the risk for chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers and mental illness, it’s no wonder that the costs of obesity in the United States are sky-high. Current estimates on the annual costs of obesity is between $147 to $210 billion.
I think we can all agree that our convenient, fast-food lifestyles have resulted in an overindulgence on unhealthy foods and that this lifestyle does not promote a long and healthy life. And since obese people are approximately 25 percent more likely to experience mood disorders like depression, I think it’s also safe to say that our current obsession with fast and convenient foods does not promote a happy life.
Furthermore, our unhealthy fixation on convenient fixes doesn’t end at our local McDonalds Restaurant food counter. Styrofoam cups are convenient and allow us to quickly grab a cup of coffee in our office breakrooms without breaking stride, never mind that they contain carcinogens and are bad for the environment. Plastic water bottles, also bad for the environment and containing carcinogens like bisphenol A and phthalates, make it easy to carry fluids on our way out the door. Synthetic growth hormones plump-up the chicken breasts at our local grocery stores and while they appear much larger and cheaper than organically-raised chickens, they are not healthy. But my personal favorite unhealthy convenience is the over use of antibiotics.
Antibiotics were once considered a wonder drug, but worldwide overuse has resulted in scary increases in pathogen resistance. Global antibiotic consumption grew by 30% between 2000 and 2010. Meanwhile our ability to treat sick people with antibiotics has been compromised and in some countries, resistance of deadly pathogens to our most powerful antibiotics has increased from 29% in 2008 to 57% in 2014. Recently the CDC announced the discovery of an E. coli bacterium in a patient with a urinary tract infection in Pennsylvania that is resistant to a powerful antibiotic called colistin. That’s an eye-opener since colistin is the last-resort drug to treat patients with infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria. In other words, our overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the emergence of bacterial pathogens that are no longer treatable.
When large drug store chains display “Free Antibiotics Available” signs on the sidewalks in front of their stores and patients demand that doctors prescribe antibiotics for every runny nose, is it any wonder that the bacteria in our bodies have developed resistance? As a trained medical microbiologist I understand the importance of antibiotics for those patients who truly need them but they are over-prescribed. As a society, we do not have time to be sick and so, rather than let our bodies heal itself from the common cold (usually caused by a virus that is not treatable with antibiotics), we take antibiotics. So, for the record, I’m chalking up indiscriminant use of antibiotics as an unhealthy symptom of our convenience-obsessed lifestyle.
So what can be done to fend off the unhealthy evils of convenience? If you have read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I am a big proponent of healthy food, active lifestyle and probiotic intake via fermented vegetables, cultured dairy products and dietary supplementation. The trillions of microorganisms that make up our gut microbiota play a central role in our overall health and they are intensely sensitive to environmental assaults. Process fast foods and antibiotics are tantamount to a one-two punch to the gut. Yet they are just two of the many negative environmental factors that can sway the makeup and function of the gut microbiota. Taking probiotics on a daily basis may help to provide stability to the beneficial bacteria in your gut in order to support healthy digestion and immunity.
Studies have shown that people with a diverse set of gut microorganisms tend to be less obese and are less likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes. Unfortunately, we live in a society that favors convenience over healthy living and if you are like most people, you’re exposed to processed foods and antibiotics that can upset your gut microbiota to cause long term diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Exposure to unhealthy foods can also cause short term health problems such as diarrhea, cramping, gas and bloating.
In today’s hectic and fast-paced world, a balanced diet is often one of the first things we sacrifice.
About the author:
Douglas Toal, PhD is a Clinical Scientist with extensive knowledge and expertise in medical laboratory sciences, metabolism and anti-aging medicine.