processed foods give short term happiness but long term problems

Short vs. Long-Term Happiness and Processed Foods

Diabetes.   Heart disease.  Cancer.  Stroke. Alzheimer’s.  Kidney Disease.  These are the major causes of death and chronic illness in the U.S. today.  In previous generations these chronic diseases were a rarity.  Did you know that eating large amounts of processed foods is highly correlated with the likelihood of developing each of these diseases?  Diet and other lifestyle factors are much more important than genetics in determining whether you will develop a chronic condition.  

According to recent research approximately 60 percent of the calories an average American consumes come from highly processed foods.  These foods are made with large amounts of sugar, white flour, inflammatory fats such as soybean oil and salt.  They are low in micronutrients and fiber.  When you consume a lot of white bread, sugary cereal, cookies, peanut butter and jelly, or boxed macaroni and cheese these foods fill you up temporarily.  Eating them frequently dulls the taste buds and appetite for highly nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, fish, eggs, and nuts.  

Why do most people eat too many processed foods?  

  1. Processed foods taste good!  They have been designed to encourage you to eat more.  Do you remember the Lay’s Potato Chip motto, “bet you can’t eat just one?”.  That is true for most processed foods.  
  2. Processed foods are highly available.  They are everywhere in every store.  Many parts of the country are called food deserts because it is almost impossible to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables there.  Convenience stores are on every corner, though, and almost any processed food imaginable can be purchased there.  
  3. People want short-term pleasure. Infants are born with an instinct to crave the taste of sweetness.  This is because they need to eat to grow and breastmilk has a naturally sweet taste.  As we become adults this craving for short term pleasure does not go away.  If we do not develop a taste for healthy foods, then it is easy to gravitate to those that give short term pleasure.
  4. We feel invincible.  When people are young, natural resilience allows most to eat an unhealthy diet and not notice any negative effects.  It is only as we age that most people see the weight gain, aching joints, higher blood sugar or blood pressure that often accompany a lifetime of unhealthy eating.  
  5. Processed foods are addictive.  The book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, goes into detail about the addictive powers of processed foods.  I highly recommend it if you would like to learn more.  

The good news is that we CAN choose a healthy diet. It may be harder to adopt in the short-term, but it will be much more life-giving for the long-term.  

How can we choose a better diet?  

  1. Learn about what constitutes a healthy diet. If you are reading my articles and newsletters you will learn a lot about the foundations of a healthy diet.  My article, Ginger’s Food Rules: The Seven Commandments of Healthy Eating, will give you some ideas for where to start.   
  2. Have long-term goals that require a healthy life. Why do you want to live a healthy life?  You may want to live a long time to accomplish important work or personal goals.  You may want to be there for your grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  Your goals for living a long and healthy life need to be greater than the short-term pleasure you feel from eating unhealthy foods.  
  3. Study habit change. While working with nutrition clients I have found that most of them have a basic knowledge about healthy eating.  The problem for them is less knowledge, than making the actual habit changes.  I have a number of articles on my website that discuss habit change.  If you need ideas about how to eliminate an unhealthy eating habit or add a healthy one, check out the article “Three Tips for Healthy Habit Change”. 
  4. Work on one habit change at a time.  It may seem highly productive to change your entire diet overnight, but this normally will not succeed permanently.  This is why most “diets” fail in the long run.  They encourage people to drastically change their way of eating for a short time.  Then, when the person returns to their normal diet, the weight comes back on.  Instead, most eating change needs to be for a lifetime.  This is best accomplished by changing one eating habit at a time.  For a few ideas on how to do this, check out my article “How to Change an Unhealthy Habit” on my website.   

Think of a time when you were able to forgo short term happiness for a longer-term goal.  This may have been when you chose to study and graduate from college to enable a long-term career goal.  It may have been when you chose to start a new exercise routine in order to succeed at a 5K or a marathon.  If you have been successful at any of these or in another area of your life, then you also have the ability to be successful long-term with healthy eating. 

Comment below with any things that have been helpful to you in adopting a healthier lifestyle.  

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