Good health could con­trib­ute to af­ford­able health care

Westside Eagle-Observer - - OPINION - By Sam Byrnes

The news is filled with sto­ries re­lated to the cur­rent health­care cri­sis and the need for ac­cess to good, af­ford­able health­care. I hap­pen to agree with the idea that af­ford­able health­care is im­por­tant. But there is some­thing bet­ter than good health­care avail­able to the con­sumer, and that some­thing is good health. And, best of all, good health may be more ac­ces­si­ble to the av­er­age Amer­i­can than af­ford­able health­care. Plus, it may be less ex­pen­sive.

I won­der if we don’t some­times miss see­ing the for­est for all the trees. I can only speak for my­self, but I have of­ten eaten what­ever I wanted to eat and drank what­ever I wanted to drink and all in amounts that were of­ten­times more than my body needed or wanted. So if I get sick be­cause of my life­style, is it the gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide me with af­ford­able health­care? And will ac­cess to good health­care pro­vide a cure for my overindul­gent life­style? I doubt it.

In fact, many of to­day’s most ex­pen­sive treat­ments sim­ply treat the symp­toms of dis­ease rather than pro­vid­ing a real cure. Maybe doc­tors have learned that most of us would pre­fer to take a pill and keep on liv­ing the good life with­out re­gard for the con­se­quences.

Eat­ing the Stan­dard Amer­i­can Diet (SAD) usu­ally leads to high blood pres­sure, high choles­terol, a ten­dency to­ward obe­sity and in­creased chances of de­vel­op­ing di­a­betes and other life­style-re­lated dis­eases. Throw in a large dose of the seden­tary life and it all adds up to a na­tion of mostly un­healthy cit­i­zens.

One of the rea­sons the cost of health­care keeps ris­ing is the tremen­dous ex­pense we have of try­ing to deal with life­style-re­lated ill­nesses. For in­stance, heart by­pass surgery eas­ily will run a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars, and how many thou­sands of those surg­eries are per­formed each year? I know this surgery saves lives be­cause it saved mine, but would I have needed by­pass surgery if I had lived a health­ier life?

Ac­cord­ing to BMI charts, my ideal weight is some­where be­tween 160-170 pounds. I am 5-foot, 11-inches tall. I haven’t seen that sort of weight since the early 1980s. At the end of June of this year, I weighed 214 pounds. This morn­ing I weighed 195, so I guess you could say I am headed in the right di­rec­tion, but I still have a way to go.

Linda and I have made a num­ber of changes to our diet as well as to our life­style (more ex­er­cise) as our fo­cus on los­ing weight and get­ting health­ier sharp­ens. We have found that eat­ing two meals a day works bet­ter for us than three. And we have adopted a near-ve­gan diet, where the vast ma­jor­ity of the food we eat is plant­based. We may mod­ify this once we reach our tar­get weights. I would be happy weigh­ing 175 pounds.

In re­sponse to those who may be won­der­ing where we get our pro­tein, I will say that our pro­tein comes mostly from beans. The rest comes from green veg­eta­bles such as as­para­gus, spinach, kale, ro­maine let­tuce and a va­ri­ety of nuts and seeds. We do not eat a lot of grains, but the grains we do eat are whole and un­pro­cessed.

Nuts and seeds are full of phy­tonu­tri­ents and have proven car­dio-pro­tec­tive abil­i­ties. And stud­ies show that peo­ple who eat nuts on a reg­u­lar ba­sis are less likely to be over­weight than those who eat no nuts at all. It is im­por­tant, how­ever, to eat only raw, un­salted nuts and those, in mod­er­a­tion.

Re­duc­ing sodium in­take is also im­por­tant. The av­er­age Amer­i­can eats way too much sodium and, wher­ever you find sodium in your body, you will find wa­ter. These two are at­tracted to each other like mag­nets. That ex­plains why most blood pres­sure medicines are sim­ply di­uret­ics that make you pee more. But in the process of rid­ding the body of sodium, we also lose valu­able cal­cium, the loss of which can con­trib­ute to os­teo­poro­sis. For Linda and I, any salt we add to our food is added at the ta­ble so we can con­trol the amount. And it will taste saltier on the sur­face of the food than it will when mixed in.

To those who may think eat­ing a near-ve­gan diet is ex­treme, I would sug­gest

that tak­ing a saw and cut­ting a per­son’s chest open and then re­mov­ing a vein from a leg to by­pass clogged ar­ter­ies in the heart not only sounds ex­treme to me — after hav­ing gone through the surgery — I can tell you it is an ex­treme so­lu­tion. And re­mem­ber, by­pass surgery doesn’t bring about a cure. Your new by­pass will clog up too if you don’t make the nec­es­sary changes. There are many peo­ple walk­ing around to­day who have had by­passes per­formed on their by­passes. But all good things must come to an end.

Back to pro­tein and where to get the best kind. We have been brain­washed into think­ing that an­i­mal pro­tein is su­pe­rior to plant-sourced pro­tein. This is more of a mar­ket­ing strat­egy than a fun­da­men­tal truth. While it is true that an­i­mal sources of pro­tein can pro­vide what is known as com­plete pro­tein, eat­ing a va­ri­ety of plants such as greens, beans, nuts and seeds will also pro­vide a suf­fi­cient amount of pro­tein. And, it is not nec­es­sary to eat a com­plete pro­tein at ev­ery meal. If we get all of the es­sen­tial amino acids in a 24-hour pe­riod, we’ll be just fine.

The prob­lem with eat­ing meat is not just the sat­u­rated fat and choles­terol it con­tains but the pro­tein as well. Un­like plant-based pro­teins, an­i­mal pro­tein is very acidic and leads to an acidic en­vi­ron­ment in our bod­ies. In or­der to lower the acid­ity level, our bones re­lease stored-up cal­cium which acts as a buffer­ing agent to mod­er­ate the pH of our di­ges­tive sys­tems. In the process, our bones suf­fer lost den­sity and, even though Amer­i­cans are some of the world’s lead­ing con­sumers of dairy prod­ucts, we also lead the pack when it comes to hip frac­tures and os­teo­poro­sis. In Asia, where red meat and dairy con­sump­tion are very low, these par­tic­u­lar dis­eases are al­most un­known.

But ask any­one what the main ben­e­fit of con­sum­ing dairy prod­ucts is and they will usu­ally say in or­der to get more cal­cium. This is noth­ing but highly suc­cess­ful mar­ket­ing by the milk in­dus­try. The truth is we don’t re­ally need more cal­cium. We just need to eat less of the things which de­plete our bod­ies of their cal­cium stores, namely sodium, an­i­mal pro­tein and soft drinks which are ex­tremely acidic.

I’m not sug­gest­ing we all be­come ve­gans or even veg­e­tar­i­ans. I’m not even say­ing I will never eat a good old steak or ham­burger again. But cut­ting down on some of the foods that cause some of the most deadly dis­eases among us may be equally as im­por­tant as ex­pect­ing the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide af­ford­able health­care for ev­ery­one. It could even help lower the over­all cost of health­care, which would be a real win-win.

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