As the holiday season approaches many people will forget to add one important item on the menu – nutrition. It is no secret that poor nutrition can lead to diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and sometimes high blood pressure.

During the holiday season, many people exceed their normal intake of fatty foods while indulging in meals that are high in cholesterol, sodium and sugars. Delectable dishes take center stage as food becomes the main ingredient that brings people together. Whether intentional or not, vital nutrients and minerals are absent from meals that are not whole or well-balanced.

It is reported that unhealthy eating habits have become the leading cause of disability, causing family members to become caregivers who in many cases will provide long-term support.

For many people, unhealthy, excessive eating usually occurs as a chemical trigger response in the brain, identifying eating, in most cases unhealthily, with certain emotions, environments or foods.

The Journal of American Medical Association reported that poor diet and physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of death, an average of 400,000 deaths every year. That is 20 times more deaths caused by drug use and 13 times more than those caused by gun violence.

According to the National Alliance for Caregivers, more than 65 million people in the United States provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member. The annual value of free family caregiving amounts in $375 billion, which is twice as much as what’s spent on homecare and nursing home services combined.

“When you have people who become disabled as a result of diabetes or obesity, it becomes a huge burden on families, which can become a financial burden, and a work of labor [for] families. I’ve seen people who stopped working because they had to provide around the clock care. It becomes expensive in many ways,” said Dr. John Blackshear, clinical psychologist and ombudsman at Duke University.

“Once the disease is diagnosed… families want the effected person to improve how they’re eating and when they don’t a lot of frustration and anger builds up because people see that as an unwillingness to get better,” Dr. Blackshear added.

Research has proven that improper nutrition can cause fatigue, irritability, grogginess and poor immune system support, all of which inevitably impacts one’s relationships.

“Especially for men when you’re talking about diabetes, being overweight or having a poor diet in general it really affects libido as well as their ability to perform. Women may experience a lack of energy, and depression is highly correlated to [unhealthy] eating habits. So you have a lot of disruption [in lifestyle]. It’s not uncommon for couples to forgo intimacy altogether,” Dr. Blackshear stated.

Dr. Chyree Thomas, a pediatrician at Greater Baden Medical Services, which provides medical care to underprivileged children, suggests that parents introduce healthy eating habits to their children at an early age.

“We have an epidemic of obese children… and their families are greatly affected,” stated Dr. Thomas. “A child’s self-esteem is one of the biggest problems associated with obesity.”

“The other things that are associated with obesity: asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, skin infection, and constipation those type of medical problems I see in lots of kids who are obese. These issues are oftentimes difficult for families. Especially in this economy in which a lot of families don’t have health insurance; even if they have health insurance a lot of times families can’t afford the co-pays to go to the doctor and to buy the medicine,” Dr. Thomas mentioned.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million children and adults have been diagnosed with diabetes. Meanwhile, heart disease remains the number one killer in America as 27.1 million adults have been diagnosed with this fatal illness, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

On the contrary, eating a balanced meal filled with whole foods can help prevent many diet-related illnesses. As stated by the acclaimed father of Western Medicine, Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine.”

In order to eat a well-balanced meal, consider inclusion. For instance, rather than focus on the foods you can no longer eat, simply incorporate more fresh fruits, veggies, and water to achieve a more nutritious diet. The CDC reported that most fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber which may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

“It’s important to eat a well-balanced meal because your body requires certain minerals and nutrients that we obtain from food, and in order to keep replenishing what’s important to our body,” said Dr. Tyra McKinney, family medicine doctor based in Detroit. “A lot of diseases can be prevented from eating healthy foods, it is important to eat in moderation and it’s important to have that balance.”

Water, which carries vital nutrients and oxygen through the blood stream, is a vital component to a healthy diet. Very few children are drinking the amount of water that they require to maintain a healthy metabolism, Dr. Thomas stated.

“I think [prevention] is one of the most important things on the table right now, our children’s health will lead to our society’s health and our community’s health. There is hardly any aspect of prevention of diseases that is too soon for kids,” said Dr. Thomas.

“This isn’t an episode of the Biggest Loser, so I recommend families to start slow. The best thing you can do to affect your child’s eating habits is to reduce the amount of liquids he/she drinks. I recommend reducing your child’s juice intake, switch from whole milk to 2 percent or 1 percent milk, and do not drink soda – drink water. These are basic changes any family can make which can have a large effect on their child’s health,” she added.

Although the healthier eating may result in an increased the grocery bill, studies have proven that healthier diets can prevent approximately $71 billion in medical expenses, lost lives and lost productivity annually.

“It is expensive to eat healthy, but the flip side is that if you develop a disease it’s just as expensive to get medicine. So if you want to prevent health related illnesses, it’s important to have that balance because you’re going to pay either short-term or long-term,” said Dr. Mckinney.


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