If you look at the picture with the broadest possible lens, you see something interesting, I think.
The broadest possible lens takes a snapshot of a country's health by capturing life expectancy; infant mortality; death rates by disease catagory, and disease incidence and prevalence.
When the United States is compared to other countries, the picture is disappointing. The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 43 countries have life expectancies that exceed the United States, and 40 countries have a lower infant mortality rate than the United States. Even within the U.S., the states with the lowest infant mortality rates rank 25th or lower when compared to other countries. Canada, Australia, Spain, France and Germany all exceed our best state rates in terms of infant mortality.
The contributing factors to the lower life expectancy rates in the United States can be seen by comparing age-adjusted mortality rates for the United States to seven other developed countries (Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom). Not only does the United States have a higher mortality rate than all of these countries for ischemic heart disease; trachea, bronchitis and lung cancer; and diabetes mellitus; but additionally, the U.S. is higher than six of these seven countries for unintentional injuries, intentional injuries and neuropsychiatric conditions. (From http://www.unitedhealthfoundation.or...ml#End%20Notes
So, let's take France and Japan and look at diet.
Japanese eat fish, white rice, vegetables, not much fat.
French people start their day with a breakfast of coffee with milk, a white flour piece of bread with butter and jam. They eat a diet relatively high in fat, including saturated fats, and drink wine daily.
Yet both traditions-vastly different traditions--spawn better national health pictures than the US.
I'm coming to the conclusion that the big issue in the US is industrialization of the food chain
. That big picture snapshot shows that when people across the world leave their traditional food cultures behind and adopt US-style consumption, their disease rates rise and life expectancy drops. They get sick, US-style.
The antithesis of the US industrial diet means trying to live by the following principles:
1. Eat whole, real foods.
2. Eat local, fresh, and in season whenever possible.
3. Find a source--preferably local, that you can visit--- for grassfed meats, eggs, and dairy products that are raised without routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones.
4. Avoid buying foods from the middle of the supermarket aisles: those things with long lists of ingredients and fancy packaging. This includes organic foods that are manufactured or packaged. Organic brownies are no better for you than the regular kind.
5. Slow down: learn to eat slowly and mindfully. Enjoy your food, and the company you keep when you eat it.
6. Limit sugar. Limit sugar. Limit sugar. Limit sugar.
I honestly don't think it's necessary to balance nutrients a la The Zone; I don't think you have to eat or eschew red meat to be healthy; I don't think eating foods like barley, quinoa, buckwheat, whole oats is bad; I don't think it's necessary to eat a lot of fat--even omega 3--to be healthy; I don't think it's necessary to avoid eating a big percentage of your total calories as fat.
I think the critical element is to eat food grown in good soil, as close to harvest as possible, grassfed animal products, wild fish, and limit sugar.