Food is the biggest cause of chronic disease. The economic burden it places on families, societies, and nations is astounding.
Chronic disease cannot be cured by better medication or medical care. In 2019, The Lancet published an analysis of dietary risk factors in 195 countries based on the Global Burden of Disease Study. This is the most comprehensive study, covering 27 years, of the effects of diet on health ever conducted.
Not surprising, the findings showed that a diet without enough healthy food (fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, etc.) and with too many bad foods (processed foods, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats, etc.) accounted for 11 million deaths and 255 million years of disability and life years lost.
Most striking was the finding that the lack of whole real unprocessed foods was as or more important in determining risk of death than the overconsumption of processed foods.
The food produced by our food system drives disease, suffering, environmental destruction, and climate change. The food we eat (or the food we don’t eat) is the single biggest cause of death worldwide, exceeding tobacco and every other risk factor.
Historically, infections, poor sanitation, or what we call communicable disease caused most deaths. Now more than 70% of deaths worldwide are from what we call “noncommunicable disease”, conditions like heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and dementia. The thing is that these diseases ARE highly contagious and driven by government policies, poverty, and a toxic global food system.
Government policies influence our dietary guidelines and dictate which foods are grown, how they are grown and processed and how they are marketed. These food policies also determine which foods are part of all our government food programs such as food stamps, or SNAP, which feeds more than 40 million people; school lunches; and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children Food and Nutrition Service).
In the 2016 election, the American Beverage Association and the soda companies spent more than $30 million fighting taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. Michael Bloomberg and the Arnold Foundation spent $20 million opposing them. In the end the soda tax did pass in four cities.
Soda is the number one “food item” purchased by those on SNAP. The program supports consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. $7 billion a year for soda – that is almost 20 billion servings of soda.
It is no wonder that chronic disease overwhelms our federal budget. We need to transform our food system and address our lack of coordinated and comprehensive food policy. Mark Hyman writes in Food, What the Heck Should I Eat? that our food policies have concequences:
- A health care crisis that results from lifestyle and food-driven chronic disease affecting half of all Americans
- Escalating federal debt due mostly to the fiscal burden of chronic disease on Medicare and Medicaid
- “Achievement gap” due to childhood obesity and food-related illness that drives poor school performance, resulting in diminished global economic competitiveness
- National security threat due to the lack of fitness of military recruits
- Environmental degradation and climate change from petrochemical-based agriculture and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – this is how most of the meat is raised in the United States
- Poverty, violence, and social injustice due to effects of a poor diet on behavior
Unregulated food marketing targets children, the underserved, and minorities, pushing sugar-sweetened beverages and industrial foods. This is partly due to the fact that high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil are subsidized. Only about one percent of the farm bill supports healthy food. The price of soda has DECREASED almost 40% since the 1970s, while the price of fruit and vegetables has INCREASED almost 40%.
US Dietary Guidelines reflect the food lobby which forms the basis for all government programs, including school lunches, which allow sugary sweetened low-fat milk but not whole milk. By the way, there is NO evidence that we should be drinking three glasses of milk a day. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee ignored significant portions of the scientific literature – like the link between saturated fat and heart disease. “Food insecurity” refers to the inability to afford enough food for an active, healthy life.
Numerous studies have shown associations between food insecurity and adverse health outcomes among children. Studies show that household food insecurity promotes dependence on inexpensive, highly palatable foods that are energy dense and with little nutritious value. Such dependence, coupled with having enough food in the beginning of the month followed by food scarcity at the end of the month, leads to weight gain over a short period of time.
Dependence on energy-dense foods and weight gain may play a direct role in the development of chronic conditions.
Other compounding factors that result from exposure to household food insecurity have been studied, including how stress promotes visceral fat accumulation and chronic disease.
Processed food is inexpensive, filling and widely available. This results in lack of nutrients which leads to chronic disease. Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death, disability and rising healthcare costs in the United States, and 45% of Americans have at least one chronic condition, according to Ken Thorpe, PhD, chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD). Processed foods are associated with elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, Dr. Thorpe said. People who regularly consume them are at risk for developing chronic conditions, including stroke, heart disease and diabetes.“While the quantity of calories is an issue, perhaps more important is the composition of the calories that can and does contribute to chronic disease,” Dr. Thorpe added.
Whether you volunteer or donate, you can make a difference in the lives of those around you.
- Feeding America is an organization made up of 200 food banks across the country that are dedicated to ending hunger nationwide. In partnership with Feeding America, Prevention and Hearst Magazines are committed to putting an end to hunger. To help food banks feed families in need, donate and volunteer with your local chapter.
- Write to or call your local representatives and push for policies that will increase access to food, including expanding SNAP benefits, increasing the minimum wage, and funding food initiatives.
- The food banks in your area probably need help. Find volunteer opportunities through Feeding America or through sites like Volunteer Match, which link you with organizations close to you.
- Black Americans are the most food insecure group in the country, according to a 2018 study, and one in four Black children struggle to get enough to eat, according to Feeding America. Black-operated organizations like Black Dirt Farm Collective, Soil Generation, and Black Urban Growers fight for food justice through collective action.
Arrowroot is a starchy root vegetable similar to yam, cassava, sweet potato, and taro. It is a white, flavorless powder most often used to thicken sauces, soups, and other foods like fruit pie fillings. It is comprised of starches extracted from various tropical tubers, including Maranta arundinacea, the arrowroot plant.
Use arrowroot powder like you would cornstarch. It has twice the thickening power of wheat flour. Known as arrowroot starch or flour, it is made from tropical plant roots that are dried and ground. Arrowroot does not turn food cloudy or change the color. Arrowroot will also stay intact when mixed with acidic ingredients. For these reasons, it is often favored as a thickener for jellies and fruit fillings.
Arrowroot has a neutral flavor and adds a glossy finish to foods. Arrowroot is gluten-free, vegan, and paleo-friendly, and also has a very long shelf life.
Arrowroot has been used for its medicinal properties. Most of its potential health benefits are linked to its starch content and composition.
Like many starches, it’s high in carbs but offers various nutrients. A 1-cup serving of sliced, raw arrowroot contains the following:
- Calories: 78
- Carbs: 16 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Protein: 5 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Folate: 102% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Phosphorus: 17% of the DV
- Iron: 15% of the DV
- Potassium: 11% of the DV
Arrowroot has a higher protein content than other tubers at 5 grams per 1 cup, compared with 2.3 grams in the same amount of yam.
Additionally, it provides over 100% of the DV for folate (vitamin B9), which is essential for development during pregnancy and DNA formation. Low levels of this vitamin are associated with an increased risk of birth defects and chronic diseases like cancer.
Arrowroot powder is 32% resistant starch, which your body cannot digest. It forms a viscous gel when mixed with water and behaves like soluble fiber in your gut. Foods high in fiber and resistant starch slow your rate of digestion, giving you a prolonged feeling of fullness.
Arrowroot’s resistant starch content may stimulate your immune system. It is a potential source of prebiotics, which are a type of fiber that feeds your gut bacteria. Beneficial gut bacteria may boost your immune health, as they produce multiple vitamins and absorb key minerals that your immune system needs to function properly.
Arrowroot provides a natural source to prevent heart problems. Potassium is a vasodilator. And it functions to relieve tension in your arteries and blood vessels.
As in other roots and tubers, arrowroot too is free from gluten. Gluten-free starch is used in special food preparations for celiac disease patients.
According to US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, being a low-glycemic index foods, arrowroot conumption in fact help in better regulation of blood glucose levels in diabetes patients.
How to Buy
Arrowroot powder can be found in most grocery stores and co-ops. It can usually be found near flour, grains, or baking supplies, or in the gluten-free specialty section in the market.
Some lower quality arrowroot powder blends may contain potato starch, so be sure to read ingredient lists carefully.
How to Store
Keep arrowroot in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place. When stored properly, arrowroot powder will last three to four years.
How to Cook
Arrowroot is excellent for thickening soups, sauces, and gravies, and can be used as a substitute for cornstarch. It is added at the end of cooking time since extended heat can cause the arrowroot to break down, resulting in a thin sauce. This powder is also incorporated into desserts and jellies and is used to coat tofu to create a crispy finish when pan-frying.
Arrowroot starch is odorless and has a neutral flavor and therefore can’t be detected in the recipes.
You can eat it raw, roasted, boiled or stewed without losing the potency and nutrients. Here are a few quick serving tips:
- Prepare crunchy fries by dipping potatoes in salt pepper and arrowroot powder and then fry them
- It can be substituted for eggs as a binder
- Use it as a food thickener for better consistency
- Mix this flour to give better shapes to pastries, biscuits, and cookies
Arrowroot stands up to freezing, whereas mixtures thickened with cornstarch tend to break down after freezing and thawing.
If you cannot find any arrowroot powder, there are other ingredients to use as a substitute. Instant tapioca is the best option as it also holds up well when frozen and offers a glossy sheen to foods. Just keep in mind that tapioca doesn’t dissolve fully when cooked, so grinding it to a powder before using. You can also use cornstarch in place of arrowroot, but it will not work well in acidic recipes or dishes that will be frozen; cornstarch will also result in a cloudy instead of a shiny finish.
Vegan Cashew Mozzarella
Ashley at Blissful Basil
- ⅔ cup filtered water
- ½ cup raw cashews
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste
In a high-speed blender, combine the water, cashews, nutritional yeast, arrowroot powder, vinegar, and sea salt and blend on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture is completely smooth.
Pour the mixture into a medium sauce pan, heat over medium heat, and whisk continuously for 5 minutes, or until thick and stretchy.