The Midwest experiences long, hard winters. It’s cold. It’s blustery. How do people sustain themselves during the dark days that start early in autumn and last through to the spring? Many survive the season by dishing up daily doses of hearty, high-fat foods.
There’s nothing quite like comfort food to take the sting out of winter. All those months of eating high-calorie foods in large portions, however,
make maintaining a healthy weight a massive uphill battle.
Mid-westerners are nothing if not hardworking. From Kansas native Dwight D. Eisenhower to Arkansas legend General Douglas MacArthur, the middle of the nation has produced its share of tough, strong people.
Anyone who has read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s accounts of carving out a living knows how much physical labor went into settling the Midwest. At the end of the day, Half Pint, Pa, Ma and the rest of the family sat down to large mouth-watering, home-cooked meals. Eating to fuel physical labor is a
tradition that continues to characterize the Midwest diet.
Just a few generations ago, a majority of Midwesterners had highly laborious occupations. They worked in farming, mining, construction and manufacturing. They put in a full day’s work without the help of today’s technology.
Over the years, the population has transitioned from these strenuous jobs and now works at desk-jobs. After work, like the rest of the country’s people, sedentary pastimes in front of screens rule the day.
Combining an inactive lifestyle with the same old traditional fare has had a devastating effect on people’s health. Obesity rates have been climbing continuously for the last few decades. If the current trends continue, 13 U.S. states will have by 2030 adult obesity rates above 60 percent, according to the Trust for America’s Health, nearly all of those states form a block in the middle of the country.
The typical Midwestern American cuisine consists of what’s produced by farmers in the region. This includes a variety of grains, such as wheat, corn, soybeans and wild rice. High-fat foods such as beef, pork and dairy products are also part of the daily fare. No amount of texting on a smartphone or typing on a keyboard will burn off the calories in these energy-dense meals.
Now, any dietician will approve certain cuts of lean beef and pork. But, many nutrition and health professionals have come out in support of diet programs that cut back on grains and dairy. Foods in these two categories will not only increase your waistline, but threaten your health in other ways as well.
Even though these rich foods are the ultimate in comfort and even nostalgia, they’re also the ultimate in carbohydrates, cholesterol, bad fats and excess calories. If people consume these foods on a regular basis, the consequences can be a slew of health problems. These include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis and cancer.
Solutions for the Midwestern Diet
Sausage. Cheese. Biscuits. Gravy. Fried foods. Sounds delicious, right? Humans are programmed to crave high-energy foods. For our ancestors, feasting today meant surviving tomorrow’s famine. But, contemporary Americans don’t need to weather famines any more frequently than they need to clear the land using a plow and a mule.
Eating these kinds of foods on a daily basis is not good for the body. It’s hard on the digestive system and on the heart. If you have been eating a Midwestern diet that has a heavy emphasis on so-called comfort foods, it’s time to start focusing on healthier options.
The age old food pyramid introduced by the USDA suggests consuming way more foods in the grain category than is actually healthy for you. Rather than 6-11 servings of grains per day, try to stick to just two or three, and focus your hunger on vegetables, fruit and lean protein.
It can be hard to commit to making positive dietary changes, especially when temptation is everywhere. However, the longer you continue eating unhealthy foods, the harder it will be to break the habit, so consider breaking the pattern with some small steps. It’s time to rethink your diet, and that includes how you shop for groceries.
Start Eliminating Certain Foods
This is probably the hardest part, but one of the most important. Name a few unhealthy foods (donuts, gravy, deep-fried anything, etc.) and try replacing them with healthier ones. For instance, if you’re used to having a donut every morning on your way to work, try replacing it with a banana. Your morning energy will last longer, and the potassium and other healthful nutrients will be better for you than all the sugar and carbohydrates you’d get from the donut. Try also replacing the french fries or chips you have with your lunch with a salad or fresh vegetables. Taking small steps to replace unhealthy foods with healthy ones can start you on a path to dietary success.
Have a Support System
Nobody’s an island. Let family and friends know you’re striving for a healthier way of eating. Ask them to keep you accountable in choosing healthy foods. Look for people who will help you stay true to your good eating habits but that won’t judge if you fall off the wagon or make a couple of mistakes.
Better yet, ask your family and friends to join you in making a few lifestyle changes. Tap into the strength of numbers by working on improving things together. As you eat better, you’ll feel better and that can serve as motivation to keep up the good work.
Don’t focus on food alone. Regular exercise is also part of the equation for getting healthy and maintaining weight. Make it fun. Walk, run, hike or
ride bikes with friends and family. Join a sports league to reap the benefits of both activity and camaraderie. There’s nothing like exercise to lift your mood.
Some of the culinary mainstays of the Midwest are unrivaled in their tastiness. Continue enjoying them and reveling in the proud traditions of your part of the country. Save these treats for special times or eat them only in moderation. Focus on staying active and eating a good mix of healthy foods as well. This will keep your body strong, your mind sharp, and hopefully you around for a very long time!
About the Author:
Dr. Broussard is a fellow in the American College of Surgeons and diplomat of the American Board of Surgery. His professional memberships include the American Society of Bariatric Surgeons, Caraway Surgical Society, Southeastern Surgical Congress, Oklahoma Chapter of the American College of
Surgeons, and Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES). Dr. Broussard currently practices at WeightWise Bariatric Program, located right outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma