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How to fatten Alaska's wallet by way of its stomach

The Greek physician Hippocrates, the founding father of natural medicine, considered illness a natural phenomenon that forces people to discover the imbalances in their health. He stressed, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food." This is in stark contrast to the majority of health care providers who depend on synthetic drugs to treat illness, and particularly the "diseases of affluence:" cardiovascular diseases, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. These diseases result in an early death for many Alaskans, who with a proper diet, need not die from these chronic illnesses. The western diet rich in saturated fat, sugar, red/processed meat, dairy and refined grains, including alcohol, are highly responsible for early death. Replacing this diet with one rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and fish will virtually eliminate these diseases and others related to them, such as Alzheimer's disease. Recent videos "Forks over Knives," "PlantPure Nation," and "That Sugar Film" attest to this.

Alaska's 2015 budget includes $1.6 billion to pay for health-related costs. Health expenditures are averaging $9,128 per year in Alaska for every man, woman and child, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Alaska is facing billion-dollar deficits and the Legislature reacts by "reforming" the major program that merely perpetuates the problem and states that Medicaid cannot be sustained because of its mushrooming costs each year.

A solution available, but yet to be implemented, is concentrating upon improving the health of Alaskans. Needed are public education programs promoting major nutritional changes in what many Alaskans eat resulting in the obesity epidemic that reaches down to include young children. Obesity is directly related to the diseases of affluence and early death rates. Rep. Paul Seaton has long been an advocate for the use of Vitamin D3 to improve Alaskans' health. Needed is a more holistic approach that not only includes the use of vitamins but also major diet change. The film "PlantPure Nation" demonstrates in dramatic fashion how people at risk for cardiovascular disease were able to lower biometric indicators by eating plant-based whole foods for only 10 days.

The creation of public policy and programs that would effectively change the artery-clogging, inflammatory, high-sugar foods diet to one that is primarily whole plant-based foods, would not only result in a healthier population but also save the state from spending billions of dollars on health care costs. Existing health care programs would then be sustainable.

We need to take the politics out of the food industry by informing the public of the health risks of too much sugar, animal protein and dairy, and pressure this industry to create healthier food and avoid food processing. School lunch programs that are heavily influenced by the food industry will require dramatic changes and removing all fast-food products from school vending machines. Mexico has gone as far as forbidding any fast-food advertising on television. Charging tax on food products where the sugar content is higher than the government daily recommended amount of 12 teaspoons, which is found in one can of soda, is a good start for the Legislature to consider. This would be more effective than New York Mayor Bloomberg's proposal banning jumbo soda, which was ruled unconstitutional. Smoking tobacco products declined substantially due to public health education and the high taxing of the product.

Doing the same for harmful processed foods will be necessary. The government has finally succeeded is getting trans fat removed from food products despite pushback from the food industry. In the late-1970s government was effective in removing high-fat content and the creation of low-fat foods. Manufacturers found, however, that when fat was removed the product tasted awful and thus sugar was used as a substitute. If these products were removed from grocery store shelves, very few products would remain. Also with an abundance of milk fat, the dairy industry created an onslaught of cheese and ice cream products for the consumer. This was pointed out in the video, "That Sugar Film."

The use of synthetic drugs by pharmaceutical companies and the high cost associated with them is another area for health care reform. Drug companies cannot become as rich as they are accustomed by using organic whole plant-based food to treat illness. Instead of using food that contains ingredients to treat illness with no side effects, they create a synthetic substitute with the accompanying side effects and which is often not as effective. Blueberries and coconut are being identified as being able to attenuate cognitive decline and drug companies are working on creating a synthetic drug in order to raise their profit margins. Current drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease slow down the progression. Eating less expensive egg yolks will have the same effect on the brain, with no side effects.

Often the answers to our problems are found by looking to history and, in this situation, it was Hippocrates who stated, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food," which points the way to better health, cost savings and direction for a Legislature wishing a balanced budget.

Patrick M. Cunningham is an associate professor in the College of Health at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He recently earned a certificate in plant-based nutrition from T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutritional Studies, Cornell University.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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