The holiday season is a time for joy, but it is also a time for serious reflection. So it is the right time to think about our food. And the facts are clear: the food that most of us eat every day makes us sick. 

We have all known that for a long time. But now, a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology indicates that our bad eating choices can also impair cognition, even bringing on dementia. This doesn’t mean that we can never indulge in a snack, but it does mean that most of us need to change our approach to our overall diet.

How much evidence do we need before we change the way we eat? I have friends who routinely dismiss information like this, seeing it as coming from “health nuts.” But the data we have on a poor diet is not from fringe groups obsessed with an extreme agenda. At this point, one has to be living in denial to dismiss what we all know: a poor diet will make us sick and affect our ability to think.

If we are being honest with ourselves, we have known for a long time that poor nutrition contributes not only to obesity but also to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and certain kinds of cancers. And now we know it can lead to impaired thinking, even dementia. 

One of the main reasons for this is that we eat too much “ultraprocessed” food, which includes additives (chemicals) designed to add artificial flavor, artificial color, artificial texture, artificial scent and preservatives. The National Center for Biotechnology Information has found that almost 60 percent of the food that Americans eat is ultraprocessed. This has to stop.

And it is especially worrisome to know that many of the chemical additives in ultraprocessed food have never been tested by anyone except (perhaps) by the company selling the product to you. Next time you pick up something at the store, check the label. You may be surprised by what you see in the list of ingredients. If you don’t know what the ingredients are, you probably shouldn’t eat them.

Why do we go on, day after day, abusing our bodies? Part of the problem is our environment. We look around and see colorful packaging, attractive advertising, and everyone we know chowing down. How can the food around us be a problem if restaurants serve it and supermarkets sell it? We are lulled into submission because that unhealthy eating is so accepted by everyone around us.

Also, we tend to be present-oriented. Since we don’t face any serious consequences from our bad diet today, we tell ourselves that everything must be fine. We don’t allow ourselves to think that we may face problems in 20 or 30 years. If we don’t see it immediately, it must not be true. And so, it continues.

This is a good time for a real New Year’s resolution. Don’t make resolutions you will furiously pursue for a month or two and then abandon. This year, make it simple. Resolve to eat a healthy diet consistently for the rest of your life. If you do, you will live longer and have a better quality of life while you live.

Eliminate fast-food burgers, fries, tacos, fried chicken and deli meats. Avoid cookies, packaged pizza, most frozen entrees, all soft drinks, sausages and sweetened cereals. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. You have to develop the habit of reading labels. You must eat fresh vegetables, fruits, whole-grain bread, and much less dairy and meat. Yes, it’s cumbersome and time-consuming. But aren’t you worth it?

Basically, you have to start preparing your food at home from natural vegetables, fruits and whole ingredients. I know we are all busy, and fast food and prepared food are quick and easy. But remember, it simply isn’t good for you. Over time, it will hurt you. Make a change this coming year. Stand up for yourself. Put in the extra time needed to make food that will support your physical and mental health and keep you alive. Can you really think of a better investment for your time?

The new year will be here soon. Take a walk on the wild side and think about this. A healthy diet is a gift you can give yourself and your loved ones. It’s worth the effort.

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