At this point, the ingredients for a heart- and brain-healthy diet are well-established: fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, and dairy. Data shows that people sticking to this core are less likely to get sick and more likely to live longer, healthier lives.
So, why doesn’t everyone eat this way?
Making lifestyle changes can be tough, even when you know it’s the right choice. But often, a healthy diet is about much more than willpower. When it comes to nutrition, some people are set up to fail.
Research suggests there are a variety of intertwined barriers – some obvious and some not so – that can severely impact a person’s access to healthy choices and their outcomes.
Last year, the American Heart Association outlined five issues that make it more difficult to adhere to healthy eating patterns: targeted food marketing, structural racism, neighborhood segregation, unhealthily built environments, and food (or nutritional) insecurity.
These issues largely exist as barriers to low-income and racialized Americans, which, as data suggests, are also more likely to experience cardiovascular illness.
Food and beverage companies that make unhealthy processed food and sugary drinks heavily target low-income and racialized communities. Many of these communities are “food deserts,” where fast food and corner stores selling unhealthy food greatly outnumber grocery stores.
One of the ways to fight back against this barrier is understanding that you’re being targeted.
However, that does not make quality food more accessible.
Fixing these problems will likely take policy changes and government spending to work toward fixing years of structural inequalities. However, it is possible that nutritional options may be closer than you think.
Community farming projects have been growing in underserved, nutrition-scarce areas. See if there is one near you that you may be able to participate in, or at least join a co-op to access the food.
Food injustice is a major barrier to a heart-healthy diet and long, healthy life. It isn’t all about willpower.