Money or health? What would you choose?
Unfortunately, that choice is being made for you. Food companies, and the politicians and lobbyists whose pockets are lined by these companies, choose money and it’s making you sick!
With the advent of progressive industrialization, our food has drastically changed. We have drifted further and further away from food in its natural state despite the fact that our physiology has not changed with it. This shift in food occurred too quickly for our bodies to adjust, and as a result, we’re battling chronic diseases that our ancestors never encountered.
While our bodies are struggling to cope, the modern food industry is turning huge profits, with ~$32 billion being spent on the marketing of food products each year. They’ve mastered the science of creating addicting foods and creating them as cheaply as possible, resulting in the Western Diet.
In the Western Diet, we eat lots of everything — except vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The Western Diet is generally characterized by the following:
· High intake of added sugar
· High intake of refined grains
· High intake of industrial animal products
· High intake of processed foods
· Low intake of fruits and vegetables
Sugar, sugar, sugar — the downfall of our modern foods. There was once a time when we were aware of our sugar consumption. It was a treat. We would eat ice cream or chocolate and enjoy a moment of knowing indulgence. But now, sugar is hidden everywhere — certainly not just in desserts! Bread, salad dressing, juices, sauces…the list goes on and on. In fact, about 80% of the 6,000 items on grocery store shelves in the United States have added sugar. Even naturally sweet items like dried fruit contain added sugar. Unfortunately for the consumer, food companies have realized that if they add sugar to their products, we eat more of them because the moment our bodies have some sugar we instantly want more sugar, creating a vicious spike-and-crash cycle.
Not surprisingly, this added sugar is tough on your body! When sugar is consumed without the naturally accompanying nutrients (i.e. apple juice without the apple), these foods (and drinks) are processed very quickly through our bodies, overwhelming the pancreas which secretes excess insulin as a defense. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat metabolism, so when our insulin levels are increased, we become susceptible to weight gain, cardiovascular disease, the development of insulin resistance & type 2 diabetes and countless other undesirable side effects. That sweet little addition has big consequences, making it critical that consumers become aware of where sugar is hiding. Scan the labels and take charge of your diet. If you’re craving something sweet, opt for natural sugars like fruit which also contain fiber to prevent insulin spikes.
Like sugar, grains are a staple of the Western Diet. While they do have benefits in whole form, “Big Food” has completely pulverized them, removing the nutrients in the name of profit.
Grains, in their natural state, consist of a bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran and germ contain important antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, while the endosperm contains starch. Food companies realized that removing the bran and germ increased the shelf life of grains, so they ditched them! Then they milled the starchy, low-nutrient endosperm, chemically treated it, and bleached it with benzoyl peroxide and chlorine gas to create pretty white flours with considerably longer shelf lives. The barren industrial filler that we’ve come to know as flour was born and put into every bread, cereal, and baked good.
For our bodies, this refined flour is incredibly hard to digest. Gluten sensitivity has become a major issue as we have not evolved to eat these chemically bathed, mutant seeds devoid of the components that one made them healthy(the bran and germ)! If that’s not enough, these refined grains also cause the same insulin spike as sugar! In a nut shell, these ancient grains have been turned into junk food.
INDUSTRIAL ANIMAL PRODUCTS
We are omnivores and have been eating meat for millions of years. Animal products are a source of key nutrients that our bodies need. Over time, however, our consumption of animal products has deviated from that of our ancestors.
First, we consume significantly more meat than we actually need. Animal products have never been as readily available as they are today…our ancestors certainly weren’t ordering take out for dinner. Today animal products are at our disposal anytime we want and we are overindulging.
Second, the animal products that we consume have been severely altered from their natural state. Factory farming has taken over, replacing green pastures with crowded warehouse-like buildings filled with bacteria, pesticides, and antibiotics. Animals have been genetically modified to unnaturally grow faster and fatter than ever before in extremely unnatural and unhealthy conditions, leaving us to consume sick animals! There is ample evidence to suggest that the hormones, antibiotics, and other synthetic chemicals given to animals are related to a slew of health problems, including cancer and heart disease, yet the government still allows it because it is such a massive, profitable industry. Talk about a letdown!
People are busy, and they want food quickly. Enter processed foods. Yes, it’s a solution to the problem, but it’s also a problem in itself — a big problem.
Food processing is any deliberate change to a food before it’s available to eat. Some processing can be as simple as freezing food to maintain freshness. No big deal. Other processing, however, involves adding a long list of toxic garbage to the food that you can barely pronounce. That is a big deal.
Processed foods are often loaded with preservatives, colorants, artificial flavors, and sugar in order to make them last longer and taste better. Once again, our bodies are not designed to consume these chemical additives and suffer as a result. These additives kill off essential bacteria in our guts, weakening our immune systems and putting our bodies in a state of chronic inflammation.
If we know that processed foods are so bad, why are they so hard to resist?? Glad you asked! We are hardwired to enjoy foods that are sweet, salty, and fatty because we know that those foods contain energy and nutrients we need to survive. Food manufacturers know this, so they engineer foods that trigger a powerful sense of pleasure when we consume them, impairing our better judgment. The brain is temporarily high jacked, and now it just wants to chase that high, making it difficult to choose healthier options because they lack the chemical reward that processed foods offer. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have trouble resisting your favorite processed food, it was designed that way.
FRUITS AND VEGGIES
Ok, so we’ve covered the “foods” that we’re eating too much of, but what about the foods we don’t eat enough of? Fruits and veggies! These gems provide the nutrients that our bodies need to thrive. We’ve known it since our parents asked us to eat our broccoli, so why aren’t we eating them? Once again, it’s a matter of convenience. While it can be easy to grab an apple, sautéing some greens can take a little time.
When do you see ads for fruits and veggies? Rarely. Instead, we usually see ads for processed and refined foods with added sugar which claim to offer various health benefits. Why? Because food companies have larger ad budgets. Why? Because the government subsidizes sugar, corn, wheat, dairy, and soy — foods that are present in the majority of unhealthy foods! As a result, people tend to eat more of these foods and less of the ones our bodies actually need. And we’re back to our two dilemmas: 1. The desire for quick food, and 2. Profit over health.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
There is little doubt that the dysfunctional Western diet is related to the health problems that we face today. In his popular book “In Defense of Food”, Michael Pollan discusses an experiment conducted in Australia where 10 middle-aged, overweight, diabetic aborigine urban dwellers spent seven weeks avoiding sugar-laced, highly processed foods to discern if the process of westernization might be the cause of their health problems.
After seven weeks of eating seafood, birds, kangaroo, crocodile, yams, figs and bush honey — these 10 aborigines found shocking improvements to their health:
· All had lost weight (on average, 18 pounds per individual)
· All saw their blood pressure drop
· All of their triglyceride levels (which is now known to be the main cause of heart disease) dropped into normal range
As the study demonstrates, — the damage inflicted by the Western Diets does not have to be permanent! Yes, we’ve been lied to and mislead, but now we’re armed with the knowledge to take control and make informed decisions. We are in the driver’s seat. Mother nature knows best, so let’s get back to the basics, reject these industrialized foods, and give our bodies what they need!
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Julie Martin, one of my Co-Founders In SANS contributed meaningfully to this article. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org