Monthly Archives: October 2014
Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into the foods that we eat. At most we might consider if a food is healthy or unhealthy. We are instinctually designed to eat for survival, not to ponder over the composition of our food. Yet, in the modern world of the agriculture and food industries, what we take for granted as being a good food is often far from it. This is exemplified nicely with fat.
It is difficult to completely avoid every aspect of the standard American diet. This certainly comes at a cost. One of these prices that we have paid for the convenience of the standard American diet is the loss of our traditional fats as a staple in our diet. As part of the primal diet known as the Paleo Diet, fats were consumed without prejudice. They were consumed in meats, nuts and to lesser degrees in some plants. Yet, now we almost have to seek out quality fats. Worse yet, there is great confusion surrounding the consumption of fat.
Fat-phobia (Fatty Acid Avoidance)
I seem to remember a saying that goes something like this. “Tell the lie often enough and loud enough and the masses will believe it.” While this applied to other parts of history, it also applies to the food industry. It started with the premise that if you eat fat, you would become fat. This was falsehood number one. Second, fats, especially saturated fats which contain cholesterol, were manipulatively linked to cardiovascular disease. And from here the lies abound. We were lead to believe that the fats that man had lived off of for centuries as part of the primal diet were now somehow detrimental to our health in the 20th century.
Fatty Acid Replacements
What we were literally sold in return was not a better form of fat, but a fat that would sit on the shelf longer and make the food manufacturers more money. They even came with catchy names like margarine. Yet what we now realize is that this form of fatty, what we call trans fatty acids, was something that our bodies could not easily process. This toxic substance was in fact more harmful to our health than the saturated fat that it was supposed to replace. While these foods are less popular in years past due to the acknowledgement of their inherent disease promoting qualities, the standard American diet still suffers when it comes to fat content. What was once margarine has been replaced with partially hydrogenated soy bean oil. However, don’t let the fancy name fool you, as it is still a trans fatty acid.
Let’s have some fat
Do you like flavor in your food? If so, then you will appreciate the role that fat plays. Fat is flavorful. Not only that, it is a critical component to our diet due to its role in helping make hormones, nourishing our brains, helping us control inflammation and supporting regeneration of tissue when necessary. Yet these benefits are only available when consuming fat that is part of the primal diet. The fats that are typically part of the standard American diet have just the opposite effect and are significantly damaging to the health of the body. Fats from the primal diet are derived from grass fed meats, wild game, fish, nuts, seeds, and grasses. This should make sense as these are food that would be available to our paleo ancestors. So as we attempt to mimic them through the paleo lifestyle to optimize health, we want to consume the same foods.
The standard American diet is full of pitfalls and there is hardly one filled with more mistruths and outright lies than the story of fats. Full of inflammatory fats that rob your health, the standard American diet is devoid of the anti-inflammatory omega 3’s that so many Americans are deficient in. Thus, when it comes to fats, you will not go wrong my consuming a primal diet high in quality fats.
The standard American Diet has a long list of problems as many are beginning to recognize. The food that many consume on a daily basis is starting to raise questions about its overall effects on health. Even questions about the safety of eating some of these foods have increased as a result of the chemicals used in the growing and harvesting process. One thing is certain, the foods that our forefathers grew, raised and consumed are not the same foods that we have today. If fact, some are only similar in name.
The Standard American Diet Paradox
Some may argue that our food is a product of our society. It emerged out of the need for more convenience and the need to feed a greater number of individuals. This point I will not argue. However, convenience and increased crop yields have come at a price. The foods which are routinely consumed are in many ways manufactured. They do not mimic the diversity of foods that were once part of the American diet. Rather the standard American diet has become a monotonous diet lacking diversity. Moreover, this dietary pattern that is at the core of American society seems to have paralleled an increase in chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. We now have a high percentage of individuals classified obese than at any time in the history of the nation. This is not a coincidence and the negative changes that have been a part of the evolution of the standard American Diet deserve some of the blame.
If you feel that you have become a victim to the standard American Diet, you are not by yourself. It is affecting millions. You have become the prey of the food industry who is interested in profits and not long term health. Few will argue that a more nutritious diet based on foods that are not part of the standard American Diet is going to better support your health. But if you are going to take serious steps to modify your diet, you have to be armed with the right information to make an educated choice. As such, I have developed a list of the 18 things that are wrong with the standard American Diet and what to do to not be duped by the influential advertising tactics of the food industry.
18 Facts about the Standard American Diet
1. Glycemic (Sugar) Load – Sugar consumption has increased significantly under the standard American Diet. Foods that you would not even anticipate to have sugar in them have it added in to enhance the taste. Our taste buds have become so desensitized to sweetness from consumption of sodas, fruit juices, and refined foods that we have to add sugar to foods that should never need it. Even worse, the false idea of eating a lot fat diet to lose fat has promoted an even greater consumption of sugar. No wonder diabetes is one of the fastest growing health epidemics.
2. Fatty acid composition – Fats in the standard American Diet have changed the fatty acid make up of our cells. Whereas we used to get an adequate balance of omega 3’s to 6’s and saturated fats to unsaturated fats, this is no longer the case. We have abandoned the intake of traditional foods with high quality fats for fats that are inflammatory to our body such as margarine and soybean oil.
3. Macronutrient composition – Macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. In days gone by, the majority of carbohydrates came from starchy vegetables and fruit. These foods did not allow for overconsumption of carbohydrates. Now with easy accessibility of carbohydrates through refined grains, they are consumed in excess. Add to this that there is little balance with regards to protein consumption with many under-consuming protein and others over-consuming it. Such imbalanced food consumption leads to hormonal imbalances and poor gastrointestinal function.
4. Micronutrient composition – Miconutrients are what we often think about as vitamins and minerals. They are the small substances that have big effects in our body. Think about them as the spark plugs for your system. Without the spark that they give us, we don’t function efficiently. Micronutrients are lacking in the diet leading to nutrient deficiencies. Contributions to this state are predominantly from refining of food, but also growing foods that don’t have the same nutritional value as those of the past.
5. Calorie intake has increased – Most will agree that for the average person, consumption of more calories is not a good thing, especially when they begin to add size to the waistline. The standard American Diet supplies foods that are less nutritious. As a result, it becomes necessary to eat more foods, and thus more calories, to get the same level of needed nutrients.
6. Acid-base balance – There should be a balance between the acid nature of our diet and the alkaline, or base, nature of it. However, the standard American Diet promotes consumption of foods that are highly acidic. Fats contain fatty acids. Proteins contain amino acids. While these are not inherently bad for us, and moreover we actually need a reasonable amount of them, this should also be balances with plant based alkaline foods. This unfortunately does not include grains which predominate in the standard American Diet.
7. Sodium-potassium ratios – Salt, which contains sodium, is often used to enhance flavor. Potassium is found in colorful plant based foods. A quick overview of the standard American diet will quickly show consumption of foods that have flavor enhancers added to them, but yet are significantly lacking in meaningful vegetable and fruit intake.
8. Fiber content – One of the initial questions that I ask in my workups is if someone has adequate bowel motility. Many people struggle to have a good bowel movement every day. This is a problem that can be traced back to lack of fiber in the diet. While not the only cause, numerous Americans consume a diet that contains less than required amount of fiber needed each day. As part of the food refining process, when the nutrients are taken out, so is the fiber.
9. Grains – As the base of the traditional food pyramid, one would think that grains should be a staple of the diet. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the consumption of mostly grains as part of the standard American Diet is related to the upswing in many chronic diseases. Found in nearly all processed foods in one form or another, grains are hard to avoid in the standard American Diet. Yet they have several negative effects on our health including increasing inflammation, promoting glucose imbalances that can lead to diabetes over time, disrupting the balance of the gastrointestinal tract and leading to immune system dysfunction.
10. Dairy – Milk does not do a body good contrary to popular belief. Unquestionably one of the most common foods to show up on food sensitivity testing is dairy in my experience. Much like grains, dairy is known for its ability to create immune reactions that manifest as allergies, skin outbreaks, chronic congestion, and constipation. You also have to wonder about a food that has been linked to type I diabetes onset.
11. GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) – Would you eat corn that had been crossbred with bacteria? I think most of you would answer no to this question. Apart from any of the science to support why you would not want to do this, commonsense suggests that something is wrong with the idea of crossing corn and bacteria. This is the case for many of the foods that are part of the standard American Diet. These foods are genetically modified organisms, or GMO. These foods have been genetically manipulated to have specific characteristics. However, as a result, they are different. While biotechnology groups may argue for their safety, the growing amount of research against GMO says otherwise.
12. Food is now an industry – Do you know where the food you ate for dinner last night came from? If you answered no, then you are just like most other individuals. The standard American Diet has evolved from an industry that controls our food. When possible, it is always better to deal locally and buy home grown food that you know the origin of. Foods that travel from distant locations to make it to the grocery store shelf are picked before becoming ripe thus losing nutrients, are likely sprayed with toxic chemicals to improve their appearance and often are genetically modified.
13. Lacks color, Paleo diet is full of color – The standard American Diet is a brown and white diet. Grains and dairy, which predominant in the standard American Diet have no color. We should be eating foods with color. If you have ever heard the saying eat a rainbow of food, there was a reason. These are the foods that are the most nutrient dense. Food that has color has life. Food that is devoid of color does not have life and cannot support your overall health.
14. SAD is monotonous – If you like the same thing over and over, then you are likely a fan of the standard American Diet. However, I will let you in on a little secret. Your body does not like monotony. Eating the same thing repeatedly increases the probability of food allergies and sensitivities. Moreover, if you are eating the same foods, you are limiting the amount of nutrients that you are exposed to. You need a variety of foods to acquire all of the nutrients that your body requires. We are not meant to eat the same foods over and over, but rather to enjoy a large variety of foods.
15. Chicken and beef, but no fish and wild game – The two meats that seem to be the most common in the standard American Diet are beef and chicken. These two meats can easily be considered the protein staples. This is a problem however unless you are consuming free range or grass fed sources. Most of the chicken and beef in the United States is also the result of the agriculture and food industry complex. These meats lack the same nutrient and fat profile as wild meats. These same meats are consuming the grains that I previously mentioned were not a good source of food. Therefore, some of the negative impact of them consuming these grains is passed along to us by consuming this meat. Moreover, even if you do get quality sources of these proteins, the limitation of consuming a narrow array of proteins increases the risk of developing a food reaction to these foods.
16. Toxicity of the SAD – Would you eat the herbicide weed killer Round Up? No! However if you are not controlling the source of your produce, this may very well be just one of the chemicals that you are ingesting. This is just an additional substance that your body has to detoxify and attempt to remove from your system. Moreover, it has been confirmed that foods sprayed with these types of chemicals have a lower nutrient value.
17. Ability to Support Probiotics vs damaging probiotics – Probiotics are the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract that work with us. We as humans have a commensal relationship with them. They provide us with nutrients, help support our immune system and bowel health and protect us from invading microorganisms. They can provide all of this benefit so long as we give them the things that they need. This includes foods that they can work with, specifically those with higher fiber content and richer in color. Unfortunately, this does not include what is eaten as part of the standard American Diet. As a result, all of the benefit that we should have from probiotics is lacking when we don’t give them what they need through diet.
18. Use of antibiotics and hormones – These chemicals have been implicated in everything from increasing the early onset of secondary sexual characteristics in young females to damaging the probiotics in the gastrointestinal tract. At a minimum antibiotics and hormones are more unnatural chemicals that when entering our body have to be detoxified. If you are eating meats found in the standard American Diet from fast food sources or other unknown locations, the probability that you are consuming these chemicals is high
Standard American Diet – The Final Decision
After seeing the facts highlighting the problems with the standard American Diet, I ask you, is this dietary pattern one that you want to stay on? Do you like consuming foods with an uncertain origin, that are covered in toxins and that are genetically manipulated? If you continue to eat this monotonous diet that lacks adequate nutrients, there is no question that chronic disease is in your future.
However, if you are interested in offsetting the effects of the standard American Diet, the choice is easy. Eat a diet that is nutrient dense, promotes good health, and offers a large variety of foods for you to partake in. Diet of this type can be considered whole foods and a lot of other names. I prefer to call is the Paleo Diet. Rather than a diet, it is a dietary pattern that shuns all of the characteristics of the standard American Diet. Rather, it replaces them with the principles of eating that the human body most benefits from. In short, knowing the 18 reasons to avoid the standard American Diet is made much easier so long as you just eat real foods in their natural state as are found in the Paleo Diet.
The Paleo and Mediterranean diets are often talked about for their health promoting benefits. Both are considered to have been used by various populations for many years. The longevity of use of the Paleo and Mediterranean diets has been one of the primary reasons that many still look to these diets when making food choices. Diets that have been around for this length of time certainly should not be overlooked as they seem to have something unique about them that warrant a closer look.
Paleo and Mediterranean Diets Concept
The Paleo and Mediterranean diets are not that dissimilar. Each has its own individual characteristics that make it unique. For example, the Mediterranean diet allows for the inclusion of grains. This is not a part of the Paleo Diet. In contrast, the Paleo Diet can be modified to be higher in fat or higher in vegetables. Yet with each of their differences, there is one common thread in the Paleo and Mediterranean diets that makes them very similar and allows them to offer some of the same health promoting benefits. This similarity is that they focus on food that is nutrient dense and not processed. The food of these diets is what our body demands. It provides the essential elements such as vitamins, mineral and healthy fats that are missing from the standard American Diet. In short, the foods of the Paleo and Mediterranean diets reduce the occurrence of disease, unlike foods of the standard American Diet which promote disease.
Paleo and Mediterranean Diets Validated
Many might argue that the Paleo and Mediterranean diets are fads. To those individuals I would ask, “Is eating real food that can support overall health a fad?” Of course it is not. Each of us knows that eating food that is nutrient dense is always a better choice that eating the refined option. But rather than be dogmatic about the issue, let us take a look at the science. After all, that is what the critics and skeptics are really asking for. They want to see validation that the Paleo and Mediterranean diets have evidence behind them and are not just opinion. Being more of a science minded individual, I can certainly appreciate this point. So with that said, let me refer to the latest article published on the Paleo and Mediterranean diets.
No doubt one of the scariest labels that anyone can be given is cancer. Cancer can be a paralyzing term and can take hold of every aspect of our health from the physical to the emotional. We all know that when possible, the best way to manage a condition is to prevent it. Professional organizations such as the American Cancer Society support the consumption of vegetables and fruits as part of a healthy diet. The use of these foods in the forms that nature provided to use is what supports long term health and lowers cancer risk. This can be seen with the outcome of a recent study showing that the Paleo and Mediterranean diets may be similar in their ability to lower the incidence of sporadic colon cancer. (Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Oct 17.) Additionally, it is also worth noting that if these diets can be used to reduce cancer risk, they can also be used to support an individual’s health during cancer as well as in non-cancerous situations.
Paleo and Mediterranean diets Reign Supreme
The Paleo and Mediterranean diets have stood the test of time as dietary patterns for entire populations. Now with investigation of these diets for modern populations, these diets are beginning to show their benefits in our modern environment. The study mentioned focused on the preventative nature of the Paleo and Mediterranean diets in one form of cancer, ie. colon cancer. However, the benefits of these diets extends not just into prevention of other forms of cancer, but other types of disease as well such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Is there a better dietary pattern to adopt? Not likely. You will be hard pressed to find anyone that would recommend consuming refined foods that are laden with chemicals as a preferred alternative to those that are dense in nutrients and support our body’s natural functions.
The biggest exercise and diet myth you will ever hear is that energy in equals energy out. Stated a different way, calories in equals calories out. The premise is that if these two are equal then burning the same amount of calories that you eat daily will result in maintenance of weight. This is a concept that has been preached for numerous years. However, when put to the test, it has not with stood the test of time.
How the Exercise and Diet Myth Mislead You
A calorie is a calorie. At least that is what you are supposed to believe. I am so surprised when I hear educated nutrition professionals make this statement. In a controlled experimental setting a calorie equals a calorie. The amount of energy derived from that calorie is the same regardless of the source. However this negates the other affects that the source of the calorie has. As a result, our body is not an experimental setting. Rather, we are complex and respond to the foods that we take in differently. We don’t respond to each type of food the same. The effect of eating 12 grams of sugar is not the same as eating 12 grams of beef, or protein. So is a calorie a calorie? All calories are the same only in theory, not in application.
What the Exercise and Diet Myth does not tell you
Now that you know a calorie is not a calorie, you need to understand why. This may initially seem confusing. If a calorie, regardless of the source, gives off the same amount of heat, or in our case energy, then why does it matter where is comes from? In the example that I gave previously of 12 grams of sugar (carbohydrate) and 12 grams of beef (protein), each provide the same amount of calories. From each source you get 48 calories (kcal). Yet there is one significant effect of the each of these sources of food that is being neglected. Each food source has a unique hormonal response that drastically alters the way that calories are used. Sugars are going to increase the production of insulin. In contrast, proteins do not cause significant insulin stimulation. Insulin is a hormone that promotes storage. Therefore, when carbohydrates are ingested insulin is released and storage of sugar (glucose) increases. If it is consumed above a useable amount, this is stored as fat. So while the consumption of only 12 grams of carbohydrate or protein might not have a significant difference, the same cannot be said when you consider the volume of food that is consumed on a daily basis.
Let’s apply some logic to this argument. Forget the science for a minute. The “calorie is a calorie” concept assumes that all foods are the same, regardless of the source. Therefore, if you eat 200 calories from sugar or 200 calories from vegetables or 200 calories from protein it does not matter. Ask yourself if this even makes sense. Of course it does not. You notice a difference in the way you feel after eating these different foods. Carbohydrates leave the stomach quicker than proteins leaving you hungry again in a short period of time. Proteins on the other hand tend to sit heavier and end up increasing our metabolism. Logic tells us that a calorie is not a calorie so don’t fall for the exercise and diet myth that energy in equals energy out.
The Exercise and Diet Myth Stops Weight Loss
The exercise and diet myth of energy in equals energy out is even more pronounced in the average population. Worse yet, most of those that care about losing weight are going to be the ones focused on calories. You have seen these folks if you have been to the gym. They are the ones on the treadmill or bike trying to burn a particular number of calories. Unfortunately, these are the same individuals that feel betrayed when they reduce the number of total calories they take in, increase their exercise and still don’t lose weight. Weight loss is not difficult when you follow proven concepts. However the idea of a calorie in equals a calorie out is not effective in the real world where other factors such as hormones have to be considered.
Beyond the Exercise and Diet Myth
It is time for you to break the restraints of antiquated exercise and diet myths. What was once considered the best approach to weight loss or maintenance is now questionable at best. Just ask yourself, why did diets such as Atkins and South Beach become so popular and work for so many? It is not because they promoted the exercise and diet myth of a calorie in equals a calorie out. Rather they focused on particular foods for not just the caloric content, but moreover the metabolic effects. While I am not promoting these diets and would rather see someone consume a more balanced diet with multiple foods to fit their needs such as in the Paleo Diet, the concept of using food for its metabolic effects carries more weight than the total caloric value of the food.
If you have read about the standard American Diet, you will know that it is not a diet that promotes acid-base balance. In fact, there is not much that the standard American Diet and health have in common, if anything. The idea of acid-based balance to promote health is a common topic, but one that is plagued with assumptions and lack of science. That said, let me not downplay the benefits of consuming alkaline, or basic foods. These foods should make up a large portion of the diet. However, there are some key points that should be considered when trying to make the body less acidic.
Our Body is Acidic by Nature
One thing that is commonly misconstrued is that the body should be overly basic. This is not the case. As with most things in the body, balance is the key. Therefore the notion that you want to shift the body to a significantly basic state is a misnomer. Rather, the body should be slightly acidic. An example of the body being slightly acidic is lactic acid. Lactic acid is what you feel when you workout and a muscle starts to “burn”. That feeling is the accumulation of lactic acid. This is just one example. The point being that the body is acidic by its nature, however, we can become too acidic.
What it means to be Acidic
Although the body is acidic, we can enter a state of what is known as metabolic acidosis, or simply stated we produce more acid than is ideal. This is significantly affected by the foods that we consume. When we ingest foods that are typically part of the standard American diet, we are leaning more towards being overly acidic. Rather, foods that are part of the primal diet, more commonly known as the Paleo Diet, tend to shift our metabolism to a more basic, or better stated, less acidic state. This is important as being acidic is detrimental to the body. We don’t generally see the negative effects immediately, but they do accumulate with time. When someone is acidic, what we are actually saying is that they are inflamed. When you are inflamed you are in a state where the body is damaging tissue faster than repairing it. Clearly this is not an ideal state. The more inflamed we are, the more we can benefit from the anti-inflammatory constituents in a primal diet, unlike those in the standard American Diet.
How the standard American Diet Affects the Acid-Base Balance
Diet is one of the most significant indicators of how the acid-base system is being balanced. The standard American diet is heavy in meats and fats, both of which are acidic by nature. This acidic effect is compounded by the ingestion of grains. Grains do not possess the qualities that are responsible for making a food alkaline. The result of consuming the standard American diet is a shift into the state known as metabolic acidosis. Being in a state of metabolic acidosis and having inflammation, as seen while eating the standard American Diet, increases the demand for several nutrients. B12 and omega 3’s are just two examples.
How to Shift the Acid-Base Balance in Your Favor
As damaging to our health as the standard American Diet is, the primal diet is just as healing. If eating more acidic foods promotes inflammation, then eating more alkalinizing, or basic foods, is anti-inflammatory. The majority of the primal diet, or Paleo Diet, should come from fresh vegetables and fruits, roots, tubers, and nuts. These foods either have an alkalinizing effect or are relatively net neutral, thus supporting an alkaline state. To offset the ill effects of the standard American Diet, the best solution is the primal diet, aka the Paleo diet. Only by consuming this pattern of foods will we most closely mimic our ancestors. They had the combination down without realizing it. They ingested some acidic foods such as proteins and meats, which we obviously need, but consumed most of their diet from plant based foods. With this pattern of eating you are able to reach the balanced state that the body prefers.
The Contamination of the Standard American Diet with GMO Foods
Do you like being tricked or lied to? I don’t think anyone is going to answer yes to this question. However, this is exactly what the food industry has done with the introduction of genetically modified foods as part of the standard American diet. You have been sold one thing while you thought that you were getting something else.
How You Were Lied To
The food industry is clever. They want to increase the profits they can make from food. After all it is a business. Without disclosing what they were doing, the food industry began to change the contents of the standard American diet right under our noses. We thought we were getting foods that at least resembled the foods of the primal caveman diet. Yet, what we were getting was something much different. It had a different genetic structure. For example, it was still called corn, but it was no longer the same corn that had been part of the primal diet. It was a “new and improved” form of corn.
Problems with Genetically Modified Foods
Over the years the human body has adapted to certain foods. These foods were recognized by our bodies and they worked well together. We could eat them without little consequence. However, this is not the case when consuming genetically modified foods. The genetically modified foods that have found their way into the standard American diet are damaging to our health. These foods now possess qualities about them that may be beneficial in regards to high crop yield, but they are detrimental when it comes to our health. Probably the most recognized example of this in the standard American diet is corn. Corn was genetically manipulated with a particular strain of bacteria. The end result was a species of corn that could resist damage from insects by poisoning the insect. However, the damage related to this genetic manipulation does not end here. It also affects humans. Critics might argue in defense of genetic manipulation, however, science has now begun to prove that these foods are actually dangerous. In the case of corn, the genetically manipulated strain damages our red blood cells.
Ask yourself this question. If there was not some suspicion by the FDA and USDA about the effects of genetically modified foods, then why would it be necessary to use a different labeling code for them in the grocery stores? Foods that are genetically modified have a 5 digit code that begins with a 8. Foods that are organic, which cannot be genetically modified by definition, have a 5 digit code that begins with an 9. Lastly, foods that are neither genetically modified nor organic have a 4 digit code. Labeling foods in this manner seems like a good way to keep yourself out of legal trouble, although you are still responsible for putting a food on the shelf that can cause human harm.
Back to the Paleo Diet
The only way that you are going to avoid the genetically modified foods of the standard American diet is to transition to a primal diet, also known as the Paleo Diet. The primal dietary pattern consists of foods that are not subjected to the genetic modification process. The foods that have especially been affected are grains and meats that consume these grains. All the better reason to avoid grains and eat grass fed and wild meats. Grass fed and wild meats are found on a primal diet, aka the Paleo Diet, but are not part of the standard American diet. It is unfortunate that as a society we have been lied to by the food industry. Yet the reality is that we have been lied to and the best way to avoid the ill effects of their actions is to consume a primal diet.