standard American diet
It is not uncommon for a patient to visit my office after having been seen by other doctors. In fact, it is the norm. Many patients have seen between 7-8 doctors for the same symptom before visiting my practice. At first, this seemed very odd to me. However, after some reflection, the answers became more obvious. Keep in mind, that many of these patients have seen doctors from some of the most prestigious healthcare institutions from around the country. What is ironic is that when I talk to trusted colleagues, they are seeing patients that are in the same situation. Why are our practices able to help, when others have not? What is the common theme?
The Philosophy of Addition and Subtraction
While the number of well intended, state-of-the-art healthcare facilities continues to increase and become more accessible, the real question we should be asking is why are they necessary. The numbers of such facilities is more in demand now than ever to attempt to manage the growing number of people with healthcare needs. The majority of these patients have needs related to chronic disease. However, traditional approaches to chronic disease are not showing significant impact. In fact, they are losing the battle in many areas. Why? In spite of cutting edge science, we are still losing the battle. The answer is simple. The focus of care, while patient-centered, assumes that by adding medications, a toxin in their own right, and performing appropriately needed surgeries, that health can be restored. The reality is that this approach has never restored health, nor will it ever.
The philosophy of addition and subtraction does not focus on restoring the body from the inside out. In fact, it does just the opposite. It addresses it from the outside in. The assumption being that if I add or remove to the body from outside means, health will be restored. Yet health comes from within. When the body has the necessary cofactors and the interferences to healing and normal body function are removed, wellness is easily achieved. The body does not need direction to achieve wellness. It just needs the necessary cofactors and the interferences removed. Here are 5 ways to make sure your body gets what it needs and you are getting the interferences out of the way.
Good Health Starts with the Right Foods
It almost seems cliche to say that you need to eat good to have good health. However, the importance of diet can never be understated. In a world that is plagued with unhealthy food options and driven by a healthcare system that places little emphasis on food, few are going to get this basic requirement for good health. Hopefully you have not been to a hospital lately. But if you have, you know that the food options there don’t have much in common with good health. In fact, many of the items I have seen on these trays contains some interferences to optimal health. For example, jello. A combination of gelatin and food coloring, both of which can cause inflammation. What is even more concerning is that most don’t even make the connection of just how important food is to their health. It literally can be the one factor that builds your body up, or breaks your body down.
What’s Missing that you Need?
If you are missing your vitamins and minerals, your body’s metabolism is inefficient. I am not just referring to how you burn fat when I speak of metabolism. I am talking about the entire operation of your body. Your metabolism is everything from brain function to detoxification. If you are not getting adequate amounts of nutrients to meet you bodily needs, you are not going to be healthy. Just like having the right components to make the engine in your car run, your body also needs the right components. Your vitamins and minerals are literally your metabolic spark plugs and without them, you are running in low gear and moving at a snail’s pace towards wellness. In fact, you are probably moving away from it.
What Is Getting in the Way of You Healing
Allergies and sensitivities – Allergies are associated with seasonal changes. However, there is far more to allergies than just the common runny nose and itchy eyes that comes with seasonal allergies. In fact, allergies, or the immediate response from the immune system, are a significant contributor to interfering with healing. They misdirect the immune system causing it to focus on foods and substances that otherwise should not be a problem. Just how common are allergies, specifically food allergies? Well they are common enough that the FDA has issued a list of the top 8 allergens. What may surprise you is that this list contains some of the most commonly consumed foods in the standard American diet. Maybe it is not so coincidental that the standard American diet and food allergies are both interferences to optimal health. And just as allergies are immediate reactions by our immune system, sensitivities, sometimes also called immune intolerances, are delayed reactions. They can cause similar problems, but just often take longer to develop.
Toxicities – Do you drink or shower in pure, filtered water every day? Do you work inside and inhale contaminated air? These may be simple things that you overlook. Municipal water systems remove some of the toxins that can be found in water. Yet, they do not even come close to removing all of them. Industrial chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals are commonly found in the water supply. When you ingest these or inhale them as through a hot shower, they begin to build up in the system. Such toxicities often cause nutrient deficiencies and other negative effects. It is literally a slow poisoning.
Infections – Infections are a major source of interference that are often overlooked. Yes, obvious infections are easy to deal with. But what about infections that are not so obvious. Subtle indicators often give clues to just such as infection. These can harbor in the gastrointestinal tract, the sinuses, the mouth and other areas that are hospitable for growth. Such infections go undetected by standard methods, but not by the immune system. As a result, the body spends precious resources bolstering immune responses to chronically deal with an infection, or even infections. All of this takes place at the expense of good health.
You Heal From the Inside Out
When the body is provided with the necessary co-factors that it needs to heal and health-robbing interferences are removed, the body only knows one state of being; Optimal Health! Battling chronic disease and ending the continual increase in the number of those suffering from them will never end until the paradigm changes. A paradigm of wellness that focuses on health from the inside out always has been, and always will be, the only way to true health.
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.
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.
Much has been written and talked about recently with regards to the consumption of grains. Grains, often limited in conversation to wheat and gluten, are viewed differently than they have been in the past. In fact, many companies have jumped on the bandwagon and are now offering gluten-free options. However, the buyer should be leery of these marketing tactics as many of the problems that exist with wheat still exist in these gluten free options.
Wheat and Corn Everywhere
If you walk around the grocery store and pick up a packaged food, you will likely see that it contains wheat or corn in some fashion. Wheat and corn are staple crops in this country. We even nicknamed the central portion of the country the “bread basket”. This agriculture region produces high amounts of grains that have to be utilized in the market place. Otherwise, it would not make sense for the government to continue to subsidize, or support, farming. While I am by no means against the farmer, I am against the business entities that tell the farmers what to do for the goal of making a profit at the expense of the population.
Wheat sneaks its way into things you would not even suspect. For example, flavoring agents used in cooking often contain wheat among the many other spices. Corn is just as bad. Probably the most astonishing thing that has happened with corn is the introduction of high fructose corn syrup. This is one of the most damaging substances in the market place right now as it creates glucose problems and can lead to liver damage. Commercials that have appeared on television suggesting high fructose corn syrup is okay because it comes from corn and corn is a plant. These are ludicrous at best. High fructose corn syrup is one of the leading causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that can lead to cirrhosis if it persists for a long enough period of time. The biochemistry is simple. High fructose corn syrup is mostly fructose. Fructose needs to be processed through the liver initially, not with insulin. The more fructose you consume, the more you overwhelm its ability to process it. This leads to fructose insensitivity and then on to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Just an example of the propaganda
(You have to wonder about the doctors, dieticians and nutrition experts mentioned)
Even More Problems with Grains
The problems with grains are numerous. They increase inflammation, lead to dysfunction in the immune system, are high in carbohydrates that ultimately promote blood sugar problems, they lack adequate amounts of fiber and the micronutrient content in them is limited. These are just a few of the problems with grains. Moreover, this is not just wheat that I am speaking of, but rather most of what we consider to be grains. However, wheat and corn are especially problematic.
Are Grains Making You Fat?
If you are eating grains, they are likely making you fat. After all, what does the cattle industry do to livestock to fatten it up before sending it to market? They send the cattle to the feedlot where they quickly increase the weight by feeding them predominantly corn. So while you may not be eating at a feedlot, you are consuming the same foods in the standard American Diet which are going to have the same effects of adding fat to the body.
The answer to avoiding becoming fat, and moreover losing weight, is to avoid the standard American diet which is saturated in grains. You are far better off consuming a primal diet, also known as the Paleo Diet, that allows you to consume nutrient dense food that is not going to promote inflammation and result in blood sugar disturbances. Grains as we know them are not the grains of yesteryear. They are a different substance that has been genetically manipulated to increase yield. I will talk more about this in another article. Yet, to avoid these types of foods and move into a pattern of easily losing weight, you must avoid the standard American diet and follow through with the primal diet, aka the Paleo Diet.
Let’s think about this for a minute. If you were eating a primal diet, also known as the Paleo Diet, you would be eating what you could find. You would likely be consuming not just plants that you came across, but also the occasional wild game. The opportunity to consume an animal protein source would have been less frequent, but it would have been available. Moreover, it would have been unlikely to have consumed the same animal protein source routinely. In contrast, this looks nothing like the standard American diet. The standard American diet relies heavily on beef and chicken and lacks the variety that we benefit most from.
The Staple Foods of the Standard American Diet
Go to almost any restaurant and you will find beef and chicken options on the menu. There is nothing inherently wrong with beef and chicken. There is however something inherently wrong with consuming beef and chicken on a frequent basis. Beef and chicken have become the staples of the standard American diet. These foods are relied upon heavily to supply protein in the diet. This is problematic as it does not mimic the primal diet of our ancestors. Far removed is the diet of grass fed animals that lived off of the land. In short, we no longer live off of the land nor do we eat animals that live off of the land.
Where did all the Grass Go?
The standard American diet is now made up of meats from animals that have spent little time in their natural setting. Unless you actually seek it out, you are not going to find meat that is grass fed or cage free. I can vouch for this change first hand. Having grown up on a farm, I remember my grandmother having the chicken coop behind her house. When they needed eggs or wanted a chicken to feed the family, it was a short trip across the backyard. These chickens lived off of the things that they found in the area that they were allowed to graze in. Ironically, in later years, chicken houses were built on the adjacent farm. These chicken houses looked much different than my grandmother’s chicken coop. They were long, stuffed full of chickens, the lights were kept on for long periods to speed up growth and there were feeders full of grain about half way down each of the houses. Needless to say this was a far different setup than my grandmother had and resulted in a far different outcome.
Can I have something besides Beef and Chicken for Dinner?
The standard American diet is far removed from the primal diet, aka the Paleo Diet. There are many additional sources of protein that should be considered. While you could easily add turkey and pork to the list of frequently consumed protein sources, they are still not wild, and this mostly limits us to four protein sources that make up most of the standard American diet.
We should be as primal as possible with our diet eating as many different protein sources as possible from wild sources. This would include the consumption of wild game such as venison, many different forms of fowl or wild birds just to name a few. Then there is the category that is significantly limited in the standard American diet, seafood. Most Americans can consume far too little seafood. No wonder there is such a widespread deficiency in omega 3’s in the standard American diet. Interestingly, the primal diet supplies omega 3’s not just from seafood, but also from the more staple animal sources such as beef, so long as they are grass fed and finished and not corn fed.
As I have mentioned in a previous article, the standard American diet is a monotonous and boring diet. It lacks not only the diversity of the primal diet, but also allows for the consumption of meats from sources that do not resemble the environment these animals originated in. The ingestion of such meats comes at the price of increasing inflammation in our bodies while also leaving us lacking in key nutrients such as omega 3’s. There is more protein to enjoy than beef and chicken. For a diet that is anything but boring and monotonous, transition your diet to the primal diet and get a true feel for just what it means to be Paleo.
Is it possible to eat a large volume of food, but to really have consumed nothing of any real value? Or worse yet, what if this same volume of food even harmed your body? This is the standard American diet. Not only is this diet devoid of consistent nutritional value, but the typical American is consuming more of it. The average American consumes more food than their body needs. As a result, American’s waist lines have continued to grow and health has declined.
More Volume, Less Nutrition
The volume of food that the average American consumes now is vastly different than in years past, and certainly different than the primal diet of our ancestors. The primal diet contained limited amounts of calories. This is much different than the standard American diet which tends to be very high in calories. One of the main reasons that this dietary pattern has such a high caloric burden is the change in the types of foods that are being consumed now that was not part of the primal diet. In general there is an abundance of grains and carbohydrates in the standard American diet. The consumption of these categories of foods has the consequence of not promoting the feeling of fullness. Thus, when they are routinely consumed, more and more is wanted to attempt to reach a level of satisfaction. Unfortunately, this is rarely reached and more carbohydrate laden foods are consumed, creating the roller-coaster of fluctuating blood sugar.
It’s Not all about the Calories
Most of the calories found in the primal diet, or Paleo Diet as it is most commonly known, are derived from foods that are high in proteins, fats, or high fiber foods. These three aspects of food have a common trait. They all support the feeling of being full, or satiety. Protein, fat and fiber do not quickly leave the stomach. They are more difficult to digest and as such help us feel as though we are getting more out of the food that we are eating. Ironically, of these three, the only one that has a high caloric value is fat. Yet calories are not the whole story. It is as equally important how the food affects the hormones. Fat, protein and fiber have a hormone stabilizing effect and do not cause secretion of insulin in quantities significant enough to promote storage of sugars and fat. The role of insulin is storage. However, insulin is the result of carbohydrate consumption, the component of the standard American diet that greatly differs from the primal diet.
All Those Extra Calories are Empty Calories
As if eating all of the extra empty calories and causing excess secretion of the storage hormone insulin was not problematic enough from consuming too many carbohydrates, you can add to this the fact that most of the calories consumed from this style of eating are devoid of nutrients. So not only are you eating more calories, but you are getting fewer vitamins and minerals from them. This is a real problem when you think about it. The standard American diet places more burdens on our bodies by causing higher consumption of calories, but then also gives us smaller quantities of nutrients to work with to help burn those calories off. This is a lose-lose situation. However, as I have noted in other articles, there is an easy way to beat the effects of the standard American diet, and that is through the primal diet, aka the Paleo Diet.
The standard American diet has become the catch phrase for the way the average American eats. This style of eating is significantly different than the way our ancestors ate. Not only is the food itself different, but the composition of the food that is being consumed is not the same either. Today’s food lacks both on a large and small scale. What I mean by this is that the contents of the food today is much less nutritious and does not have the same health promoting quality.
Seeing the Imbalance of Micronutrients
One of the main differences between those that were eating a primal diet and those that are now consuming the standard American diet is the breakdown of the macronutrients in the diet. Macronutrients are what we think about as the protein, fats and carbohydrate in our food. Though no technically considered a macronutrient, I will also include fiber in our list due to its role. The macronutrient composition of the person eating a primal diet, or the Paleo Diet as it is more commonly known, would have focused more on proteins, fats and fiber. Dense sources of carbohydrates are not readily available in nature. Foods that are dense in carbohydrates are the result of agriculture. They are not as easily found when you are hunting and gathering your food. In sharp contrast, the standard American diet has shifted to highlight the influence of agriculture. The macronutrient breakdown for much of society today is composed of higher amounts of carbohydrates, some fats and protein and little fiber. With such a dramatic shift in macronutrient breakdown, negative effects are guaranteed to en sue.
It’s the Small Things that Matter
However it is not just the large nutrients, or macronutrients in the diet that are grossly different. Rather, it is also the small nutrients, or the micronutrients. The standard American diet is a gateway to malnourishment. How can this be? With so many people overeating, it is indeed true that the standard American diet can lead to malnourishment. It does this through not supplying adequate amounts of micronutrients. Micronutrients are numerous. There are many times more micronutrients than there are macronutrients. We typically think about micronutrients as vitamins and minerals, yet amino acids and some metabolites also are considered micronutrients. These are the compounds that are found in our food that help spark our body to function efficiently.
As might be expected though, these are not found in adequate quantities in the standard American diet. This is why even individuals that eat often can be malnourished. Their bodies still do not receive the cofactors that it needs. Micronutrients are one of the first things that are lost in the refining process. The process of taking a food out of its natural state strips the nutrients out of it as well. As such, you are left with a food substance that does not have the same life promoting qualities as the food that was found in nature. Also, the ugly side of modern agriculture presents again. Due to high demands for crop yield year after year, the amount of nutrients that should be found in the soil is no long there. This means that foods are making it to market with substandard quantities of nutrients. Add together these types of farming practices and refining of food and nutrient deficiencies become rampant. No wonder so many of my new patients test low for micronutrient deficiencies.
The standard American diet lacks large and small. It does not have the macronutrient composition to support a balanced body nor does it contain the micronutrients that act as spark plugs for us to keep our system fine-tuned and firing on all cylinders. The notion of consuming a dietary pattern that can support both the large and small nutrient needs of our body is best achieved by consuming a primal diet, aka the Paleo Diet.
After leaving you last time with a prelude to why the standard American diet will wreck your health, I feel it is time to start arming you with information that will help you make the best decisions about your dietary choices. Even more so, I think you will begin to look at food in a whole new perspective once we complete these next few articles. Food should be life to us. It should provide us with the key cofactors that we need to flourish. So with no further wait, let’s get right into why the standard American diet will wreck your health.
Put down the sugar!
First, and probably the most significant, is the glycemic load. This is a fancy way of saying how much sugar we are consuming. In short, we are consuming dramatically more sugar than our forefathers did. The primal caveman diet, where you are eating foods that you could gather and hunt on your own, does not provide contain a high sugar content. These foods would not have been refined and only had limited sugar content, if any at all. In comparison, sugar is found in many foods today. You might remember that in the prelude article I mentioned the curse of having foods with labels. I challenge you to pick these foods up and look at them. Many of them have sugar added, including the ones that you would not suspect.
The Problem with Eating Sugar
Most of us know someone with diabetes now. Diabetes is the disease state that manifest from challenging the body repeatedly with sugar. It is probably the disease most directly correlated with the demise of the standard American diet. This alone says something about the amount of sugar that is being consumed. This is nothing to shrug off. The numbers for the increased cases of diabetes is almost becoming exponential. We are seeing a continuing upward trend in the numbers of cases. It is not bad enough that eating sugar leads to diabetes, but there are more tangible effects such as memory loss, loss of blood flow into the small vessels of the body that affect the heart, kidneys, eyes, and sex organs. This is serious and all results from eating the standard American diet. It has clearly contributed to a state in our country that can be considered a sugar epidemic.
A great deal of the increase in sugar in the standard American diet can be attributed to the concerns of saturated fats leading to cardiovascular disease. As a result, society became fat phobic and started turning to fat free options. That created a problem. Without fat, food does not have flavor. If you want something to taste good, adding fat helps. With the removal of fat from the standard American diet, the way to add flavor back was with sugar. Thus the amount of sugar significantly began to increase. Fat free options should also be labeled as high sugar, or high in artificial sweeteners. But of course no one would buy them if they said that.
The most dramatic increase in sugar consumption can be found with sodas and fruit juices. Fruits juices are not just squeezed fruit in most cases. Many times there is additional sugar added to the final product. Soda has the added insult of containing high fructose corn syrup, a substance known to contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. That’s right. You can develop liver disease from drinking soda if consumed frequently enough.
Sugar consumption is problem number one within the standard American diet. If you are trying to make dietary modifications, this is the area that you have to start. As a clinician, I see more problems originating out of uncontrolled blood sugar than any other factor I assess. The sad part is that as significant as this is, it is only part of what is wrong with the standard American diet. Much more to come in the following articles.
The standard American Diet is far different than the diet of our ancestors, even just 150 years ago. The typical dish that an American would eat now does not in any way resemble their plates. If we look back at the foods that our forefathers consumed, compared to what we consume, the differences are dramatic. However, this change did not occur overnight. Rather it was a slow and methodical alteration of the food supply that has left us consuming things that we have to ask ourselves at times if they are even really food. Think about that for a moment.
Is the Standard American Diet really food?
The standard American diet has left us in a paradox of asking if the food that we eat is really food. This may initially seem like a bit of a ridiculous question, but when you consider what you mostly find on the shelves of grocery stores, the idea does not seem to farfetched. Simply, outside of the produce section and a small area of the meat counter, foods come with labels and labels imply that something is different than when it was originally found in nature. More importantly, the more that needs to be disclosed on that label, the more that foods is likely damaging your health.
Full Disclosure on the Label
The labels of food are very telling and help to further answer this question. If you were living the Paleo lifestyle and eating food that you theoretically had to pick, gather, hunt or fish for, you would not be consuming several different foods at one time most likely. You would be consuming the food you found or the game you captured. Most importantly, this food would not have come with a label. Apart from the reality that there was no government entity to promote labeling, the same can be said when you are hunting and gathering in the grocery store. The foods in the produce section do not come with a label. There is only one ingredient in these foods and that is the food itself. The same goes for protein choices at the meat counter. It is only when you start moving along into the prepackaged foods that you begin to see multiple ingredients, leaving you wondering why some of these ingredients were necessary in the first place. This is the typical profile of the standard American diet food. It needs a label because legally the manufacturer needs to disclose what it contains. Food should only contain food, NOT chemicals and compounds that you need a degree to pronounce the name of.
This is simply a starting point for what is wrong with the standard American diet. However, this is an important one and will help provide you with some structure as you are looking to make changes to your own diet. Over the next few blog posts, we are going to explore the main problems with the standard American diet and how as a society we have drifted so far away from one of the simplest things that we need to stay healthy, real food. If you want to help reinforce why you should be sticking to the Paleo Lifestyle and following the Paleo diet, stay tuned because the information to come could literally be a life changer.