Monthly Archives: April 2014

Standard American Diet, A Lot of Empty Calories

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.

Standard American Diet Creates Imbalances of Micronutrients

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.

The Standard American Diet and the Sugar Epidemic

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.

Fat Phobia

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.

Sugar Sources

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.

Why the Standard American Diet will Wreck Your Health – The Prelude

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.

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