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The American Diet Dichotomy

shoppinggirlSusanBiconBy Susan Brown
Health Writer

Is the overconsumption of nutritionally devoid calories at the root of the obesity epidemic?  New studies suggest the interesting contradiction that obesity correlates with malnourishment.  Malnutrition develops when the body is deprived of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients required for proper functioning and health maintenance.  In the U.S. today, many people suffer from malnutrition due to dietary imbalances, nutrient deficient foods and the inability to digest and absorb the nutrients that foods contain.  Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is calorie dense but sadly lacking in the nutrients necessary for biochemical processes such as brain function, immune support, weight management and efficient energy production and usage. 

The overconsumption of an abundance of empty calorie foods means that we are not getting the vitamins and minerals our bodies need.  Many health care providers promote the idea of nutrition as natural medicine and that’s very healthy advice.  However, today’s SAD is not only deleterious to our health, it may slowly be starving us nutritionally.  (See article; The Standard American Diet – Time For a Revamp).  To properly maintain health and to function efficiently, our bodies require nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, anti-inflammatory compounds, amino acids and fiber.  Our bodies thrive on a diet based on proteins, healthy fats and plant based carbohydrates. 

When we don’t feed our bodies the nutrients it requires, cyclical cravings result.  Our hunger is not satiated and, as a neurological response, our bodies cry out for more food.  Yet, when we just eat more nutritionally devoid foods that temporarily satisfy our hunger, we are not really listening.  Simply put, we are over-consuming too many of the wrong calories.  Possibly because for years we have been told that “a calorie is a calorie.”  However, science has shown that all calories are not created equally, and that believing otherwise may be the basis for the many health problems associated with SAD. 

  • While soda manufacturers would like us to believe that soda is healthy because it is “hydrating,” until we start to recognize that the 120 calories found in a glass of 2% milk are more nutritious than the 140 calories found in a can of soda, our health and the health of our children will not improve.  A can of cola contains carbonated water, 39 grams of sugar in the form of ultra refined high fructose corn syrup, sodium, caramel coloring, phosphoric acid, “secret ingredient” natural flavors and caffeine.  No vitamins, no minerals, no protein and no healthy fats.  By contrast, the milk contains healthy fats, sodium, 11 grams of natural sugar, 9 grams of protein, vitamins A, D and C, plus potassium, calcium and a trace amount of iron.  American kids today drink more soda than milk, which means they are not getting the nutritional benefits that milk naturally provides. 
  • We are not eating our vegetables.  Research shows that more than 30% of Americans are lacking in plant-derived nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, fiber and vitamins A, C and E.  According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a large majority of adults are deficient in vitamin D3 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in addition, we are not getting enough vitamin B12 nor vitamin K. 
  • Convenient and inexpensive, processed foods have taken over our supermarket aisles.  Many of these foods contain high sodium, refined flours, trans-fats, chemical additives, artificial colors and flavorings, and the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup.  Convenient and addictive?  Yes.  Nutritious?  Not likely. 
  • More often than not, our meals come from fast food restaurants.  Statistics show that one in four Americans visits a fast food restaurant every day.  While these foods are loaded with empty calories and unhealthy fats in super-sized portions that can easily contain a full day’s caloric need, they are designed only to satisfy taste and stuff our tummies, not to meet our nutritional needs. And, once again, we find ourselves eating more as our nutritional needs remain unsatiated.
  • Industrial agriculture increasingly results in poor soil management and degraded soil  quality.  For centuries, fruits and vegetables have traditionally received their vitamin, mineral and nutrient content from the earth.  Science shows that the plant foods grown today are less nutritious than the foods grown a few decades ago.  Many plant foods are now designed for rapid growth, yet their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients from the soil cannot keep pace.  This does not mean that they do not contain phytonutrients, but it may mean that we need to consume more of them in order to receive the same health benefits. 

At some point, we need to stop blaming food manufacturers and start taking responsibility for our own choices.  When we stop eating nutritionally devoid foods and take the time to prepare our food and opt for a more prudent and healthy diet, cravings naturally subside and our nutritional values improve along with our long term health.  A diet based on whole foods prepared at home means that we have only health benefits to gain and unhealthy weight to lose.  The choice is clear.  When we choose food that is healthy and nutritious it primes our bodies for optimal function, reduces body fat, restores energy and vigor and improves our chances of long term health and wellness.  What will you choose? 

The Standard American Diet – Time For a Revamp

SADBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

The Standard American Diet (SAD) consists of numerous processed carbohydrates, processed meat products, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, sodium nitrates, preservatives and maybe a few fruits and vegetables.  Many of the foods in the typical American diet have been refined and processed to the point where there are virtually no nutrients, fiber, or vitamins and minerals remaining.   Eating these types of foods puts you on the fast track to being overfed and undernourished and threatens your good health as well. 

Dietary and lifestyle factors in the U.S. are responsible for death rates that exceed most other Westernized countries.  Primary preventable causes of death include smoking, hypertension, obesity, high blood glucose levels, high levels of LDL cholesterol and other dietary risk factors.  An unhealthy diet combined with inactivity is considered a major risk factor in premature, preventable death or serious disability.  Coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic liver disease and diabetes are all influenced by diet.  Critical dietary factors associated with these conditions include foods that are too low in fiber and too high in calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

To give you a reference point as to just how bad the SAD is, fully 65% of American adults are categorized as overweight or obese and American children are close behind.  Children and teenagers in America eat a diet largely filled with empty calories and subsist on sugary breakfast cereals, sweetened fruit drinks, white bread, chicken nuggets, french fries and a variety of cookies, candies and snacks.  None of these foods provide nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development and all contribute to a lifelong addiction to sugar, fat and salt.  American kids drink more sweetened soft drinks than milk.  As a result, children today are at risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, osteoporosis and depression.  Unfortunately, our diets and our children’s diets as well are seriously lacking in fiber, calcium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. 

In America, there is a fast food restaurant on virtually every corner.  One in four Americans visit a fast food restaurant every day and we spend $110 billion per year on fast foods. These foods are inexpensive, easily accessible and tasty.  They are also loaded with calories, unhealthy fats, high sodium levels and are highly addictive.  Taste is the number one factor influencing our food choices.  Food manufacturers market foods that taste good rather than foods that have nutritional value. 

In America, we have access to the most abundant and consistent food supply in the world.  We have knowledge of our nutritional needs and we know foods we consume impact our health.  Yet, we still struggle to eat the healthy foods we need to maintain health and that decrease our risks for diet related diseases.  Here are some very good reasons why Americans need to take a better look at their diets and make the changes necessary to improve and maintain our health:

  • We rely too heavily on meats.  While beef and pork and dark meat poultry are good sources of protein, they are also loaded with saturated fats which can contribute to coronary artery disease and increased stroke risk. 
  • We consume large amounts of simple carbohydrates.  Eating too many refined and processed convenience foods, such as white bread, pasta, deserts, bagels or tortillas, can cause chronically elevated blood glucose levels which can contribute to diabetes and obesity
  • Trans fats may be of value to manufacturers but they are of no value to you.  In fact, they are detrimental to your health.  Trans fats are made from oils infused with hydrogen that make the product stable and extend the shelf life.  Like saturated fats, trans fats can elevate LDL cholesterol levels and promote heart disease
  • We lack the proper amounts of dietary fiber.  Dietary fiber helps speed digestion and absorption of nutrients and assists in elimination of waste.  Fiber helps you to feel full and helps prevent overeating.  Fiber can assist in lowering LDL cholesterol and glucose levels in the bloodstream. 
  • Soft drinks contribute to the unhealthy diet trend.  Soda is loaded with empty calories and high fructose corn syrup.  Recent studies show that drinking even one soda per day increases your risk for obesity and diabetes.  According to studies, children who start drinking soda at an early age also follow diets that are low in nutrients, vitamins and minerals.  Children who drank milk were more likely to follow a healthful diet. 
  • High fructose corn syrup is omnipresent.  In fact, it is almost impossible to avoid.   Manufacturers prefer high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) because it is affordable and satisfies our sweet tooth.  HFCS is not found anywhere in corn.  Corn kernels undergo a series of mechanical processes, chemical reactions, high velocity spinnings and the introductions of different enzymes that turn corn into a clear goopy liquid that is roughly as sweet as sugar.   High fructose corn syrup raises blood sugar levels quickly.  It has no nutritional value and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 
  • We eat the wrong types of fats.  It’s time to re-evaluate the low-fat diet.  What matters is the type of fat you eat.  Good fats such as monosaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3’s are a major source of energy and are important for growth, development, weight management and disease prevention.  Commercial low-fat foods  often have a very high sugar content, so with the rise of low-fat processed foods, we have seen a spike in obesity, heart disease and other health related conditions. 
  • We consume many more calories than are needed to maintain optimal weight.   Twenty five years ago, we consumed roughly 1,850 calories daily.  With the advent of super sizing and gargantuan proportions, we can easily consume 2,000 calories in one meal, the equivalent of a full day’s caloric need.  Today’s daily caloric intake can add up to a weight gain of 30 extra pounds per year.
  • The average American eats about 100 pounds of sugar or high fructose corn syrup every year.  One hundred years ago the average American ate less than one pound annually.  This significant increase in sugar consumption directly relates to the increase in obesity, heart disease, cancer, decreased immune function and type 2 diabetes. 
  •  A diet high in sodium is considered a factor in the development of high blood pressure.  Sodium is an important mineral and electrolyte necessary for many bodily functions.  Along with potassium, sodium plays a crucial role in blood pressure regulation.  Approximately 85% of Americans consume sodium in amounts that far exceed the daily maximum recommended levels.  Reducing sodium intake while blood pressure is still normal may decrease the risk for hypertension later in life. 

It’s time Americans started thinking about the foods they are putting into their bodies and how those foods affect their health.  An unhealthy diet is one of the simplest things to change in order to improve your overall health.  Start by skipping the interior aisles of the grocery store that are filled with convenience foods and snacks.  Instead, concentrate on the outer aisles of the store where the more nutritious fresh food is located.  To make smart food choices quickly and easily, compare nutrition facts on food labels and be aware of portion sizes on packages.  Stay within your daily caloric needs and get the most nutrients out of the calories you do consume by choosing nutritionally rich foods.  Opt for a more prudent diet filled with greater amounts of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low fat dairy.  Health or disease?  It’s your choice.  Choose wisely. 

Here are some supplements to assist you on your journey to improved nutritional health: 

DigestZyme by Transformation Enzyme  is designed to assist the body in maximum digestion of nutrients, production of energy, and immune system support.  This unique formula is the perfect introduction to digestive enzymes, supporting immune system health by encouraging more complete digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats for increased absorption and availability of nutrients.

Biomega-3 by Biotics Research  is an all natural marine lipid concentrate derived from anchovies and sardines sourced following the strict standards of the European Union. This concentrated supplement supplies 1400 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids per serving, including 740 mg EPA and 460 mg of DHA, beneficial compounds for brain, cardiovascular and dermal functioning, and down-regulation of pro-inflammatory mediators.

UltraFlora Balance by Metagenics  As a nutraceutical,  this product is formulated to complement dietary recommendations to promote gastrointestinal and immune health.  This formula is designed to encourage growth of beneficial bacteria and support healthy immune function, intestinal integrity, and healthy digestive function.