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? 

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