“Sugar, ah honey honey,
You are my candy girl
And you’ve got me wanting you.
Honey, ah sugar sugar,
You are my candy girl
And you’ve got me wanting you.” – Sugar, Sugar, the Archies
In 2016, it is virtually impossible to not know what a person needs to do for their health. Turning on your computer usually leads to a homepage that is bound to throw some health related suggestions, recent study, or some exercise program at you that is doable and should fit your lifestyle. Research indicates that most people do, in fact, give many of those suggestions a try. Fewer of us are smoking, most claim we are exercising, and virtually everyone says they are watching their diet. If you look around carefully however, it doesn’t look that way. Most people, despite their efforts, are overweight, lethargic, and sluggish. Some, in fact, are quite miserable. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted in 2009–2010 indicates that two thirds of American adults are considered overweight, one out of three adults are considered obese, and three out of four American adult males are obese. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared that poor diet and exercise has now surpassed smoking as the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, and the generation labeled as the Millennials, those reaching adulthood around the year 2000, will be the first generation in history to not outlive their parents. What the heck is happening?
The answer to this may be one of the most under discussed conspiracies of our time – the role of the food industry in creating a generation of Americans addicted to food. That’s right, addicted. We all must eat, that’s biological fact, but many of us are addicted to foods that are unhealthy, yet more compulsively consumed than tobacco or alcohol ever were. And, it appears the food industry is putting as much effort into this perpetuating this addiction as the tobacco industry did in the 1980s, sabotaging the sincere efforts of millions of Americans to take care of their health and wellness. In fact, numerous studies have shown that food addictions are more shackling than addiction to cocaine! This explains why, despite the fact that more of us are trying to take care of our health through diet and exercise, we are a lot worse off in many ways than the World War II generation. For example, in 1960 the average body weight of a woman age 20 to 29 was 128 pounds. By the year 2000 it was 157 pounds. For 40 to 49-year-olds, it rose from 142 pounds to 170, coincidentally the same weight as a American male in 1960. Men didn’t fare any better during those years either. Today’s American male weighs as much as 1.5 American women from the 1960s.
If you are one of those that has been trying hard to get your weight, health, and energy levels under control and are failing, it may not be your fault. If you find yourself frequently eating when you are not hungry, craving foods that you know are not good for you, or eating mindlessly at times, you may be addicted. Breaking free of this addiction is the only way for you to get your weight and health under control. Like all addictions, this is both behavioral as well as chemical.
One of the biggest reasons for this addiction is that we are no longer eating real food. The food industry has found ways to manipulate three nutrients that the human body craves: sugar, fat, and salt. These three taste sensations are compulsively sought out of biological necessity. Our brains crave these so that we are compelled to eat enough for survival. In earlier history humans were wired to eat only when they were hungry, not out of boredom or for recreational purposes as we do today. Of course, their lives were a greater struggle and they were more active than modern man. Sugar, salt, and fat activate the reward center of our brain as definitely and surely as any illicit substance, in fact, even more so because we must eat regularly to survive. When these nutrients are combined they become addictive, meaning the more of these foods that you consume, and the greater the tendency to crave even more. This explains why many of us compulsively eat things well after the point of satiety.
As an example, in studies done of the addictive qualities of dairy products, researchers found that test subjects consistently rated products more highly with regard to desirability if the natural fat from these products was needlessly supplemented with moderate quantities of sugar and salt. The food industry will often sneak in sugar and salt in other forms calling them “preservatives.” While they may have some preservative capabilities, they are also highly addictive and researchers who produce these products are fully aware of what they’re doing. If something is on the label of the food that you buy is something that you cannot pronounce or is labeled as a preservative, it is probably a hidden source of sugar, salt, or fat. If not, it is probably something that your brain will interpret that way leading to compulsive overeating. If something is labeled as a food “product,” a cheese product, for example, as opposed to real cheese, it probably falls in the same category.
The addition of sugar is one of the easiest ways that the industry increases our compulsion for food. High fructose corn syrup, fructose, lactose, and other forms of simple carbohydrates are added, giving our brains that fix that we crave. It is estimated that modern Americans consume as much sugar in five days as a typical American did an entire year in the early 19th century! While all carbohydrates will be converted to glucose in our bodies, these sources of carbohydrates enter the bloodstream in quantities that can be addictive. As an example, you’re better off having real orange juice than that juice drink that contains “10% real orange juice,” and, you’d be much better off eating an orange rather than either because of the combination of vitamin C, natural sugar, and fiber. Food denuded of fiber does not fill you up, and that and the combination of high sugar content leads to addictive consumption.
Thee are a number of subtle ways of sneaking in excess amounts of sugar and salt into our diets that you wouldn’t initially consider. Some examples are in condiments such as ketchup, ready-made foods such as canned spaghetti sauces, quick “grab and go health foods,” such as granola bars, power bars, and protein bars, and the obvious Snicker’s bar or bag of chips. Of course, the modern lifestyle lends itself to grab and go eating. Opening a can of Campbell’s Soup for the family after a long day at work makes clear sense, unfortunately, the sodium content from that can does not.
The food industry will argue that these methods of producing food are necessary as the population of the earth is now over 7 billion people and food must go from production to table much more quickly than ever before. In the process they have created food that is mostly processed rather than natural, contain more simple sugars and simple carbohydrates than natural, and has been robbed of healthy fats and replaced with unhealthy. These changes not only are impacting our weight and physical health, but also our mental health. A study done in 1999 said that there had been a 100 fold increase in the prevalence of depression worldwide over the course of the 20th century. While nutritional changes cannot be blamed for all of this, it may be a factor. The Western Diet now has and imbalance of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats, a critical factor in the development of symptoms of depression.
Today, the Standard American Diet, or SAD, is:
⦁ High in processed foods. If a food is packaged, prepared, or boxed it’s probably not the best choice.
⦁ High in carbohydrates. Breads, pasta, rice, and sugar in excess are all bad choices. Even pasta, whole grain or not, will be converted to sugar by the body. While you don’t have to give these foods up, it’s probably a better idea to prepare these naturally and consider them to be a side dish.
⦁ Low in plant-based foods, fiber, natural antioxidants, and plant-based nutrients.
⦁ High in animal and unhealthy fats. Fats that are saturated and hydrogenated are components of an inflammatory and unhealthy diet.
⦁ Low in healthy fats such as omega-3’s, which reduce inflammation. Supplementing your diet with a good source of omega-3 is a simple solution.
A healthy diet is much more than calories in and calories out. Many studies indicate that the best way to lose weight permanently is to make wiser food choices rather than the traditional counting of calories. Calorie deprivation is not the healthiest thing for your body or your brain. The human brain consumes more calories than the rest of your body combined. No wonder that a calorie deprived diet leads to cranky and sometime in erratic behavior. A natural diet of real food is the best way to keep weight off permanently.
The overconsumption of foods that are high in sugar, salt, and fat is one of the joys of life. No one is suggesting that you become a nutritional Nazi and deprive yourself of the occasional doughnut, bowl of ice cream, or glass of beer. Just pay a little more attention to what you consume on a regular basis. If you find yourself compulsively overeating and low in dietary willpower, it just may not be your fault.
Eat like your life depends upon it, because it does.
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