Our LifeStyle Hazardous Our Health

Our physical bodies are composed of the foods we eat. That’s frightening because today we are part of a massive, uncontrolled food science experiment. What happens when, for more than three generations, people are fed highly processed foods that lack nutrients and fiber and are loaded with chemicals?

What happens when you put these same people under high levels of stress in sedentary jobs with poor air and water quality? Is it a coincidence that men’s sperm counts have declined by 50 percent since 1980 worldwide, that Americans are fatter than ever before, that we are more violent than ever before.

And that more people are committing suicide? Is it a coincidence that 20 percent of our children have behavior or learning problems and that children and adults have rapidly increasing rates of allergies, asthma, and chronic ear infections? Is it a coincidence that our immune systems are breaking down or that diabetes and heart disease rates have risen dramatically over the past century?

I don’t think so. Americans are the most overfed and undernourished people in the world. When you add up the calories that we consume each day from high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, nearly half of our caloric intake comes from nutritionally depleted foods.

We get 18.6 percent of our calories each day from sugar, 21.4 percent from fats and oils, and 5 percent from sweetened soft drinks. Compare this to only 4.5 percent of our calories from vegetables and 3 percent from fruits. No wonder the standard American diet is “SAD.”

Current studies report that we are consuming more nutrients than ever before, but this is because of the alarming increase in total number of calories consumed daily. The result is that we are getting fat. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2001:

  • The average American drank 25 gallons of alcohol, or more specifically, 21.7 gallons of beer, 2 gallons of wine, and 1.3 gallons of distilled liquor.
  • The average American drank 49 gallons of carbonated soft drinks, or more specifically, 11.8 gallons of diet soda and 37.2 gallons of caloric soft drinks.
  • On average, Americans each ate 4.3 pounds of potato chips, 22.2 pounds of candy, and 38 donuts.

Aside from eating too much fat, Americans also eat the wrong kind. In 1910, a process called hydrogenation was invented, which turned liquid oils into solid fat that was inexpensive, suitable for frying and baking, and didn’t go rancid. Since then, manufacturers replaced healthy oils with hydrogenated fats in thousands of products.

On labels, you see them listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils or as vegetable shortening. According to the FDA, these “trans” fats now comprise about 2.6 percent of daily calories for those of us age twenty and older. These restructured fats are detrimental to our health and have been implicated in cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions.

Because of new regulations, trans fats will have to be listed on food labels by January of 2006. But why wait to eliminate them from your diet? Avoiding trans fats could be the dietary change that makes the largest impact because they are in nearly every processed food.

This one change could help you vastly increase your consumption of more nutritious foods. Although we eat too much fat, many of us are still deficient in essential fatty acids (good fats), especially the omega-3 fatty acids that are in seafood, grains, nuts, and seeds.

These essential fatty acids are critical for growth, healing, reduction of pain and inflammation, healthy skin, reproduction, nervous system functioning, and overall well-being. Dietary changes can substantially reduce the incidence of heart disease.

Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, selenium, nitric oxide, glutathione, and carotenoids protect our blood vessels from inflammation—a process that is now believed to be associated with heart disease. But these nutrients are stripped from our highly processed foods.

An elevated homocysteine level in our blood is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Increasing dietary and supplemental levels of vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid can normalize homocysteine levels. B vitamins are also lacking in the SAD diet.

It’s estimated that taking a multivitamin with B-complex vitamins could prevent 10 percent of deaths from heart disease. The average person consumes 12 grams of fiber daily, according to studies done by the USDA and the National Institutes of Health.

This falls far short of the recommendation of 20 to 30 grams and is half of what people ate 150 years ago. Dietary fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, is beneficial to our digestive tract and reduces risk of GI illness.

Dennis Burkitt, father of the fiber revolution, found almost no appendicitis, colon disease, diabetes, or hiatal hernia in people eating traditional African diets, which are high in fiber. When these people move to cities or change to a Westernized diet—of high-sugar, highly processed, low-fiber, and low-nutrient-density foods— they begin to develop these illnesses at the usual rates.

Fiber-rich foods help us manufacture short-chained fatty acids, which protect us against diseases of the colon. We have changed not only our diets, but also the way we eat— for the worse. Often, we eat the same way we put gas in our cars: stop, fuel, go.

We eat 45 percent of meals away from home, up from 39 percent in 1980 and 34 percent in 1970. Many of us skip breakfast, and others skip breakfast and lunch. Studies show that school-age children perform better when they’ve eaten breakfast. Adults are no different.

In fact, small, frequent meals keep our energy levels even and our minds alert. Americans often overeat socially and emotionally. This too contributes to digestive illness. We eat to give nourishment to our bodies, but meals are also a time for relaxation, rest, refreshment, and renewal.

If we are relaxed while eating, we digest food better. People seem to know this intuitively. Saying grace or taking a couple of moments to center ourselves before eating is a global custom.