To say that America’s diet is out of whack is to state something tremendously obvious. You might even feel a bit overwhelmed when you think about what to eat, what not to eat, and try to balance what you’ve heard over the years.
There’s certainly been a lot of misleading information, which doesn’t help things a bit.
First, I’m sure most of you have heard about the Standard American Diet, not surprisingly, abbreviated as “S.A.D.” And the whole story certainly lives up to that acronym. Let’s take a look at some of the more frightening realities behind the Standard American Diet.
Right off the bat, we’re eating a lot more calories each day. From an average of 1900 kcal in the 1950s, our daily intake has ballooned to 2661 kcal – a boost of 40%! Now, if we all had very physically active jobs, this may not be such a bad thing. The problem is, we’re all much more sedentary at our daily work.
Plus, the kinds of calories we take in have changed considerably since 1900. These days, the average American consumes 200 lbs. of sugar – 42 lbs. in the form of corn syrup. Along with that, we’re eating 29 lbs. of French fries, 23 lbs. of pizza, 56 lbs. of corn, and washing it all down with 53 gallons of soda.
In this Terry Talks Nutrition®, we’ll take a look at the top foods you must avoid in order to stay healthy. So, what makes the Top Ten Worst Foods list? Let’s take a look at the main offenders:
Deep Fried Anything:
Frying not only adds fat and calories, it reduces nutrient content, too. Take a chicken breast, for example. Roasted, it only equals 142 calories and 3 grams of fat. Take that same chicken and deep fry it and the numbers really add up: breaded, and with the skin on, this chicken now weighs in at 364 calories with 18.5 grams of fat!
Beyond the obvious caloric payload, there are other very good reasons to avoid deep fried foods. First, most of the oils used for deep frying are hydrogenated vegetable oils. These man-made oils raise the risk of heart disease and stroke, and are often used over and over again in most restaurants, becoming rancid in the process. Rancid oils boost the oxidative stress in your body, causing inflammation and cellular damage.
Also, deep-frying carbohydrates creates acrylamide – a cancerous compound that increases the risk of breast cancer by 10 times! Guess where these compounds are found most? French fries and potato chips.
Milk – Pasteurized and Processed:
When you consider that milk-producing cows in the United States are often injected with artificial hormones to boost production, you have to wonder if that affects the end-product. It does.
These hormones cause the cows’ udders to become inflamed. This inflammation triggers white blood cells (pus) to flock to the udders. With the pus in such close proximity, you can be sure some of it will be found in the milk. Many of these cows are also milked while they are pregnant – at the very time they are producing over 30 times the estrogen as non-pregnant cows. The combined effect produces a cocktail of hormones that you may be ingesting every time you have a glass at home.
Some of you may argue that pasteurization – the process of heating the milk to high temperatures and rapidly cooling – will take care of any problems. Unfortunately, it does too good of a job, killing both harmful and beneficial bacteria, as well as wiping out about 20% of the natural iodine content you’d normally find in healthy milk.
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative, consider goat’s milk. It provides more calcium and vitamins, is less allergenic, and is more easily digested. However, raw milk from cows can be – or at least should be –an option, too. When raw milk comes from grass-fed cows, it is an excellent choice. Raw milk retains valuable nutrients, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and lactoferrin. Lactoferrin, aside from helping the body absorb and use iron, also has strong anti-microbial and immune-enhancing abilities.
Conjugated linoleic acid is an especially beneficial nutrient found in organic grass-fed cows’ milk. It has been studied for its ability to help the body fight against food allergies, boost metabolism, and keep blood sugar levels healthy. But again, the source is everything; pasture-fed, grass-grazing cows had 500% more conjugated linoleic acid in their milk fat than the cows fed typical dairy diets.
So, why is raw milk – even when acquired from reputable farms – so hard to come by? Especially when bacteria-laden spinach, cantaloupes, lettuce, and sprouts have hospitalized and in some cases, even killed people, continue to be sold? We need to keep these questions in mind when laws that affect our health are being written and enforced.
There was a time when this was considered the “healthy” alternative to butter. But we’ve learned better since then. (Some of us always knew: allegedly, Julia Child kept margarine on hand only to serve to her enemies.)
In any case, margarine is made from hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are chemically modified by adding hydrogen to make them more stable. Unfortunately, this so-called “healthy” choice has actually been found to increase the risk of heart disease by 10% for every teaspoon consumed. In fact, long-term consumption by women was associated with a 67% increased risk! Do your heart and taste buds a favor – eat real butter instead.
This is a big problem. Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza every day – about 350 slices per second. Over a third of these include pepperoni as a topping, which aside from adding poor calories to the diet, are loaded with nitrites and nitrates – preservatives that add carcinogenic compounds to our bodies that add another form of sodium (which affects the heart and cardiovascular system) and may even cause cancer.
Plus, the typical white crust for pizza is made from refined flours that most likely put bromide into your system, competing with valuable iodine.
Do yourself a favor. If you must have pizza, make it yourself at home with a thin, whole grain crust – there are some great recipes out there – use vegetable toppings, and go easy on the cheese.
Juice and Soda:
You see people everywhere drinking soda or juice – especially kids and younger people. Obviously, each one packs a wallop of sugar, but not all sugar is the same. For example, the fructose from high fructose corn syrup – especially in liquid form, (like you have in soda) is quickly metabolized by the liver and converted from sugar to fat. This is the very process that is associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Just one 20-oz. soda – now considered the “regular” size (remember 8 and 10-oz bottles?) has 67 grams of sugar – about 17 teaspoons. And artificial sweeteners, once considered the answer to concerns about sugar consumption, are just as bad. New research suggests they can lead to many chronic diseases, including diabetes.
Fruit juices, which many people may be tempted into thinking is the healthy alternative have two or three times the sugar content – and only half as much fiber as simply eating a piece of fruit. In fact, just 8 ounces of apple juice has twice the sugar and only 1/10 the fiber of a medium apple!
Want a healthy refresher? Go with simple, un-fluoridated spring water. It’s the best choice.
Sugar is the single worst ingredient in today’s diet. And it’s not just type 2 diabetes to worry about. Too much sugar in the blood contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. It has a negative effect on metabolism, which leads to insulin resistance, belly fat, dense LDL “bad” cholesterol, and high triglycerides. Another disease that’s being associated with insulin resistance (in brain cells) is Alzheimer’s disease—so much so that it’s sometimes referred to as type 3 diabetes.
Sugar is so catastrophic to our health because of its connection with how insulin reacts in the body. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that picks up sugars in the bloodstream and carries them into cells to create energy. The more starch you eat (things like highly-processed breads and commercial cakes and cookies, for example), the more insulin your body needs to produce. High-sugar and high-carbohydrate diets put a huge burden on your insulin production. These foods contain way too much sugar for insulin to process and increasingly higher levels of sugar remain in the bloodstream. Eventually, cells stop responding to insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance. With the increased amount of glucose in the blood, the pancreas tries to adjust by making even more insulin, which results in weight gain and triggers the downward spiral toward diabetes.
A secondary complication is that these foods cause the body’s natural inflammatory response to go into overdrive, making it even more difficult for insulin to do its job. When insulin can’t transport sugar into cells, the cells aren’t able to produce energy. Over time, they begin to starve and eventually die.
Many people think sugar only comes from candy, cake, donuts, soda, and other obvious “sugary” sources. However, sugar comes from any simple carbohydrate, including highly-processed crackers and snack foods, white pastas, and white rice. Since America began sweetening up its food supply, sugar is even hidden in places as unsuspecting as ketchup, salsa, and pasta sauce. On food labels and supplement fact boxes, sugar masquerades under a reported 61 pseudonyms, including glucose, high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, maltose, and rice syrup—just to name a few. Avoid them all as much as possible!
While sodium in and of itself is not a “food”, it is consumed in mass quantities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sodium – our bodies need it for fluid, electrolyte, and pH balance. But Americans get far too much sodium in their diets. The average American eats 40% more than the maximum recommended intake for sodium – 3400 mg vs. 2300 mg daily.
Most of this excess sodium – about 70-75% -- comes from processed foods; pizza, cured meats, soup, cold cuts, cheese, and pasta, to name a few.
Too much sodium leads to fluid retention. You know that “bloated” feeling you get sometimes when you know you’ve had too much salty food? Unfortunately, it’s doing more than just making you uncomfortable. Fluid retention increases blood volume in the body, which in turn, boosts blood pressure. The combined effect puts a lot more pressure on your kidneys to try to reach equilibrium, and of course, the increase in blood pressure makes your heart and blood vessels work a lot harder.
The best thing to do is cut down on processed foods – that will reduce a lot of your excess sodium intake right away. You’ll also want to add some potassium-rich foods to your diet. For some supplemental assistance, check out my article: “One Easy Answer for Some Big Health Questions”.
White Bread and Pasta:
I have a saying about this group; “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.”
That might sound harsh, but it’s true. White bread and pasta have taken anything good about grains and drained them of their value. They’re made from refined white flour, which has removed the husk, bran, and naturally-occurring nutrients. Instead, this flour is bleached with chemicals and dried, becoming just part of the structure – nutritionally speaking, almost a filler – between the added gluten, sugar, and salt in most bakery products.
Like sugar, white flour foods have a terrible effect on blood glucose levels – they are considered high glycemic index foods, which means that as simple carbohydrates, they are not well-used and digested by the body. With the glycemic index, the closer to the number 100 you get, the more problematic the food will be for your blood sugar. A slice of white bread falls around 70.
White bread and pasta are also notoriously low in fiber, so you’re not getting any real benefit there, either. Your best choice – if you must have these carbs – is to limit your intake to just a small amount of real whole grain bread and pasta.
I think I’ve saved one of the worst for last here. The potato – the world’s number one vegetable crop – is by far, the most consumed, too. Remember, the average American eats almost 30 lbs. of French fries a year, and about 1/3 of all potatoes are eaten as fries or chips.
Along with those calories is a load of hydrogenated vegetable oil, which brings acrylamide, the cancer- causing compound.
Unfortunately, eating potatoes in their un-fried form is not any better for you. They aren’t that high in fiber or nutrients, so they seem less filling, and as a result, you tend to eat more of them.
Even mashed, baked or boiled potatoes are unhealthy – they adversely affect blood sugar and insulin levels. In fact, a simple baked potato can top off the glycemic index scales at over 90! No wonder they’re considered a “blood sugar bomb!”
If you’re looking for a snack alternative to chips, there are an abundance of healthier options. Consider walnuts or almonds. Both are great sources of minerals, vitamins, fiber, and healthy fats. For potatoes, substitute with a sweet potato instead. They are rich sources of chlorogenic acid, which may reduce insulin resistance, are higher in fiber, and have 30% less impact on blood sugar levels.
What We Eat Makes a Huge Difference:
There’s no doubt that what we make into a habit: what we eat, what we think, what we do – has a giant impact on our lives. Unfortunately, we tend to slip up on our diets more than anything, not realizing the overall impact it has on our mental and physical well-being.
But consider this: 30-40% of cancer cases are due to lifestyle choices, including the foods we choose to eat. Add to that the fact that 35% of Americans are overweight or obese, the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes, which is only expected to double or triple in the next 40 years, and that almost a quarter of all Americans have metabolic syndrome, and it’s shockingly evident that we need to rethink our relationship with food.
I believe it can be done. I think we have it in ourselves to change our habits and replace bad choices with good ones. Next week, I’ll review the Top Ten BEST foods. In the meantime, I encourage anyone who struggles with keeping a healthy diet or who feels addicted to one (or more) of the foods on this list to see my article, “Terry’s Traditional Diet”.
You can change your path. Next week, we’ll look at some of the most wholesome, delicious, and nutrient-rich foods that satisfy body and mind, and can put you on the road to vibrant, optimal health.