Nutrition Notes

We Are What We Eat: Frightful Facts about the Standard American Diet

Unfortunately, the standard American diet, or “SAD”, is calorie-rich but void of nutrients that the body needs to function properly. More than half of the calories consumed by the average American are derived from highly processed, nutrient-depleted “food-like” products. In fact,  because the body isn’t receiving the required nutrients to function from foods and beverages that are loaded with sugar and void of vitamins and mineral, hunger and satiety signaling hormones are disrupted which leads to chronic overeating. Chronic intake of SAD has been shown to increase leptin levels, overall fat mass, and inflammation while reducing lean body mass and bone density.

Frighteningly, the annual consumption of sugar in the United States has sky-rocketed in the last 100 years from 17.5 lbs per person in 1915 to 150 lbs per person in 2011. According to the Diabetes Council, the U.S. ranks #1 globally as having the highest average daily consumption of sugar per person. No wonder Americans are sick! High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is found in most ultra-processed foods, is one of the main culprits. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Americans should consume no more than 10% of their calories from added sugars and replace the consumption of sugary foods and beverages such as sodas, candies, pastries, and ice cream with plain water and fruit.

The Scary Truth About Sugar

On average children consume around 3 cups of sugar on Halloween. That translates to about 7,000 calories, 670 grams, or 220 sugar packets! Discussed in a previous post, high blood sugar is linked to eye disease and dementia along with numerous other chronic conditions. Sugar stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, which explains why it is highly addictive; and while the occasional indulgence poses no risk for healthy individuals, daily consumption negatively affects every tissue and cell in the body, and therefore, is not recommended for patients who have metabolic-related conditions. The Healthy recently posted an article summarizing "11 Scary Things Sugar Does to Your Body". In it, unhealthy sugar consumption is linked to a shortened life span, increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, memory impairment and altered brain signals, depression, tooth decay, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Frightful “Foods” to Avoid

1. BPA

Explained in a previous article, bisphenol-A (BPA) is a toxic endocrine disruptor that is ubiquitous in the environment and one that patients should avoid. High serum levels of BPA are linked with numerous chronic conditions such as infertility, certain cancers, neurological conditions, and metabolic diseases. Most canned foods are lined with BPA, such as canned tomatoes, which can seep into the food. Other ways food can become contaminated are from the wrappers and other types of packaging that foods are packaged in. Avoid individually wrapped foods, never microwave food in plastic, purchase fresh produce instead of canned goods, and drink water out of stainless steel bottles or glass jars.

2. Highly processed foods, additives/preservatives, & added sugars

Here is a useful article that provides a simple guide for identifying ultra-processed foods - food substances that are rarely or never used in kitchens such as hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup, and other classes of additives that are designed to make products hyper-palatable. A systematic review published last year in Public Health Nutrition found a positive correlation between intake of ultra-processed food and increased body fat in childhood and adolescence, resulting in an alarming escalation of metabolic diseases in youth. Not to mention, sensitivities and allergies to these many preservatives and additives are becoming more common. “Food” was not meant to last on the shelf for years!   

3. CAFO meat & farm-raised fish

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) are defined as “agricultural enterprises where animals are kept and raised in confined situations”.  Animals are fed GM corn and other processed pro-inflammatory ingredients that are loaded with toxins, steroids, antibiotics that are stored in the muscles that the consumer eats. Evidence from a recent article published in Environment International suggests a correlation between increased respiratory and allergic health conditions in residents who lived near CAFOs due to adverse air quality. Lean, grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork and chicken have higher levels of beta-carotene, vitamin E, B-vitamins, and glutathione and much lower levels of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

Farm-raised fish such as Atlantic salmon have increased concentrations of harmful contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, dioxins, and mycotoxins that are derived from the feed they are given. Additionally, there are much lower levels of the anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Opt for smaller wild-caught fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, sockeye salmon, and herring. 

Clinical Interventions

As mentioned throughout this article, the food grown and produced today is depleted of nutrients due to poor soil quality, toxic overload, and added pesticides and antibiotics. Along with avoiding these scary foods and toxins and choosing organic, non-GMO foods, patients may want to consider supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement and full-spectrum antioxidant to reinforce and counteract the detrimental effects of modern society.

As for sugar, patients need to know about the importance of choosing products with natural low glycemic sweeteners, such as allulose, stevia, and monk fruit. Offering patients superior alternatives to candy bars or energy bars (labeled “healthy” but are actually high in added sugars and allergenic ingredients) such as a paleo nutrition bar that is high in quality protein, fiber, and healthy fats is a great way to help rebalance dysglycemia. Balancing blood sugar is vital for supporting and maintaining overall health and wellness and disease prevention.

Happy Halloween!