What’s Wrong With The American Diet?

It has come to the attention of many health-conscious people that there are many problems with the American diet and that we are digging ourselves into a hole with it. Though many may try to push it out of their minds and ignore the facts, the economic costs, obvious increase in obesity, and sheer number of fast foods advertisements are bringing this knowledge to the forefront of people’s minds – whether they like it or not.

When was the last time you took a good, hard look at what is being offered in restaurants? Ridiculous portion sizes, unhealthy carb-laden meals, and a side of soda or alcohol to go with it. Sound familiar? Things 50 years ago were quite different than they are today, and even 10 years ago standard foods were markedly healthier. Remember a world without energy drinks? I sure do. Remember when people used to sleep for 8 hours a night? Or how about when they weren’t on a cell phone all the time?

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Our world has changed, almost completely, in a few short years. Meanwhile, our diet has spiraled to the point of nearly complete garbage. Americans seem too busy to notice that their health is failing, that their neighbors are sick and fat, and that it is breaking our whole system. This would almost be comic if it weren’t so tragic. Remember when Homer Simpson was a parody of everything gluttonous and wrong with America? Now he is more accurately a normal representation of America.

Look at the crash test dummies used for car crash tests. They used to weigh 175 pounds and now their weight has increased to 275 pounds, to “more accurately represent the average American.” Does anyone else see the problem here? I write in this plain, emotional language to convey that we, as a whole, really need to wake up to this problem and fix it. Our future depends on it, quite literally. And on top of all our follies, we have infected the rest of the world, even populations who had quite healthy diets, like Japan, with our obesity, food, and soda.

Sugar

If you want to be overly simplistic, you can point the finger of blame at one suspect: sugar. We are consuming globs of the stuff, and it is destroying our health. Even foods that never contained sugar before now have it added in. The food industry has made billions of dollars, if not trillions, off of our addiction to the white stuff. I am increasingly baffled as to how oblivious many Americans are to this problem. Worse yet are those who know exactly how bad the stuff is and yet continue to indulge or, even worse, feed it to their children.

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There are a variety of ways in which sugar is detrimental to our collective health. It is addictive, neurologically damaging in excess, and will also rot your teeth. We all know this. And yet we don’t stop consuming it. Instead, we eat it like it is a precious commodity. Economically, this could not be further from the truth. With the invention of high fructose corn syrup, sugar became unfathomably cheap – and that’s when things got bad. All of the sudden breakfast cereal had lots of sugar in it, FrankenFoods like Pop-Tarts and Sour Patch Kids soared in popularity, and we all started getting fat and sick.

Processed Food

The Huffington Post recently did a piece on McDonald’s and the idea that if they went back to their original 9 item menu, they might become profitable again. While the economic talk was not what I was after, the original menu was shocking and illustrates how far we have gone off course.

Not only is the most expensive item on the menu a mere $0.20 (!), but a cheeseburger was as fancy as it got. Not only does this original menu make more caloric sense (when was the giant physiologic change that now requires us to run off of Baconators?), but it also illustrates just how ridiculous the food industry has become.

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And yet we do nothing about it.

Only one soda tax has been approved

, in only one city in our nation. What does that say when 31 other cities have not approved a tax? It says two things. One – that the food industry is deathly afraid of consumers cutting into their profits (and becoming healthier). And it also says that we as Americans have become completely complacent and apathetic. It is disgusting. We didn’t have very many obese newborns in the 1950s – but we sure do now.

Look at how much more of our gross domestic product is now spent on healthcare – almost 20%. Compare that to a mere 5% in 1960, or even 12% in 1990. We are heading in the wrong direction. It is quite obvious, no matter which way you slice it. On the other hand, let’s look at Big Food. They are doing quite well. Even during the economic collapse of 2009, their stock still continued to rise.

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Inflammation

One of the inherent problems with processed food is what it is cooked in or made with. Most oils, like soybean, safflower, corn, etc. are highly inflammatory. Cooking your own food, by comparison, provides you with the option of cooking these foods in a much less inflammatory way. Since it has been determined that most chronic diseases are partially caused by underlying inflammation (inflammation can even show up in the brain!), even at low levels, it makes sense to do everything one can to avoid inflammatory situations.

One easy measure to take in helping prevent or treat inflammation is a good omega-3 supplement or eating lots of wild-caught fish, which should be high in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Making better choices can help combat all the obesity and disease that we are facing.

Lack Of Nutrients

The lack of nutrients in our diet is possibly the worst factor of all. Yes, we eat plenty of calories (way too many, in fact) but, ironically, we are still undernourished. How can this be? Well, the foods we load up on like corn chips, soda, candy, and chocolate, are not sources of abundant nutrients, and there are many nutrients essential to your health that your body cannot produce on its own. It requires that you obtain them from your diet. So when you are sucking down soda and stuffing your face with chips, you are over-consuming sugar and empty calories – and consequently still lacking in nutrients.

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It is quite easy to see how to correct this: choose more nutrient dense foods. Leave out the empty and detrimental calories, and include sources that are instead packed with nutrients. Wild caught fish, healthy fats like avocadoes and extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, pasture raised eggs, and grass-fed beef are examples of what you should be eating.

If it’s made in a factory, don’t eat it. This means Twinkies, Snickers bars, Lean Cuisines, fast food, et al. What do you think our grandparents subsisted on during the Great Depression? What do you think we ate before there was Taco Bell? We are standing by and letting others continue to ruin their health and our collective economy.

Soda

It’s very obvious that soda is one of our biggest mistakes. There are literally no benefits to drinking the stuff and yet it is widely consumed. Did you know that for more than 20 years, soda was the number one drink in the United States? In 1998 we consumed 54 gallons per year – per person. The average water consumption? In 1998, it was 42 gallons per year. That’s right, we were drinking more soda than water.

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Though the numbers have fallen slightly since then, the food industry is still winning because now we are buying water from their bottles. Yes, they found another way to introduce a product to us. Humans were drinking plenty of water before bottled water entered the market and they weren’t drinking soda either. These two products – soda and bottled water – have solely benefitted the food companies’ pockets while decimating our health and emptying our wallets.

Conclusion

Have I made clear the many fallacies on which we embark with a commodity as precious as our own health? We risk health so easily and take no stock in it, yet we cannot and will not exist without it. Diet has been correlated to both mental and physical health countless times. Please do something about this issue, whether it is fixing your own health, your family’s health, or spreading the word via social media. Everyone has a voice and your voice matters.