Our Standard American Diet of Processed Foods is killing Us.

There is nothing new except that which has been forgotten

-Marie Antonette

We have a nutrition crisis in this country. The US population, and indeed the populations of most developed countries, is verifiably sick. Chronic diseases, which our allopathic medical system does a poor job of treating, are now at epidemic levels. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and functional GI disorders are not only bankrupting our medical system but the hard-working people of this country. The US has the best doctors, hospitals, and medical technologies, the most innovative surgeries, the best and newest drugs, and spends the most per capita on healthcare of all the countries on the globe. Are we any healthier for it? Do we enjoy better healthcare? Do we live longer? The answer to each of these questions is an unequivocal and emphatic no! We do, however, have the most advanced trauma care medicine in the world, so if you are injured in an accident thank your lucky stars you live in this country because our talented doctors and well-equipped hospitals will save your life. Unfortunately for those suffering from a chronic disease, America has the worst health outcomes of any country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; the thirty-seven richest countries). In several of the most lethal chronic diseases, Americans rank among the worst of the developed countries in the world: #1 in diabetes, #2 in Alzheimer’s disease, #5 in cancer, and #6 in cardiovascular disease.

Food drives both illness and wellness-it’s the poison and the antidote. Every bite you take is an opportunity to create health or promote disease, and our Standard American Diet (SAD) of manufactured food-like substances (processed foods) is killing us slowly. Eating nutrient-poor, calorie-rich processed foods leads to increased appetite (hyper palatability) as we continue to eat in search of sufficient nutrients. Modern food corporations use that hyper-palatable combination of fat, sugar, and salt to find the “bliss point” with their products where consumers get hooked. Corporate farming practices have resulted in extreme nutrient loss in soils. Subsequently, even most whole foods are less nutrient dense than they would have been historically.  Many of the chemical compounds originally used to produce bombs and nerve gas, for example, were eventually repurposed for use as fertilizers and pesticides. Walk through the aisle of any grocery store and your eyes are drawn to an abundance of packaged, processed foods that appear more attractive than real, whole foods covered with dirt and bugs.

What is the result of all this? Food that is cheap, abundant, highly processed, nonperishable, and covered in chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. WHITE SUGAR, FLOUR, AND INDUSTRIAL VEGETABLE OILS MAKE UP OVER 65 PERCENT OF THE CALORIES THAT THE AVERAGE AMERICAN CONSUMES EACH DAY. It’s not surprising that 65% of adult Americans are overweight and 88% of the population exhibits some level of metabolic dysfunction which can manifest as one or more of the following: high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and diabetes, weight gain, chronic disease, cellular dysfunction, fatty liver disease, and inflammation.

Eating a diet of processed foods (convenience/fast foods) causes metabolic dysfunction, which is the “disease without a name” because the condition is the result of eight intracellular processes that have gone awry. These cellular functions, when working right contribute to longevity; but when they become dysfunctional, they underlie the various chronic diseases that result in mortality. You will not hear your medical professional or governmental health authority talk about these sub-cellular pathologies because they’re not considered diseases per se.  They don’t have an easy lab test or biomarker, they don’t have an ICD-11 code so they are not reimbursable by insurance, and they don’t have a drug target, so doctors don’t talk about any of them with their patients.

Let’s take a quick look at several of these sub-cellular pathologies that contribute to most, if not all, of the chronic diseases that are killing people and costing taxpayers billions of dollars.  Can you guess what the common denominator is between each of these cellular pathologies?  That’s right, it’s processed food!

  • GLYCATION (Maillard or browning or caramelization reaction): Carbohydrates and proteins combine in such a way that produces substances called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) which damage cell structures and promote aging. Yes, you are literally caramelizing from the inside out. Our processed foods diet that’s high in refined carbohydrates and sugars drives this reaction.
  • OXIDATIVE STRESS: Oxygen radicals are a standard byproduct of three normal reactions in the body: glycation; energy metabolism; and iron metabolism. They are also formed from anything that causes inflammation. These free radicals actively damage our cells, tissues, and organ systems if not neutralized by an antioxidant. Our Processed foods diet is devoid of the antioxidants we need to protect ourselves from oxidative stress.
  • MITOCHONDRIAL DYSFUNCTION: The mitochondria are energy-producing factories within our cells and make ATP, the chemical energy of life. The sicker your mitochondria, the earlier you die. The organs that need mitochondria and energy production the most are the brain, heart, and hormone-secreting organs. Our processed foods diet is too high in refined sugar and carbohydrates, which overwhelms and stresses the mitochondria causing dysfunction and metabolic disease.
  • INSULIN RESISTANCE: Insulin’s main job is to store energy in the liver and fat cells. When cells can’t respond to insulin in the bloodstream, this is called insulin resistance. When glucose can’t get into specific cells, those cells starve, which leads to organ dysfunction. When the liver or muscles are resistant, glucose builds up in the blood, leading to diabetes. Prevent insulin resistance by eliminating processed food with its refined carbohydrates and sugar, bad fats, lack of fiber, added chemicals, and lack of essential nutrients.
  • INFLAMMATION: Systemic inflammation, unlike a localized injury, is directly linked to cancer, auto-immune conditions, chronic disease, and poor diet/lifestyle. Our Standard American Diet of processed junk foods high in sugar and bad fats causes systemic inflammation.

So how do you take your health back from a processed foods industry that is enticing you with addictive sweets and treats, excess refined carbohydrates, franken-fats, chemical additives, flavor enhancers, and preservatives, all designed to make you hungry, fat, and sick.  Remember, food is both the poison and the antidote, so it’s time to start thinking about what you’re putting in your body multiple times a day every day. Life begins with a single cell, and we are only as healthy as our cells and the structures within them, so feed your cells the nutrients they need to carry out essential life-giving functions by eating real food, the kind that comes from the earth and fuels and sustains us, not the industrialized, hyper-processed, hyper-palatable junk that degrades us and makes us sick. Eat foods in whole form that are fresh, nutrient-dense, minimally processed, and properly prepared. Meals should contain a protein, a healthy fat, a plant food, and water, just like our ancestors ate over 80,000 years ago. You know you’re eating real food when:

  1. you feel satiated but not overstuffed
  2. You have balanced energy to last until your next meal in 4 to 5 hours.
  3. You don’t leave the meal craving more, even though you are physically full.
  4. You do not experience sweet cravings at the end of the meal.
  5. You feel mentally and emotionally balanced.
  6. You don’t experience any digestive discomfort during or following the meal.

Michael K Chase, MS, NTP

Nutrition Science and Dietetics

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Individuals should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The statements made in this informational document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product discussed is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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