For many people, who’ve been told for years that if they simply had more willpower, they’d be guaranteed thinness and good health, this message is a relief.
The real problem is that today’s food contains too much sugar and too little fiber and as Robert Lustig famously quotes: a calorie is not a calorie. Our body processes different types of fats and carbs in radically different ways. Take fat. There are good fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids (found in wild fish and flax,) and bad fats, like omega-6 fatty acid found in corn-fed beef. Omega-3s reduce inflammation and repair membranes, whereas omega-6s cause inflammation and increases risk of health problems like arthritis and cancer.
The same goes for carbs. There are good carbs, like lactose, the sugar found in milk, or fiber-heavy foods like vegetables and whole grains. But the worst carb of all is sugar. It’s omnipresent in our food supply (77% of the foods in the America food supply include added sugar), and plays a huge role in metabolic syndrome, which leads to diseases like diabetes.
The negative effects sugar has on our bodies are staggering: sugar alters our hormones so we don’t register hunger the way we normally would, making us eat more; it spikes our dopamine, requiring us to eat more sugar for the same effect; and it affects our liver in the same way that alcohol does. We consume an astounding 18 bags of sugar per year, and half of that is added sugar, hidden away in our ketchup and potato chips under names like brown rice syrup and fruit puree. In fact, sugar has up to 56 names so even if we tried to cut down on sugar, food companies have every incentive to keep us from doing just that: sugar is a cheap preservative that extends food’s shelf life and keeps prices low.
Knowing this can make one fee feel powerless, or think back guiltily to the honey in their tea or the granola they ate with yogurt this morning, and by the way Granola is technically a dessert. Yet, there are things we can do to fix our “toxic food environment.”
The most valuable change we can make is shifting our diets to one low in sugar and high in fiber. We don’t need to skip every birthday cake or break room muffin, but toss the soda and juice (which is just as bad as soda) and start eating more vegetables and whole grains. Focusing on eating real food, the kind our grandmothers would recognize, is the most efficient way to better health.
TOXIC CLEAN-UP TIPS
- Shop the edges of the store, not aisles for real food
- Eat more omega-3 fatty acids, found in wild fish and flax
- Eat fruit as dessert, and if you’re craving cookies or cake, make your own
- Increase consumption of micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables
- Up your fiber intake. Fiber protects your liver from sugar and keeps you from overeating.
- Eat more whole grains like farro, quinoa, steel-cut oats, hulled barley or brown rice
- Drink your calories. Avoid soda, sports drinks and juice
- Shop hungry—it leads to poor food choices
- Eat anything with “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. That means it contains trans-fat, which our bodies can’t metabolize and ends up lining our arteries.
- Buy anything that has sugar as one of the first three ingredients
- Eat corn fed beef or farmed fish. Corn oil contains omega 6 fatty acids, which lead to inflammation
- Buy processed food. If it comes with a label think of it as a warning label.
We as a society need to change our whole thinking about obesity, diets, and what really causes many of our chronic diseases.
At Vitality Rising we attempt to breakdown complex biological processes into simple explanations, with case studies and programs that help illuminate the misconceptions we have about obesity. And perhaps most importantly, we shed light on an issue that often seems impossible to fix.