There have been many reasons proposed on how did our obesity problem in the U.S occur? Was it due to Big Soda with its high sugar content, was it fast food? Did we suddenly become lazy and gluttonous as some say, or maybe even as some suggested, it was a virus?
It is hard to ignore the statistics about our expanding waistlines. Based on current data, in the United States, 68.6% of adults are overweight and 34.9% are obese. Compared to 1960, the average American is more than 24 pounds heavier. It was not until the 1980’s that the trouble really became a national epidemic. Back then we only had an obesity rate of 13.4%. How did the food supply change? Fast food has taken its share of the blame; however, another change that comes to mind is the rapid expansion in the food industry of processed foods.
We have also increased our caloric intake to about 530 calories a day over the past 35 years. This theoretically could result in a weight gain of 53 additional pounds to every person every year. In the past few decades, we have increased our portion sizes so that the old portions seemed small. However, there has been an increase by the food industry to provide what is now called ultra-processed foods that now have become the cornerstone of the food industry.
By definition, ultra-processed foods are products that contain several manufactured ingredients used to often imitate the taste, texture or other qualities of natural foods or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product.. The food industry knows them as chemicals, preservatives, sweeteners, coloring, flavoring, and emulsifiers used to make fake foods taste real. Some of these ingredients are necessary for the final product; many may not be. Generally, the longer the ingredient list, the more ultra-processed the food is.
To get a reality check stand in the middle of your supermarket and look around you. Ultra–processed foods dominate the landscape from the freezer cases to the shelves beyond. Stand in the middle of the snack aisles (and there are more than one now) and you will find a majority of foods that fit the characteristics of ultra-processing.
Ultra-processed foods are designed to appeal to our senses, and many can be eaten mindlessly with the result of eating them in abundance without really realizing it. Many studies have hinted that they can be addictive. One animal study in 2013 foundn that sugar actually may be more addictive than drugs. Rats preferred the high from sugar to that of cocaine.
A study was done that analyzed dietary intake of more than 9,000 children, adolescents, and adults. from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). It was found that ultra-processed foods comprised almost 60% of the total calories eaten and 80% of the calorie intake of added sugars.
What to do?
- Avoid Ultra-processed foods like frozen dinners, frozen pizza, all sodas, store bought cakes and cookies, boxed cake mixes. Look out for added sugars soon to be displayed on the Nutrition Facts Panel. Until then look at ingredient lists for the many types of sugars that have been added.
- Cut down on other processed foods: jarred pasta sauce, sausage, store-bought salad dressings, Make your own when possible from simple recipes.
- Buy more minimally processed foods: extra virgin olive oil, plain yogurt, nut butters, frozen vegetables and fruits
- Choose snacks carefully. Say no to artificially flavored and colored, deep-fried chips, for example. Do not make snacks a major source of your daily calories.
- Keep in mind: Studies show that people who consumed more than 21 percent of the calories from added sugar doubled their risk of death of heart disease as those who consumed less than 10% of their calories as added sugars.
- Ultra-processed foods should be a minor component of your diet; try to limit them to no more than three to four times a week and less than that would be even better.
- Cook more at home instead of “eating out.” Use whole foods and simple recipes. Avoid recipes with a long list of ingredients to save money.
We may eventually discover that obesity is caused by “a bunch of little things” and not just some dramatic cause or single factor. One could say it is an overload of just about everything, fat, sugar, salt, as well as over-processing. When people are asked what they have eaten in the past few days, many forget about how many bags of 100-calorie snacks they consumed.
Can we solve the obesity problem soon? It is doubtful- we need to change lifestyle and cultural habits and get the food industry involved. Hopefully concentrating on a lot of “small” changes, we may be able to curb the obesity problem as soon as possible.
For a related article about “junk” food, click HERE. There is a great info graph from Cornell University at the end of the article.