FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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Chocolate for Breakfast?

If you read between the lines, you can easily see that there is a lot more to eating breakfast or any other meal than just the kind of foods we eat. It appears that some cultures have gotten it right,  e.g. it may be how we eat.  This often is exemplified in the French culture along with their low obesity and heart disease rates. It’s not just the chocolate sprinkles.

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The Obesity Epidemic: Why?

Diet and Health: With key to the calories. Lulu Hunt Peters, 1918

By Sally J. Feltner, PhD, RDN

In 2013, the American Medical Association House of Delegates approved a resolution classifying obesity as “a disease state with multiple pathophysiological aspects requiring a range of interventions.” We now accept the fact that obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer risks.

Today, 2.1 billion people – nearly 30% of the world’s population – are either obese or overweight, according to new data from 188 countries. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis said, “About 38 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 and older are obese as are more than 17 percent of children aged 6 to 11, federal data shows.”

“The global problem affects all countries, income levels, age groups and accounts for over 3-4 million deaths a year with estimated health costs of over $2 trillion a year.” (International Journal of Obesity).

There is no one cause. Many people still continue to blame the obese person’s lack of willpower and insist that if they just ate less and moved more, their weight would not be a problem. This may explain some cases of obesity, but how could more than 2 billion people worldwide begin to make poor choices about their food intake and allow themselves to become fat. Moreover, this upward trend earnestly began in the late 1980’s and has continued to the present. Obesity rates were just 13.4% in 1980 but reached 34.3% by 2008. So what happened to cause this sharp rise? – More than likely a lot of things.

In 2016, an article by Bruce Y. Lee, Associate Professor of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health succinctly describes his opinions on what factors changed to help create this epidemic. He states that obesity is a result of the breakdown of three major systems that include biological, social, and environmental factors.

Biological Systems

Our metabolic systems have been affected to some extent by non-stop dieting. A plethora of fad diets and exercise gimmicks grew into a huge obesity industry. Diet books topped Amazon and best seller lists while the supplement industry went berserk over worthless and sometimes dangerous weight loss aids. Americans responded and when surveyed, a large majority of respondents said they were “on a diet.”

Even TV reality shows (The Biggest Loser) resulted in weight loss that lowered the metabolism of almost all participants gained back their hard-fought  loss. As each weight loss attempt occurs, the cycle of weight loss/regain occurs over and over again. The body is threatened by a perceived starvation state and attempts to prevent it by putting forth metabolic and hormonal mechanisms to alleviate the threat. Obesity research has shown that nearly 95% of dieters regain their weight loss in a few years.

Social Systems

Social media, friends and family, cultural beliefs, TV advertising, and personal responsibility are all important in shaping our behaviors about eating, appearance, and body image.

Advertisements in the media have promoted the obesity epidemic by making claims that their products will magically transform your body into a svelte image and allow you to finally wear that bikini you bought years ago and that weight loss is easy. Most weight loss diets promise success by showing us before and after pictures of supposedly successful weight losers. What they do not say but disclaim in the small print that you usually can’t read is that results don’t always occur as presented. Most weight loss programs do not include an exercise component nor do they offer any behavioral counseling. Almost all have no disclosure about their success rates of weight loss and maintenance.

Environmental Systems

Determining what a healthy diet consists of is difficult enough – opinions abound and debates continue. This results in confusion and misinformation for the average consumer. They tend to give up on just what exactly is the best way to eat.

So many individuals are exposed to reliance on cheap foods found in the fast food industry. They may live in food deserts defined as parts of the country usually found in impoverished areas devoid of easy access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other healthy food choices.

The food industry has been instrumental in developing ultra-processed foods that hardly resemble “real” foods. Snacking has become a national pastime and is dominating several of the inner aisles of the supermarkets. Snacks are abundant in every gas station, convenient store, or vending machine that tempt you to increase their profits.

Additionally, the food industry promotes the intake of sugar, fat and salt by attempting to reach what they call “the bliss point,” defined by the precise amount of sweetness that makes food and drink most enjoyable. You can find the results in the sugary cereals and sweetened beverage aisles in the supermarkets.

People do not cook anymore leading to procuring your meals outside the home. Restaurant portions have become gigantic compared to what they were in past decades. For example, a typical serving of theater popcorn was 270 calories (5 cups) in 1970 compared to now that is typically 630 calories (one tub). Some restaurant meals contain as many calories as we need in an entire day. The average U.S. intake increased 455 kcal/day, a 20% increase from 1970 to 2009. (Dr. Stephen Guyenet, The American Diet, 2012). From research studies we have found that the more food that is put in front of people, the more they eat. We now are familiar with the term “supersize” and the concept of “all you can eat buffets.”

The complexities of the obesity epidemic/pandemic are impossible to fully comprehend as well as their need to be “fixed” to reverse or at least slow down the trend. There are some solutions to accomplish this but they will require much cooperation between politics, community, medicine, research, government, and the public.

If America’s obesity trend continues at its current pace, all 50 states could have obesity rates above 44 percent by 2030, according to a new report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Although important, we need to stop just focusing on what we eat, but equally important on how we eat to fix what contributed to the epidemic in the first place.


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Is “Big” Food Partially Responsible for the Obesity Problem?

blogger-image-1519876556There 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Obesity Bias?

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Obesity is probably the least understood “disease” of human physiology.The advice for its cure such “eat less and move more” apparently is over simplistic and does not work for all those afflicted. Even when weight loss is achieved, a great majority regain their loss and some even weigh more than before they lost the weight. It is proposed that repeated dieting lowers our metabolism with each attempt, making it even harder to lose the weight with the next attempt.  Fat shaming does occur at work, in schools, and even in the medical field.  Many people feel uncomfortable seeing their doctor or health practitioner because they too can imply that their weight problem is their own fault. The solution? Presently, I don’t think anyone knows exactly what to do about it. We may just need an attitude adjustment such as those who promote fat acceptance. However, that approach does not solve the problem. More awareness of the problem may help and prevention may be the key.  For a long read but very informative article on this topic, CLICK HERE. For a shorter discussion: CLICK HERE.


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Obesity and Willpower?

DNA and Epigenetics

DNA and Epigenetics

It is becoming more apparent that the global obesity epidemic is due to many complex interactions between our genetic makeup, physiology  and environmental factors such as availability of cheap food, an abundant food supply and the types of foods we eat.  This interaction is referred to as epigenetics and discussed in a previous post HERE.

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The Realities of Weight Loss?

Illustration from “Diet and Health with Key to the Calories” by Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters in 1918.

 

This is so true about how difficult it is to lose weight and keep it off.  Eat less, move more may hopefully work for some; however, for a large majority of obese people, sustained weight loss is extremely complex and is not so easy.  Physicians often just tell people to lose some weight and even worse, the famous advice to “watch their diet.” To be fair, medical schools just do not train most medical students how to treat weight issues, and nutrition goes by the wayside. This may lead  to more guilt and frustration for the obese patient.

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