Friday, January 14, 2011

Food=Friend or Foe?

In the past couple months, I’ve been hearing quite a bit of buzz about the failings of the American diet, rumblings about why there is a problem with obesity in this country, and what to do about it. More and more spin offs of the biggest loser keep popping up on every conceivable television network. I’ve been noticing more and more obese people on the subways, in Manhattan, a city typically known for it’s obsession with being thin.

It all started with an article in Vogue about Daphne Miller, a physician who traveled the world searching for nutritional indicators as to why certain diseases that plague other nations do not exist in locations including Iceland, Mexico, and Africa. She examined differences in rates of depression, heart disease, and diabetes and found that certain nutritional patterns greatly decreased if not eradicated chances of developing the diseases. Miller employed the metaphor that food is like the soil that our bodies grow in, if we eat a diet sucked free of the nutrients we need, how can we expect to grow anything but a withered, yellow plant? Or, if we over feed with one type of nutrient or fertilizer, a plant whose body wildly exceeds its normal size? I snapped up her book The Jungle Effect to learn more.

Then I started reading about the South Beach Diet (it is the season for new years weight loss resolutions, no?). The cardiologist who invented it, Dr. Agatston, speaks at length about the reason that carbohydrates are often shunned in popular diets. It’s not what you think. Agatston is an advocate of incorporating carbs into your diet, the healthy kind, like those found in fruit and veggies, and whole grains. Bread and pasta are not evil. The reason that carbs are dangerous to Americans is because they are so overly processed that all fiber and nutritional value that allows our bodies to process them appropriately have been stripped. Instead of moving the carbs into the body as fuel with their partner fiber to help processing along, they are processed directly into simple sugars, cause an imbalance in blood chemistry, and are often stored as fat. This has resulted in wide spread insulin resistance (a pre-cursor to diabetes-EEK!).

Most recently there is the ruckus created by Gary Taubs, a diet writer who insists that it is something wrong with the food supply in America that is causing our bodies to store too much energy in our fat tissue. This means, as a nation, we have chronically elevated insulin levels. The culprit is simple carbs. They are in everything as sugar, over processed starch, and you’ve got it, high fructose corn syrup. Scary stuff. I just heard that the corn refiner’s association wants to rename the stuff corn sugar since so many negative health links (high triglyceride levels and obesity) have been established with products containing high fructose corn syrup. A new name won’t make it healthy.

I was at the gym last night, and I read a fourth piece of disturbing info. Women’s Health Magazine reports on a study by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that discovered it’s not just carbohydrates that are getting worse and worse for you in America. The constant desire for faster, cheaper, easier food at the expense of quality and nutritional value has decreased the amount of nutrients that common whole foods contain since 1950. Carrots contain 24% less Iron. Eggplant contains 44% less ascorbic acid. Broccoli contains 37% less calcium, and winter squash contains 52% less riboflavin. The study pegs pressure on farmers to grow bigger and faster crops through fertilizer use which limits the amount of time plants spend growing, and thus, the number of nutrients they can absorb before harvest.

If you can’t turn to whole fruits and veggies for nutrition, what’s left? I think it’s time for our food producers to take a long look at what we’re doing to ourselves as a country with the most basic human function. We are what we eat.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

i've learned so much from reading this post!

<3, Mimi


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