All calories are not created equal, as discussed in Part II of this series. Most dieticians, nutritionists and doctors will disagree. If a calorie is a calorie, why doesn't the percent of increased caloric intake match the percent of increase in overweight or obese individuals? The calorie consumption in men and women has increased 7 percent and 9 percent respectively, since the ‘70s. The increase in the percentage of individuals who are overweight or obese has increased almost 20 percent in each category. And remember, this increase literally occurred in less than 30 years, which is less than a generation. Why such a discrepancy between calories consumed and weight gained? Because there's more to this epidemic than the amount of calories people are consuming.
The problem we Americans face is that most of the foods we eat are not only lacking any nutritional value, they are made with ingredients that can have serious health consequences. So let's get right down to business. You want to get healthier and leaner? The following are some of the worst foods and ingredients we consume, and we need to stay away from them (listed in no particular order). When it comes to the following, there is no moderation. If these foods are eaten regularly -- you will pay the price.
Sources: This garbage is found in everything from soda to cereal. It's literally in thousands of products. Read your labels.
The "fat carb" has been in our food supply for more than 35 years. We've been led to believe that fructose from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is akin to naturally occurring sugar, the same that's found in fruit. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fructose from HFCS is not the same as the molecule from sucrose (table sugar), or fruit leveulose (1). Is it any wonder they have worked so hard to link HFCS to something natural and healthy like fruit?
The problem is our bodies metabolize HFCS differently than sucrose (table sugar) or fruit leveulose. When we consume sucrose, our bodies convert it into glucose, which raises our blood glucose levels. We then get an insulin spike to shuttle the glucose where it's needed. When we consume HFCS, unlike natural sugar, it is metabolized in the liver and produces high triglyceride levels, which are linked to heart disease. In addition, HFCS does not induce insulin secretion, nor does it boost leptin production, both of which are key signals for decreasing hunger. Hence, the name "fat carb." Eat it, get fat; eat more, get fatter.
Russ Bianchi, a pharmacologist and toxicologist, explains: "there is no safe form of fructose available from any source, unless already existing in an unprocessed apple or other piece of fruit. The science is known and epidemiologically proven" (2).
If you follow the obesity epidemic in the U.S., you'll find that Americans are eating less fat. In 1965 men ate an average of 139 grams and women 83 grams of fat per day. In 1995 men ate 101 grams and women ate 65 grams of fat per day (3). With the way fat has been demonized over the last four decades, you'd expect an increase in fat consumption to be the main cause of the obesity epidemic, yet it's not.
What does mirror the increase in fat Americans is the consumption pattern of HFCS. Between the years of 1970 and 1990, HFCS consumption increased 1,000 percent, and today represents 40 percent of the sweeteners added to foods and beverages. It is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States. Is it any wonder why obesity is an epidemic? One of the main ingredients in our food supply not only converts to fat when we consume it, it facilitates fat storage. And Americans as a whole are eating more and more and more.
Sources: Corn oil, soy oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, cotton seed oil, walnuts, flax oil, hemp oil, herring, salmon, sardines and mackerel.
Technically called lipids, fats and oils are made up of many different types of fatty acids. Fatty acids are the same whether they come from plants or animals. Oleic acid that is found in olive oil is exactly the same as the oleic acid found in lard (pig fat). It's the proportions of fatty acids that will vary from plant to plant, from animal to animal, and from plant to animal.
Safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed oils all contain more than 50 percent of the highly unstable fatty acid Omega – 6 and should never be used in cooking, frying or baking. Heating these oils causes oxidation and produces large amounts of free radicals.
We have been, and are still, being force-fed a load of crap concerning the virtues of polyunsaturated fats. We've been told relentlessly that polyunsaturated fats are good for our health and to increase our consumption. Unfortunately, polyunsaturated fats cause many health problems. One of the biggest reasons polyunsaturated fats are so unhealthy is that they are very susceptible to becoming oxidized, or rancid, when exposed to heat and light. The polyunsaturated oils you buy in grocery stores are already rancid.
The extraction process is the problem:
Throughout the entire process these oils are exposed to oxygen.
- The oil is extracted with mechanical pressing and heated to 230 degrees.
- A chemical solvent is used to get what oils is left.
- The solvent is then boiled off, again exposing the oils to heat.
- Because these oils become rancid, they are treated with deodorizers to get rid of the horrible smell.
- Finally, most oils are then bleached to give them "eye appeal." Americans love the light golden color.
Now, you go to the store to purchase soy, canola oil, or a host of other vegetable oils, which have been touted as healthy, not knowing that you're actually purchasing a free radical cocktail that, over time, causes serious health problems. Free radicals, or "chemical marauders" as some scientists refer to them, wreak havoc on our bodies. They have been linked to problems ranging from wrinkles to premature aging to cancer.
Sources: Any foods containing "shortening," "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" or "hydrogenated vegetable oil" in the ingredients list.
These manmade fats, like fructose, are in thousands of products. I cannot stress enough the importance of reading food labels. However, do not be fooled by products that claim "zero trans fat." Showing the power of the edible oil and processed food industries, the FDA agreed to allow food labels to list trans fats as "zero" if it contains a half a gram or less. And yes, small amounts of trans fats will yield negative consequences over time.
Decades of research show the consumption of trans fats to be detrimental to health. As early as the 1940s, researchers found a strong correlation between cancer, heart disease and the consumption of hydrogenated fats (4).
What are trans fats? They are poison in our food supply. "The latest government study confirms that trans fat is directly related with heart disease and increases LDL cholesterol. Because of that, the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, declared there is no safe amount of trans fat in the diet" (5). "There should be a warning on food made with this stuff like there is on nicotine products. It's that bad for you, says Dr. Jeffery Aron, a University of California at San Francisco professor of medicine and one of the nation's leading experts on fatty acids and their effect on the body (6).
Poison is the most appropriate description of trans fat I can think of. These manmade fats are literally toxins in our bodies. Trans fat is produced through the process of hydrogenation. This process turns polyunsaturated oils into fats that are solid at room temperature, which are used to make products like margarine and shortening.
I know to many this is an obvious choice when discussing what to eliminate from your diet. However, it has had such a profound effect on the ill health of this country it needs to be mentioned. As stated earlier, fructose is the sole sweetener of soft drinks in this country. Children and adolescents in the U.S. are increasingly choosing soft drinks rather than milk or juice. The USDA's Economic Research Service found that the consumption of soft drinks increases as a child becomes older. On average, for every one-ounce reduction in milk consumption, a child consumes 4.2 ounces of soft drinks (7). Just what a growing child needs.
Between the years 1970 and 2001, per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks more than doubled. By 2001 per capita milk consumption had dropped to 22 gallons, while soft drink consumption soared to 49 gallons (8). Should we be worried about this shift in drink consumption? You bet.
One can of soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar, in the form of manmade fructose. And if this wasn't bad enough, soft drinks also contain high levels of phosphates. These higher phosphate levels have been alleged to cause osteoporosis in adults, and impaired the calcification of the growing bones of children. "Soft drinks have long been suspected of leading to lower calcium levels and higher phosphate levels in the blood. When phosphate levels are high and calcium levels are low, calcium is pulled out of the bones. The phosphate content of soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi is very high and they contain virtually no calcium" (9). They contain no nutritive value what-so-ever.
We have been led to believe that soy is a health food. However, contained in the United States Food and Drug Administrations Poisonous Plant Database, which contains references to the scientific literature describing studies of the toxic properties and effects of plants and plant parts, under soy there are 288 records (10). The deleterious effects soy has on our bodies are caused by several different substances; we're going to go over just a few.
One of the substances contained in soybeans is goitrogens. These are naturally occurring and interfere with the function of the thyroid gland. Goitrogens get their name from the term "goiter," which means enlargement of the thyroid gland (11). Other foods that contain goitrgens include: broccoli, cabbage, mustard, peanuts, turnips, brussel sprouts and others. However, unlike soy, the goitrogens in these foods are easily neutralized by cooking or fermentation. Heat, pressure or alkaline solutions will neither deactivate nor remove goitrogens from soy (12). They are virtually in all soy foods, with the highest concentration being in products that are not fermented like tofu and soy sauce.
Another nasty class of substance in soy that can inflict damage upon your body are called phytoestrogens. Isoflavones are examples of phytoestrogens, and are in many plants, with the highest concentration being in soy beans. Phytoestrgens, although not hormones, are very similar and can bind to estrogen receptor sites and have been shown to cause negative effects.
The ability of phytoestrogens to decrease testosterone has been shown in several studies (13-15). In fact, as long ago as 164 B.C., monks included tofu in their diet as an aid to spiritual enlightenment and abstinence. They found the more tofu they consumed the lower their libido.
The following is a list of myths and truths about soy, taken from westonaprice.org.
Myth: Asians consume large amounts of soy foods.
Fact: Average consumption of soy foods in Japan and China is about 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) per day. Asians consume soy foods in small amounts as a condiment, and not as a replacement for animal foods.
Myth: Soy foods provide complete protein.
Fact: Like all legumes, soy beans are deficient in the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine. In addition, the extreme processing used to make soy edible denatures fragile amino acids like lysine.
Myth: Fermented soy foods can provide vitamin B12 in vegetarian diets.
Fact: The compound that resembles vitamin B12 in soy is an analog and cannot be used by the human body; in fact, soy foods cause the body to require more B12.
Myth: Soy estrogens (isoflavones) are good for you.
Fact: Soy isoflavones are phyto-endocrine disrupters. At dietary levels, they can prevent ovulation and stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Eating as little as 30 grams (about 4 tablespoons) of soy per day can result in hypothyroidism with symptoms of lethargy, constipation, weight gain and fatigue.
Myth: Soy isoflavones and soy protein isolate have GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status.
Truth: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) recently withdrew its application to the FDA for GRAS status for soy isoflavones following an outpouring of protest from the scientific community. The FDA never approved GRAS status for soy protein isolate because of concern regarding the presence of toxins and carcinogens in processed soy.
Avoiding the above substances is a big step toward becoming healthy and lean, and will make a huge difference. However, this is just the first step. You also need to eat correctly. The following is a list of principles that are essential, not only for those looking to get into better shape, but for serious athletes looking to get an edge.
- Prepare your food in advance. This is perhaps the single biggest contributor to consistent healthy eating. You're less likely to fall off the wagon if there is quality food already made. People are just inherently lazy. To combat this, always have an array of food that is ready to eat. Foods like chicken, beef, cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs, salads, sliced veggies, etc., should always be in your fridge.
- Avoid processed foods. Does this really need an explanation? If it does, you're a moron. These foods are void of any nutritive value and contain ingredients that should be avoided at all costs.
- Do not starve yourself. When you go without eating for too long, you're setting yourself up for failure. The hungrier you are, the more you tend to cheat. Eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're full.
- Eat at least four meals per day. Your goal should be to eat six times per day, once every 2 to 3 hours.
- Make sure to eat a portion of protein with every meal. A portion of protein is 4 to 8 ounces. Or a portion (of meat) is about the size of the palm of your hand or a clenched fist. If your meal consists of a starchy carb, always consume a bit of your protein first. This ensures a lower glycemic index for the meal, and will curb eating too many carbs.
- Choose carbohydrates that are on the lower end of the glycemic index.
- Whenever time is of the essence, use meal replacement packs, protein powders and drinks. This takes the guesswork out of meal planning during a busy day.
- Use natural unprocessed fats and oils that are labeled "cold pressed," "expeller pressed," or "extra virgin" for cooking and salad dressings. Avoid the use of, or strictly limit your consumption of, polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) and never cook with them.
- Use peanut oil, sesame oil or olive oil for cooking if you do not want to use animal fats. These oils can also be used for one-time frying. Coconut and palm oil are best for frying and cooking because they're stable and have strong anti-microbial properties.
- Use butter, not margarine, and never use fat-free spreads.
- Supplement your diet with vitamins and other nutrients: A, D, E and C, CoQ10, fish oil (omega-3), selenium.
- Make it a family affair. Don't feed your children a low fat diet and stop letting them eat fast food. Think of their health, not your convenience. If they're fat, it's because they're mirroring you -- sitting on your ass and eating too much junk.
- Once per week eat whatever you want. However, avoid foods that contain trans fats, soy products and fructose. At least keep them to a minimum.
Use the following lists to help you make healthy choices:
It's up to you. You must decide if getting lean and healthy is something you truly want, and whether or not you are willing to make a firm commitment to yourself. Achieving goals doesn't happen overnight. You have to be patient and put in your time.
The more time you put in and the harder you work, the more in tune with your body you become. The more in tune with your body you become, the more progress you'll make. The more progress you make, the more motivated you'll be. The more motivated you become, the longer and harder you'll work. Soon it will become second nature and a part of your lifestyle.
Make no mistake, it's not easy. There is no magic diet and certainly no magic pill. There is no special herb or chemical to make this an easy task. Anyone who says that a product can make it simple and easy is full of it. If it were easy, everyone would be lean and healthy. The most difficult part will be having the mental determination to keep pressing forward over the long haul. Making a change is always easy in the beginning because it's new, and the motivation is high, but this is short term. You must become self-determined and motivated. Consistency is the name of the game.
The greatest impediment to your goal is the mind. Your body, if the mind leads it, will do whatever you ask of it. Staying focused and determined is essential, and impossible without the right mental attitude. It is astonishing in any endeavor, what one can accomplish when a strong, positive mind is guiding it.
1. Mercola, J. "Debate about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup." Mercola.com.
2. "Is lots of fructose water foolhardy? Apology, too." Sugarshockblog.com, 13 September 2005.
3. Anand, Rajen S., "Is fat consumption Really Decreasing?" Family Econ and Nut Rev. Summer 1998.
5. Severson, Kim. "Trans fat in food: as bad as it gets. Scientists' warning likely to bring listing on nutrition labels." San Francisco Chronicle. 11 Jan, 2002. SFGate.com.
6. Severson, Kim. "Hidden Killer, It's trans fat. It's dangerous. And it's in food you eat everyday." San Francisco Chronicle. 30 January, 2002. SFGate.com.
7. Schlosser, Eric. "Fast Food Nation". New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2001.
12. Daniel, Kayla T. "The Whole Soy Story". Washington, New Trends Publishing, 2005.
13. Nagata, C et al. "Inverse association of soy product intake with serum androgen and estrogen concentrations in Japanese men." Nutr Cancer. 2000; 36(1): 14-8.
14. Habito, RC et al. "Effects of replacing meat with soybean in the diet on sex hormone concentrations in healthy adult males." Br J Nutr. 2000; 84(4), 557-563.
15. Weber, KS et al. "Dietary soy-phytoestrogens decrease testosterone levels…" J Endocrin. 2001; 170(3), 591-599.