Diet and nutrition are complex subjects, finding the best approach to developing healthy eating habits can be challenging. There are many conflicting opinions and research can be sketchy, many studies are funded by the industries that produce the foods being studied. There is a lot of money to be made in selling diet plans as well and there is no shortage of snake oil salesmen in the industry.
One of the ways to make sense of this confusion is by examining the “main offenders”, aspects of nutrition that are known to have a negative impact on our health. The following is a brief overview, please see the included links for more information. The 6 categories are:
Sugar is a neurotoxin, that is more addictive, than heroin. In the United States sugar is added to almost everything we eat. Sugar is so bad for heatlth, that in the 1930’s, the FDA considered banning it altogether. But then, “Big Sugar” stepped in and prevented that through a successful campaign.
When sugar is in a natural form, (fruits, vegetables, honey, maple syrup), it is not unhealthy. The reason for this is that a whole food contains hundreds of enzymes, that have beneficial effects on metabolism, whereas processed, or table sugar is stripped of all nutriets.
During digestion, carbohydrates are converted into sugar, this leads some people to believe that all carbohydrates are bad. But that is not the same substance, as processed sugar. If it was the same, our dietary choices would not impact our health as much as they do.
Read more: The Sugar Curse
High fat consumption is associated with artherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death, claiming 647 000 lives in the US each year, that’s one person every 37 seconds. Misleading recommendations for fat consumption made things worse.
In the 80’s, fat had such a bad reputation, that many people tried to eliminate it from their diets. I remember watching an infomercial in 1989. It was a marketing for a kitchen device, a small oven. A chunk of meat was being cooked inside of it, while slowly turning.
The camera zoomed in on the bottom of the meat, where a drop of fat appeared. The host excitedly yelled out: – “Did you see that? – That would have gone into your body!” The audience gasped in horror.
In the decade that followed, Americans put on more weight. Fat is satiating, lack of it can cause a person to overeat on carbs.
Then, the pendulum swung the other way, today some “experts” claim carbs are bad and high fat diets have become all the rage.
More on Fat: The Role of Essential Fatty Acids in Health
The effects of meat consumption on our health is one of the most contested aspect of nutritional science, even though an accumulated body of evidence shows a clear link between high intake of red meat and processed meat and a higher risk for heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, obesity and premature death.
Processed meat was designated as a Grade 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015.
The high cholesterol and saturated fat content of meat products, the risk of food borne illnesses, the widespread use of hormones and antibiotics in animal farming are all important considerations to gauge the effect of meat consumption on long term health.
All this sounds terrible, the good news is, it is possible to mitigate the risks. Moderate amounts of grass fed beef, or poultry, consumed twice, or three times a week and cooked at lower temperatures can be part of a healthy diet.
Related: Which Diet is Best For Me?
Much of what has been said about meat, also pertains to dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream. Animal protein in general are carcinogenic, they are risk factor for cancer.
The main protein in milk is casein. Casein has been shown to turn on cancer cells in laboratory setting. One of the effects of animal protein on the human body is the increase of IGF1 (insuling growth factor 1) hormone.
The main cause of breast, uterus and and prostate cancers are excess estrogen in the body. 80% of exogenous (taken into the body) estrogen comes from dairy. Farm animals produce tons of estrogen.
Nature made cow’s milk to grow a 60 pound calf into a 1000 pound cow quickly. Therefore, cow’s milk contains 4 times the protein and the nutrients, than human milk and this high concentration is harmful for the human body.
Read more: Does Milk really do the Body Good?
There are two considerations in this regard: organic versus conventionally grown foods and processed versus unprocessed, or “whole” foods.
Buying organic is an obvious choice, when it comes to healthy eating. In terms of nutrient content, there isn’t a significant difference between the two, organic is slightly higher. The main advantages of organic is pesticide free and better taste.
Buying organic can be cost-prohibitive and in some areas may not even be available. But there is more to the story. Organic food isn’t necessarily healthy and non-organic aren’t always unhealthy.
Buying groceries in natural food stores is a good idea, they cater to health conscious people. Sometimes their non-organic fruits and vegetables taste as good, as organics sold in the regular stores.
Processing strips the original food of nutrients and adds harmful chemicals, causing inflammation in the body. Unprocessed, or whole foods on the other hand are anti-inflammatory, containing essential vitamins and minerals, the body needs.
Read more: Inflammation: The Silent Killer.
Even with healthy eating habits, too much food is bad for our health. Two thirds of the US population is over weight, or obese and most often, those who eat in excess, also consume the wrong foods.
Body weight is determined by energy intake and expenditure. When we eat more than we burn off – calorie excess – fat will be deposited. When we consume less than we need – calorie deficit – body fat is converted into energy.
Being overweight as a result of calorie excess, is a risk factor for a host of modern diseases, whereas a calorie deficit stimulates the production of growth hormones in the body naturally and keeps us young.
Related: Plant Based Whole Food Diet