America's Obesity Epidemic

What About The Obesity Epidemic in America?

In studying and making recommendations about the obesity epidemic in America, nutrition researchers, counselors and self-appointed weight loss coaches have done damage by separating eating from the rest of our lives. Isolating nutrition as a tool for health is like playing football with only a quarterback. Preventing obesity will never be accomplished until healthy eating merges with a healthy, aware lifestyle.

It’s an odd fact that, studies show, obese people enjoy food less than their thinner neighbors.

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Blame It On Justus Liebig

Justus Liebig, the first great, modern nutritionist, teased out knowledge by taking food apart and identifying components, such as vitamins and carbohydrates, and explaining what his research showed to be their primary roles. Liebig’s big blunders were of the classic variety. He was overconfident, lacked holistic vision and anointed nutrient superstars as if they were doing their amazing things in isolation. Food constituents never do anything in isolation, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that eating is far more complex than we imagined. Much remains to be learned, although misassumptions and overconfidence remain.

In the Sixties and Seventies, experts as renowned as Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling insisted that Vitamin C in sufficient doses had the power to inoculate us against the common cold. Since drinking enough orange juice to get the megadoses required was next to impossible unless you worked adjacent to or inside a restroom, little white pills became for many of us our first guerrilla cures. I remember coming home from the drug store, having amused the man behind the counter, and starting to down my megadoses one at a time. I continued this practice until I caught my next cold, pretty much on schedule.

Later, we were told that Vitamin E protected us against cancer. Oat bran had cholesterol curative qualities. There was the low fat campaign, and the wars over the Atkins Diet.

Grasping for miracle cures in our diets may be poisoning us with non-holistic thinking. Like single notes in a song, no nutrient can do its thing or even be assessed accurately in isolation. It all works together, including the pieces we haven’t discovered yet. This knowledge hasn’t harnessed the claims of ‘experts,’ food industries mouthpieces and true beleivers in miracle food cures.

The Food Industry–It’s Just Business, Isn’t it?

You remember bread, don’t you? The stuff that now makes a cozy little platform for peanut butter, salami and cheese whiz? It used to be a real food you enjoyed for its rich flavor alone. Those of you raised on Wonder Bread may not understand.What the hell did they do to bread?

That simple food with just a few ingredients might seem too simple to mess up. Start with the basic ingredient. Whole wheat is ground down until its components become separated. A century ago, as corporate baking emerged, they took advantage of their knowledge that bread could be stored much longer, if the brain was not just separated but removed. Without the bran, rodents and insects had no use for it, and shelf life could also be increased because bran was the thing in bread most likely to spoil. Unfortunately, it was also home to nearly all the good stuff, the nutrients that support a healthful diet.

We began relying on a basic staple that rodents and insects considered not good enough. Later, under pressure, the corporate bakers started returning roughly twenty percent of the vitamins and minerals to the product, puffing out their chests and announcing the new product ‘enriched.’

Obesity Epidemic in America: The Core Issue

What fat Americans see in supermarkets today–what writer Michael Pollan calls ‘food-like’ substances, enriched bread, for example–are largely manufactured items meant to seem like real food, their labels a celebration of the wizardly use of unpronounceable, unidentifiable ingredients put together to deliver calories and nutrients cheaply and manageably.

Nutritionists opened the door–and held it open–by isolating ‘good’ components in foods, neglecting the many they knew nothing about and ignoring the synergistic nature of foods.

In every commercial field, stockholder demand inspires corporations to produce profits with too little regard for the public welfare. Food manufacturers are no exception. They fill the shelves of stores with cheap products that are overloaded with calories and short of more costly nutrients, the balance driven sheerly by profit, creating a host of nutritional shortcomings in the process, increased susceptibility to numerous diseases and, given the calorie to nutrient ratio, a difficult to escape production line of fat people.

And, yes, Virginia, they do know what they’re doing, and no, it’s not reasonable to hold a corporation, heartless by definition, responsible. Corporations are put together to share moneymaking among investors, but they’ve gained the additional benefit of rendering the investors immune from the practices their investments demand.

What Nutritional Density Has To Do With The Obesity Epidemic In America

Nutritional density is the relationship of calories to nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and proteins. When you feel hungry, your body is telling you that it needs energy, the combination of calories and minerals we evolved to perform best with. When you rely primarily on manufactured food-like substances, most easily identified by their placement in the middle aisles of supermarkets, you get calories, plenty of them, but the other nutrients aren’t there. They are considered too expensive for a competitive marketplace, and our government, assigned to protect us does nothing of the kind, kowtowing to corporate interests instead. Consumers are soothed with marketing slogans that make corporate foods seem like improved versions of real foods. Which they are, if we consider more calories as the sole criteria.

What happens next is that you get hungry again. Of course, you do. Hunger is not a weakness people without will power suffer. It’s as natural and healthful as pain or joy. Our bodies get the calories, but they still crave vitamins and minerals. A cycle of eating calories accompanied by few nutrients continues, profits grow, and diet books and quick cure pills lead us to think it’s all fixable without changing food culture in America.

The Obesity Epidemic in America: A Solution

The interesting thing is that the solution is as simple as any can be.

Start doing your essential shopping at whatever farmers markets are available in your area, even at individual farms, if you can. You’ll probably have to commit to more time in food preparation, but heck, you can get that by turning off the TV, a device made complicit in the obesity epidemic by being a conduit for aggressive, misleading advertising. A good alternative choice is the produce department in your local supermarket. Most are full of colorful, great smelling and great tasting fruits and vegetables. The dairy section offers many nutritious options, but be careful with labels. If there is barely enough room to list all the ingredients on the label, best to chose something else.

The advantages of eating real food are many, but for our purposes here, I’ll limit them to the goal with which we started–to show that it’s easy to end the fat cycle and change to healthy.

Real foods are uncomplicated choices. Often, they have only a single ingredient. Like, potato. Or apple. They are also loaded with nutrients that manufactured foods aren’t. For the most part, they interact extremely well with the bodies with which evolution blessed us. And eating them will do a lot toward normalizing waistlines.

David Stone, Writer