Who Is To Blame Part II: Why are 70% of Americans Overweight or Obese?
Good Cop, Bad Cop… We’ve all seen the movies and TV dramas where two cops will “role play” good cop, bad cop in the hopes that the person under arrest ‘the subject’ will learn to trust the good cop and spill the beans about what really happened. After a few rounds with the bad cop using fear and intimidation, it’s easy to see how effective the technique can be. No one wants to see that ‘bad cop’ come in the room again.
Good Food, Bad Food… We’ve been told fats are bad, protein is good (sometimes), carbs are bad, veggies are good, sugar is bad. We have even been programmed to believe that the cholesterol our liver makes is bad. Who doesn’t believe cholesterol causes heart attacks? It’s a very popular misconception. But it doesn’t mean it’s true. Is it a factor yes, but only one of many.
It all depends on where you stand. It’s a matter of perspective. When I lived in India, all food, I repeat, all food was good. If you had food, you could live another day. You may have seen it in the movies, like ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ and Patrick Swayze’s “City of Joy”, beggars in India are everywhere. I learned a valuable lesson from a beggar. I learned about savoring every morsel of food like there is no tomorrow.
We knew that the kids that begged on the streets were ‘unionized’, that is, they were run by the local mafia and if you gave them money, it wasn’t for them but the overlords. Heartbreaking I know. So to deal with the difficult situation, my resolve was to feed anyone who begged from me. One time I took an 83 year old beggar to a mess hall and we enjoyed a rice meal on a banana leaf. I treated him to lunch and he treated me to WWI stories of fighting in the ranks of the British Army.
Another time, a group of kids accousted me for “paisa” (pennies) and I proceeded to side step over to a kiosk and bought a rack of bananas. I handed out the bananas. The first boy peeled the banana with a deft move and instead of eating the banana and tossing the peel, he first used his teeth to devour the inside of the peel by scraping his bottom teeth over the inside portion of the peel. There is a good amount of sustenance stuck to the inside of the peel. Who’d a thought? My conscience was seared by this act of waste not, want not. I belong to the generation that was admonished to finish ever morsel on my plate because there were starving people in China. Remember that?
Once you get passed the 3rd world vantage point, and you are safely back in the 1st world, there are a few things to understand about food and it’s purpose.
First off, there are 3 macro food groups: Fats, Proteins, and Carbohydrates. Each has multiple good purposes in the human body. When looking at diets and diets plans to defeat excess weight there are so many shades and varieties, but there are still only 3 essential foods that you need every day. In the 1980s, it was thought that fats were bad. And it’s true there are bad fats, bad in the sense they may cause the body more harm than good. In today’s world, there is a distinction, at least among professionals, that there are good fats to be consumed with gusto and there are bad fats to avoid. Fats come in a few varieties. Saturated fat, unsaturated fat and the new kid on the block trans fats.
Trans fats are to be avoided at all costs unless you are starving, literally starving. They are unhealthly and wreak havoc on your biology. Cut out trans fats and you will begin to lose weight. The second thing to know about fats is that they have either a pro-inflammatory or a anti-inflammatory immune response in your body. Guess what causes chronic disease, if you are willing to drill down to the elements? An over abundance of inflammation that becomes systemic and chronic. This opens you up to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and even the diseases of dementia, like Alzheimers.
The body does need both pro and anti-inflammatory oils. But they should be consumed in balance. In America, the ratio is 15.7 to 1, pro inflammatory to anti inflammatory. It should be 1:1 and some scientist say 4:1 is okay, but 20:1 will put you in your grave very early. The body will use what we feed it. Fats produce vitamins and hormones in the body and fats will convert to sugar which is the fuel for muscle function. Cellular structure is supported by certain fatty acids.
All the cooking and baking done with oils are generally pro inflammatory Omega-6s. And our salvation in getting the anti-inflammatory effects come from Omega-3s. If you eat like the average American, you will need a high dose of Omega-3s to counter balance the Omega-6s.
What about Carbs? Bad right? Carbs are the source of energy, plain and simple. At the Beijing Olympics, a big fuss was made about Michael Phelps 10,000 calorie breakfastes. Maybe we will be treated to new segments about his breakfast in London. Athletes who are training will burn that many calories in an unheated swimming pool over the course of several hours. But for you and me, we can’t possibly burn that many calories in a day. Excess calories are turned into fat, if you are healthy. If you are not healthy, you are setting yourself up for chronic, systemic conditions.
Yes, the highly processed junk food variety are extremely detrimental to optimal health. Potato chips, donuts, cupcakes, cinibons, white rice, most breads all contain fast buring carbs that create an overload of sugar in the body. Again, this is an inflammatory situation and the organs have a hard time keeping up with dealing with all the sugary calories. If you are reasonably healthy you will be able to convert a lot of the sugar into fat. Great! Now you have ample reserves to call upon in times of famine. Sugar as an ingredient in soda pop, sugary drinks causes an overconsumption. Remember, it’s 5 grams of sugar in a teaspoon. So when that 20 oz drink says 28 grams of sugar and you have 2, 3 or 4 a day, you are directly dumping 12, 18 or 24 teaspoons of sugar into your system. Hope you are going to swim for 8 hours! Learn to drink water instead. Don’t fall for the zero calorie drink nonsense. Those synthetic chemicals have proven to be toxic to our bodies as well. There are zero calorie sweeteners that are natural like stevia and agave nectar.
But, there is such a thing as “good” carbs. These are the slow burning carbs. What are they? Beans and legumes, and some fruits like berries. If you haven’t been introduced to black bean soup or Indian dahl (lentils) you have missed something. These carbs provide energy but they are digested slowly so they can fuel your exercise and bodily functions without converting to fat in your body.
Lastly, let’s talk about protein. Proteins are the foods that build muscle. If you are an athlete you need a lot of protein. Muscle is built by tearing the muscle through strenuous exercise and allowing it to heal. The building block material for repairing and growing muscle is protein. Protein can be a little deceptive. If we eat a chicken breast we think we are eating protein and we are, but within the chicken breast there is a lot of fat. When it comes to meats don’t think it’s 100 % protein because it’s not. Proteins are in almost all living matter including vegetables. Eat a lot of vegetables with a little bit of meat is the best way to go. Vegetables also contain many micronutrients that you may not get otherwise. I have met vegan athletes that are as muscular as their meat eating counterparts.
As a kid I was a picky eater. Now I can and will eat just about anything within reason, but in recent years while studying nutrition, I have become a little discriminating again. I will spend extra money to get the highest quality food I can buy, I just try not to eat too much. Remember Michael Pollan’s famous quote: “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.”
Next chat, we will talk about metabolism! See you then.