Doctor’s Tip: How big food makes us sick and kills us
We all know that too many Americans, including young children, are overweight. Many currently have or develop hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and eventually cardiovascular disease and cancer.
These maladies are spreading to the rest of the world, as we export our lifestyle. Experts say this is the first generation of children in history who aren’t going to live longer lives than their parents. Many of us watched the documentary years ago called “Super Size Me,” where the producer decided to eat three meals a day at McDonald’s for one month — and whenever a supersized portion was offered he would eat it.
Within two weeks he had gained weight, and had developed prediabetes, hypertension and fatty liver disease. Clearly, typical fast food is not good for us, because it contains too much salt and sugar, too many refined carbohydrates and too many calories. But the uneducated shopper can run into just as much trouble at the grocery store.
Unhealthy food is the new tobacco. For decades, Big Tobacco lied to us about the health problems caused by smoking, until the evidence became too overwhelming to deny. Big Food is now using that playbook.
A couple of years ago the Sunday New York Times Magazine had a cover article about how Big Food hires scientists to figure out how to make its products more addictive, so that we buy more of it and the industry makes bigger profits. One CEO of a major food company finally couldn’t live with himself any longer and resigned, noting that not only are food companies making American adults obese and sick but children as well.
Food companies make people addicted to salt, sugar and fat. To the scientists who work for food companies, the ideal food is the Cheeto, which is crunchy, salty and oily, so three addictive ingredients. But because Cheetos seem “light and crunchy in the mouth,” people assume they can eat a lot of them with impunity.
Food companies are shameless about adding addictive substances to food. For example, why does Organic 365 unsweetened soymilk from Whole Foods have 85 mg. of sodium per serving size (1 cup)? Answer: to hook you on the product.
The other way scientists sell their souls to food companies is to conduct studies with predetermined outcomes, which show that a product is safe and healthy when it really isn’t (there are many ways to manipulate studies and their outcomes).
When you are grocery shopping, read food labels and first see what the serving size is. Then see what the sugar content is and keep in mind that 4 grams is a teaspoon (you can’t visualize grams but you can teaspoons). Then see how much salt is in a serving, keeping in mind that the healthy limit of salt is 1,500 grams a day. Look for the total carbs and fiber on the label. Multiply the fiber number by 5 and if the result is greater than the total carbs number, that product has lots of fiber and whole (unprocessed) grains. (Don’t be fooled by bread wrappers and cereal boxes that say “whole grains,” because they can say that if the amount of whole grains is minimal).
Also, although organic is preferable in anything without a peel (it isn’t helpful to spend more money on organic apples, oranges or avocados), don’t always assume that just because the label says “natural” or “organic” it is necessarily healthy. For example, Amy’s frozen vegan burritos would make a light, healthy lunch if each one didn’t contain 620 mg. of salt, more than a third of the daily allowance.
Toward the end of the Obama administration, rules were established to make food labels more consumer-friendly, such as making the serving size more understandable (11 chips instead of 1 ounce), and specifying added sugar instead of just total sugar. But the anti-regulation philosophy of the Trump administration has caused these rules to be delayed, perhaps forever.
To beat Big Food at its own game, when you shop for groceries spend most of your time in the produce aisles buying vegetables and fruit. After 10 to 14 days, people get over their addiction to salt, sugar and fat, and lose their taste for those things. It’s very difficult to find healthy cereal in a box, so consider buying bulk multigrain cereal or steel-cut oatmeal, for example. The healthiest bread I have found is low-sodium Ezekiel, kept in the cooler at Whole Foods (because it doesn’t have a lot of preservatives).
There are health coaches in the area who can help you make healthy choices when you shop, such as Ardis Hoffman (email@example.com, 970-340-3221), who also does cooking classes.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.