This year Americans will spend about $60 billion dollars trying to slim down. In fact, about 1 in 4 Americans are on a diet right now. But despite the numbers, the weight loss industry as a whole, is a big fat failure. Case in point: according to CDC data, on average, Americans put on around one pound a year from the time they graduate from high school until they are in their 50s.
We know that the many things that contribute to weight gain include: sugar, carbs, lack of exercise and stress (all of which we in the United States tend to have an overabundance of). We also think we know how to lose weight, namely through dieting and exercise. But new data shows the latter actually has a minimal impact on our weight[i]. Statisticians and scientists are finding that no matter how much time you spend on the treadmill, the old adage that “you can’t outrun a bad diet” is actually true.
This all brings us back to what we eat and to – gasp! – yes, diet. Notice I didn’t say “dieting?” That’s because we know that dieting doesn’t work. For most people, no matter what dieting program they try, their quest for a slimmer, fitter body remains out of reach. There are two reasons for this that the dieting industry will not tell you. The first has to do with fats and the second has to do with a secret and unwanted ingredient in much of our food.
Let’s take a moment to look at what we Americans eat - not what we say we eat, (as in “oh, I try to eat healthy”), but what we really eat. The fact is that about 63% of the average person’s daily caloric intake in the US comes from processed foods, in other words, things in a bag, a box or a carton. But here’s where it gets shocking: most of those processed calories are from just two sources: sugars (17% of daily calories) and fats (23% of daily calories).[ii] We know processed sugar in any form contributes to weight gain. But it’s the processed fats that really get us, and not for the reasons you might think.
For years, we’ve been told that eating a diet rich in fats (especially transfats) makes us fat. And we’ve also been told that “heart healthy oils” like soy, corn, and canola are our saviors.
Bad news: all of this is false.
The oils that make the processed fats that fill the American diet are actually the byproducts of the bulk commodity crops grown in the middle of the country: namely soy, corn, and canola. The reason is that the animals for which we grow most of those grains will not just eat soy or corn. Instead, these grains must first be processed into meal. Crushing oceans of grain to make meal to feed to animals creates a steady stream of vegetable fat byproduct. To monetize their fat, the commodity growers flowed rivers of these oils into our food supply.
We must keep in mind that for millions of years, humans did not eat oils from soy, corn or canola. Then suddenly, with the birth of the modern chemical-industrial food complex, we began to consume these oils in vast quantities. The problem is, these processed oils are extremely high in omega 6’s. The human body needs omega-6’s, but nowhere near the amount that’s now in the typical American diet. In fact, too much omega-6’s and our bodies become unable to process the holy grail of healthy oils: omega-3’s. Omega-3’s are critical for proper metabolism, proper brain function and proper inflammation reduction.
Since we need both types of Omegas, it’s actually the ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s that our processed diets have destabilized. Today Americans have as many as 25 omega-6’s to 1 omega-3, whereas a healthy person would have a ratio similar to 1:1. Among the many effects of too much omega-6’s are: diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and, yes, you guessed it: obesity.[iii]
Have a look at the two charts here. The first shows the precipitous rise in soy oil consumption starting in the early 1960s. Remember those old margarine commercials? That was a big push to get Americans to eat processed oils. The second chart shows the rise of linoleic acid (aka Omega 6’s) as a percentage of American body fat. Starting around the same time, in the early 1960s, Omega 6’s started climbing. The two have tracked closely together ever since.
Processed oils are a hidden cause of weight gain. But most of the same food products that contain processed oils from bulk grains also contain another weight-gain provocateur. This one is so insidious that it’s not even required to be listed in the ingredients on our food packages.
Every year, for every American, approximately 3 pounds of toxic herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are sprayed onto our food. Collectively called “pesticides,” these toxic chemicals are primarily sprayed during the summer and right before fall harvest, in other words, soon before the plant becomes food. These toxins end up in the air we breathe, in our drinking water and in our bloodstream.
New research shows links between pesticide exposure and obesity. A number of studies even correlate early-life pesticide exposure, including prenatal exposure to pesticides, with childhood obesity.
Pesticides in the human body disturb the immune system, the endocrine system and metabolism function. Unfortunately, once exposed to pesticides, the human body is ill-equipped to rid itself of poisonous chemicals. This is because our bodies tend to store toxins in fat. Some scientists and anthropologists believe that accumulating and retaining toxin-laden fat cells may actually be a form of self-defense against being poisoned.
To summarize, the two undisclosed ingredients in America’s weight gain crisis are: 1) high-omega-6 fats and oils from bulk commodity crops and 2) toxic, poisonous pesticides. We ingest both of them from processed foods, which make up more than half of what we, as Americans, eat.
This weight-gain double-whammy ensures the weight loss industry has a steady stream of clients. Think about it. As long as you eat food that is laden with pesticides (i.e. food that is not USDA Certified Organic), and food that contains commodity oils (corn, soy and canola), your body cannot effectively and healthily lose weight. Unfortunately, the type of food I just described comprises 63% of the daily calories of the Standard American Diet (SAD).
For those committed to tightening their tummies, the solution is surprisingly simple. Lifestyle and diet must both shift toward fresh, whole foods that do not come in packages. If you must eat something in a bag, box or carton, make sure it has a USDA Certified Organic seal on it. This is the only assurance that food product does not contain copious amounts of toxic chemicals. Stay away from wheat, which is very rarely USDA Certified Organic and veer clear of anything with soy oil in it, including soy milk (even organic soy milk!) Be wary of “butter substitutes” especially if they list canola, soy, or corn oil in the ingredients.
Instead fill your shopping basket with fresh foods from around the outside of the supermarket. If you eat meat, find grass-fed meat and butter made from grass-fed cows.
In terms of oils and fats, look for virgin coconut oil. While not a source of Omega 3’s, coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) which are extremely beneficial to heart health and to the absorption of essential vitamins. To increase your intake of Omega 3’s, look for sustainably harvested low-mercury fish like wild caught salmon. (To find sustainable seafood, look for the Certified Sustainable Seafood logo at MSC.org).
It may at first seem impossible to move away from the processed foods which dominate our food chains and grocery stores. But consider this is an opportunity for a lifestyle shift, not a diet. To truly lose weight and keep it off, and to truly feel great, give yourself time, lots of leeway and lots of patience.
Many people have made the shift to a healthier lifestyle and you can too!
To learn more about what’s really in your food and get a complete guide to the new “regenerative diet,” pick up a copy of Josh’s new book, Kiss the Ground, How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body and Ultimately Save the World. More info at: www.KissTheGroundBook.com