Could our health crisis be any more perplexing? We're on the cusp of harnessing contact lenses that can monitor glucose levels, and 3D printed limbs - all incredibly futuristic medical advances. But yet, the seemingly simple task of nutrition is running away from us. Or perhaps, I should say, rolling away from us. We're experiencing the worst obesity crisis in history, with 78.6 million Americans and 1-in-4 Canadians suffering from obesity.
Despite our leaps and bounds in medical science, why can't we effectively tackle the obesity epidemic?
The food industry is notoriously misleading, undeniably corrupt, and has the one of the largest revenue streams in the world. Coca Cola has lobbyists in Washington, and the meat industry makes no bones about being in bed with the political process.
Tackling obesity has become a hotbed for controversy, especially when government officials try to pry the health of citizens away from the jaws of Big Food. Look at the sneering backlash that snapped at the heels of Michelle Obama after she tried to encourage healthier school lunches. Ted Cruz oozed with glee as he announced that his wife would bring french fries back to schools. Ted Cruz may not concern himself with the fact obese children are twice as likely to die young, or that childhood obesity affects about 1 in 3 American children, but obesity is killing us - whether we want to admit it, or not.
Big Food industries, like Coca Cola and McDonald's, have built empires out of expanding waistlines. We're their cash cow (literally), so any serious intent to halt the wayward appetites of consumers is doomed from the start. High fructose corn syrup may inflate the waist, but it trims the budget - and for big businesses hoping to maximize profits, it's a no-brainer.
Perhaps Big Food's biggest crime is greenwashing unhealthy foods. So you think that salad is helping you fight diabetes? Think again. Here are some of the worst cons going on in the food industry right now:
Say it isn't so! While vegetables alone are choked full of goodness, the devil is in the details. Croutons are often packed with salt, sugar, and icky ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. Store bought dressing is also dangerously deceiving - once you coat your iceberg lettuce with Kraft Caesar Salad Dressing, you could be adding 500 calories to your meal. Some fast food salads are more fattening than a Big Mac.
Subway is the worst offender when it comes to greenwashing their products to appear as if it's healthy. Even their logo, Eat Fresh, is full of boloney. Processed meats, bread, and the liberal dollops of condiments can turn the "official restaurant of athletes" into one of the worst offenders for fattening foods. And because they're misleading with their branding, customers aren't even aware of how bad Subway really is. According to one study by UCLA, Subway is worse than McDonalds due to the higher amounts of sodium included in meals.
There's three little subsections here, to help you steer clear of the lies that the food industry can spew - especially about snacks.
Nuts are great! That is, until you start adding salt, sugar, and chemicals. While a handful of raw almonds is a perfect snack, a 8oz tin of honey roasted cashew nuts from Planters will set you back a whopping 1200 calories. In addition to cashew nuts, it also contains sugar, corn syrup, honey, salt, and peanut oil.
Fruit is healthy. Dried fruit? Not so much. The calorie content of dried fruit is double that of fresh fruit. As all of the water has been removed from dried fruit, it's much smaller in size - meaning that it's easy to grab a handful of dried apricots and not realize that you're eating the equivalent of four fresh apricots with double the calorie content. The intense heat needed to dehydrate fruit also means that most of the nutrients are lost during the process.
Most trail mixes contains M&M's or other candies, so add that to an already unhealthy snack and you may as well eat a candy bar.
We often overlook liquids when trying to eat clean. Which is a big mistake, because not only are most drinks packed with sugar, but the body converts liquids to fat faster than solid food. Because we don't perceive a drink as a meal, we often have no idea how bad our liquid diets are. Some of the worst offenders are
- Diet soda (and regular soda, obviously)
- Fruit juices including "smoothies"
- Coffee creamer
- Flavored coffee drinks
What if it's 'sugar free' or 'low fat?' It might actually be worse for you. Diet Coke is "sugar free" - but it still contains artificial sweeteners, like fructose. Fructose is a sugar that is metabolized by the liver alone. In addition to placing strain on the liver, fructose converts almost immediately into fat. But this is no ordinary fat, it's actually the worst kind - visceral fat. It sits around your liver and internal organs, leading to insulin resistance and causes the metabolism to slow down. Without fiber to pad out the impact of fructose, it's putting a huge strain on your internal organs.
Cereal is packed with horrible, no-good and very bad ingredients. Not only are most cereals absurdly high in sugar, they're also likely to contain gelatin (that's boiled animal skin if you're curious), empty carbohydrates and other nasties. Cereal is basically dessert in disguise.
Crackers and Energy Bars
Think "low fat" crackers or energy bars are helping you out? Banish them. Big Food replaces fats with fructose - so they can claim to be healthy, while wreaking havoc on your liver and insulin levels. Check the ingredients - if you see corn syrup and sugar - swear them off.
I hate to break it to you, but even certain yogurts are bad for you. Again 'low fat' brands of yogurt tend to use double the sugar. So if you're reaching for a yogurt - stay away from low-fat and natural flavorings.
How To Hack Misleading Products
Big Food will continue to put a misleading spin on food products. It simply isn't profitable for them to do otherwise. But with a few simple tricks, you can hack a deceptive label.
Read The Label
Food companies will try all kinds of tricks to try and fool consumers with the ingredients. Ingredients shouldn't be complicated - and you should be able to read all of them without stumbling through a field of syllables. Avoid salt, oil, and sugar. Sounds easy, right? Well, until you realize that Big Food has a bunch of different names to disguise these ingredients.
Sugar, also called...
White sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup.
Soybean oil, peanut oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, shortening oils (Crisco), and corn oil. Cooking sprays after often loaded with preservatives and other nasty additives - including natural flavorings.
WTF Is In "Natural Flavorings?"
If you see "natural flavorings" listed on the ingredients - BEWARE. This is the easiest way for a shady company to cover up what's going into your meal. For instance, Castoreum.
Castoreum is classified by the FDA as a natural flavoring, but you can't find it in an ingredients list. Why? It's made out of the anal secretions of a beaver.
Unfortunately, due to the high levels of chemicals, additives and bad ingredients in our diets, our bodies are overloaded with toxins. Even if we successfully cut out harmful ingredients, you may not see a change for several weeks as your body works through the nasty stuff lodged in your gut. Expect to break out in zits and be in a terrible mood while you work your way through the toxicity in your body. But after you get all of the junk out, the health benefits will be tremendous.
If there's one takeaway, it's this: eat whole foods, avoid misleading packaging, and remember: that low-fat yogurt could be made out of a beaver's b-hole.
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