08 July, 2011
Problems With the American Diet
There are more obese people in America today than ever before. The United States ranks No. 1 for obesity in the world, with 30.6 percent of the population considered obese, according to the data website NationMaster. Endemic to obesity are health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, which together "cost society an estimated $250 billion each year in medical charges and lost productivity," according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture publication, "FoodReview." Much of this can be blamed on problems with the American diet, including excessive sugar intake, refined and processed foods and lack of fiber.
Americans consume more sugar today than ever before. The amount of sugar consumed per person every year in 2009 was 180 pounds--double what it was in 1900 and 10 times the per-person consumption in 1800, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola's health information website, Mercola.com. Large amounts of sugar can be found in almost everything Americans eat these days, from soda and fruit juice to supposedly healthy cereals and baby food. Sugar is the single largest source of calories in the American diet, and the toll it is taking on society's health as a whole is devastating.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup is increasingly being used in foods instead of sugar because it is cheaper and more easily transported, according to Food Safety News. The difference between sugar, or glucose, and fructose is the way in which it is used and stored within the body. The body derives much of its energy from glucose, which can be used by almost all the body's cells. Fructose can be metabolized only by the liver, which causes many serious issues for the body and leads to the metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions--hypertension, elevated insulin levels, excess body fat around the waist, abnormal cholesterol levels and the metabolic disorder dyslipidemia--that increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Refined and Processed Foods
Many of the foods Americans eat today have been refined and processed, causing them to lose most or all of their nutrient value. Food processing refers to any process our food goes through after it is grown and harvested, from cooking to the addition of chemical ingredients. Refining refers to the breakdown of whole food into parts, such as the breakdown of grain into flour. Fast food, white bread, pasta and cereal are among the biggest culprits, many of them so processed and refined that they barely resemble the whole foods they came from. Refined grains are overly starchy and difficult for our digestive systems to process. They are low in fiber and moisture content, which causes chronic constipation, and they are nutritionally imbalanced, according to the website RawFoodExplained. A diet of refined and processed foods results in a lack of nutrition, poor digestion, and ultimately, poor health.
Lack of Fiber
According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, consuming foods high in fiber reduces blood cholesterol levels and the risk of coronary disease, increases healthy digestion and may help with weight management. The largest sources of fiber are whole grains and fruits and vegetables, in which the American diet is sorely deficient. The processed and refined foods upon which the American diet is built have lost much of their nutrient value, as well as their fiber content, which has resulted in an increased risk of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes and a rise in obesity.
- fruit image by Leonie Pratt from Fotolia.com