Would you believe that Americans are overfed and actually undernourished? It turns out that the most obese children and adults in the country are also the most nutritionally deficient!
How can those two things possibly happen?
The mistake is to think that if you eat an abundance of calories, your diet automatically provides all the nutrients your body needs. Really the opposite is true. The more processed food you eat, the more vitamins you need. That is because vitamins and minerals feed our metabolism, helping the chemical reactions in our bodies run properly. Among those biochemical processes fueled by nutrients is the regulation of sugar and burning of fat. The problem is that the standard American diet (SAD) is energy dense (too many calories) but nutrient poor (not enough vitamins and minerals). Too many “empty calories” confuse the metabolism and causes weight gain.
We Are a Nutritionally Deficient Culture
After reviewing the major nutritional research and doing nutritional testing on thousands of patients— Americans are suffering from massive nutritional deficiencies. What I see in my office is reflected in the scientific literature. More than 30 percent of American diets fall short of such common plant-derived nutrients as magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin A(2). More than 80 percent of Americans are running low on Vitamin D (3). 9 out of 10 people are deficient in Omega-3 fats, which are crucial for staving off inflammation and controlling blood sugar levels.
Why are we so undernourished?
Food is less nutritious than it was long ago. Processed foods, stuffed with high fructose corn syrup, refined flours and trans fats–are a modern problem, along with farming practices of dangerous pesticide sprays on food crops. These foods crowd out more nutrient-dense foods because they are inexpensive and convenient. Imagine what early humans would think of Lunchables! Our species evolved eating foods that contained dramatically higher levels of all vitamins, minerals, and essential fats(4). Wild game is leaner and healthier than animals raised in factory farms. Plus, the meats and fish eaten by those who gathered their own food source, were almost always fresh. Most store bought meat today is laced with chemicals, such as nitrates, used to process and preserve, along with cattle being injected with hormones or antibiotics.
Soil is no longer as nutrient efficient
There is a reason our food is less nutritious, industrial farming is depleting the nutrients in the country’s farmland. Because of this, most vegetables harvested today have fewer nutrients than those harvested from the ground just two generations ago. One of the largest and most compelling studies on this topic was published in 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Using data from the USDA’s archives, a team of scientists looked at the nutrient content of 43 fruits and vegetables—everything from rutabaga to honeydew—grown in 1950 and compared them to the identical fruits and veggies grown in 1999. Their findings were disturbing! Levels of calcium were down 16%, iron 15%, and vitamin C 20 % (5). Not a single nutrient had increased in the past 50 years. Because those foods contain fewer nutrients in today’s world, the servings we do eat don’t deliver as much nutrition as they once did. Fewer nutrients means lowered immunity and increased vulnerability to chronic disease and obesity. When your body doesn’t get the right nutrition, it just keeps asking for more food. The endless cycle of craving carbs or sugars is a continuous cycle; people are eating more, getting fatter, but still not feeling satisfied—it’s a nightmare from which they can’t escape.
Refining kills nutrients
In general, foods are stripped of their nutrients during the refining process. One of the most telling examples of this mistake is wheat. The process of refining whole wheat flour into white reduces the fiber by 80 % and slashes levels of essential minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Eventually, food manufacturers started adding synthetic versions of the most important vitamins and minerals back into food and call the food “enriched.” The idea that you can process out nutrients, such as B vitamins in the making of white flour, and then add them back is not working and neglects the synergistic qualities of food. Food makers call these “enriched foods” but that’s only because they are so lacking in the first place!
Three Ways to Grab More Nutrient-rich Calories
- Eat more plant-based foods: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains are the foundation of a lifelong age preserving diet. They are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, fiber, and essential fatty acids. These foundation foods also eliminate the many triggers of chronic illness, such as saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and toxic food additives.
- Prioritize healthy plant-based fats: The best way to eat most of your fat is in the form of extra-virgin olive oil, flax, nuts, and seeds with minimal amounts of properly processed (expeller-pressed) vegetable oils. Avoid oils that do not state the method of extraction or have a bitter aftertaste or rancid flavor.
- Eat modest amounts of lean animal protein: The best sources are small cold-water fish that don’t contain high levels of metals and other contaminants. Healthy fish choices include sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, and arctic char. Wild game, such as wild elk and deer, are also rich sources of omega-3 fats because of the wild plants they eat.
Remember, food is your best medicine! Whole foods are naturally packaged with a variety of nutrients that work all together to optimize your health. They work through our entire body, reducing inflammation, boosting detoxification effects, balancing hormones, and providing powerful antioxidant protection—all things that repair the underlying causes of disease.