Day 154–On Obesity and Industrial Food

Newsweek just featured a story on why the obesity epidemic is so pervasive (hint: it’s not that we’re lazier as a society) and now the Huffington Post has published a thoughtful article about why we diet but can’t lose weight. I’m reprinting part of it here with a link to the whole article. It is definitely worth a read! Click HERE for the Newsweek article and see below for the Huff Post piece.

The Last Diet You Will Ever Need

by Mark Hyman, MD

Why is it that we believe we can feed our bodies industrial, nutrient-depleted food-like substances empty of life and be healthy? How did we come to believe that food industry chemicals and processing could replace nature-made foods?

A hundred years ago all food was organic, local, seasonal, fresh or naturally-preserved by ancient methods. All food was food. Now less than 3 percent of our agricultural land is used to grow fruits and vegetables, which should make up 80 percent of our diet. Today there are not even enough fruits and vegetables in this country to allow all Americans to follow the government guidelines to eat five to nine servings a day.

What most of us are left with is industrial food. And who knows what lurks in the average boxed, packaged, or canned factory-made science project.

When a French fry has more than 20 ingredients and almost all of them are not potato, or when a fast food hamburger contains very little meat, or when the average teenager consumes 34 teaspoons of sugar a day, we are living in a food nightmare, a sci-fi horror show.

The very fact that we are having a national conversation about what we should eat, that we are struggling with the question about what the best diet is, is symptomatic of how far we have strayed from the natural conditions that gave rise to our species, from the simple act of eating real, whole, fresh food. When it becomes a revolutionary act to eat real food, we are in trouble.

The food industry, which is the second biggest employer in America after the federal government, heavily influences the media and government agencies that regulate it (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Congress) and intentionally confuses and confounds us.

Low-fat is good — so anything with a “low-fat” on the label must be healthy. But Coke is 100 percent fat-free and that doesn’t make it a health food. Now we are told to eat more whole grains, so a few flecks of whole grains are sprinkled on sugary cereals. That doesn’t make them a health food either.

The best advice is to avoid foods with health claims on the label, or better yet avoid foods with labels in the first place.

In the 21st century our tastes buds, our brain chemistry, our biochemistry, our hormones and our kitchens have been hijacked by the food industry. The food-like substances proffered by the industrial food system food trick our taste buds into momentary pleasure, but not our biology, which reacts, rejects and reviles the junk plied on our genes and our hormonal and biochemical pathways. We need to unjunk our biology.

Industrial processing has given rise to an array of addictive, fattening, metabolism-jamming chemicals and compounds including aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate), high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats, to name the biggest offenders.

MSG is used to create fat mice so researchers can study obesity. MSG is an excito-toxin that stimulates your brain to eat uncontrollably. When fed to mice, they pig out and get fat. It is in 80 percent of processed foods and mostly disguised as “natural flavorings.”

And trans fat, for example, is derived from a real food — vegetable oil — chemically altered to resist degradation by bacteria, which is why modern cookies last on the shelf for years.

But the ancient energy system of your cells is descended from bacteria and those energy factories, or mitochondria, cannot process these trans fats either. Your metabolism is blocked and weight gain and Type 2 diabetes ensue.

Your tongue can be fooled and your brain can become addicted to the slick combinations of fat, sugar, and salt pumped into factory-made foods, but your biochemistry cannot, and the result is the disaster of obesity and chronic disease we have in America today.

No wonder 68 percent of Americans are overweight. No wonder that from 1960 to today obesity rates have risen from 13 percent to 36 percent and soon will reach 42 percent. Over the last decade the rate of pre-diabetes or diabetes in teenagers has risen from 9 percent to 23 percent.

Really? Almost one in four of our kids now has pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes? And 37 percent of normal weight kids have one or more cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar, because even though factory food doesn’t make them fat, it makes them sick!

It is time to take our kitchens and our homes back. Transforming the food industry seems monumental, a gigantic undertaking. But it is not. It is a small problem. In the small places in our lives, our shopping carts, the fridge, the cupboard, the kitchen and on our dining room table is where all the power is.


Leave a comment


  1. I like the last little bit there about the “skinny” fat kids: they look normal, proportionate, and often even thin but their nutrition is so far gone and so little information about nutrition is available that they don’t know it until they are well into adulthood and their bodies have suffered. Good nutrition is a SERIOUS issue for everyone, but in my community (rural and many parts impoverished) it is out of control. I saw a 5th grade girl at Evan’s school the other day that must have been at least 200 pounds and it made me so sad because her life will be so hard. Glancing into the shopping carts of my neighbors is like a glimpse into how this is all put into effect. Huge bags of potato chips, loads of soft drinks, prepared frozen meals and huge styrofoam containers of the cheapest fattiest ground beef you’ve ever seen, topped off with a few loaves of squishy soft, highly processed whit bread. I wish I were exaggerating. And people absolutely resist what is right in front of them. They see no need to change. It’s crazy.

    • I know exactly what you’re talking about. My in-laws (incredibly wonderful people) buy most of their food at the Dollar Store (not because they have to, but because they like a bargain). It makes me crazy. I think for a lot of parents, especially when resources are limited, it’s a real struggle to put together healthy meals on a budget, especially when couponing makes hamburger helper .25 a box, but there are no coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables so they seem unaffordable. There is a disconnect between cheap, highly processed food and the expensive drugs you will be taking to counteract what that food does to your body. And, if you never learned how to put a nutritious meal together (or even how to cook), you really are at the mercy of marketing agencies who, let’s face it, lie with impunity because we do not have regulations about telling people what is really in their food. Somehow though, for policy makers, it seems to be easier to just blame people for eating poorly than to address the real issue of access to healthy food. Someday, when I’m in charge… 🙂

  2. So happy to see this information getting out there. Thanks for the post and the links.

  3. ” Avoid foods with labels.” Great advice! Now I understand that we should be concerned with GMO seeds in our crops!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: