The Nation's Health + Nutrition

America: The world’s diet laboratory

Low-fat, low-carb, high-protein, Pritikin, Ornish, Atkins, South Beach, Sonoma, Sugar-Busters, Weight Watchers, vegetarian . . . Have Americans tried them all?

We’ve witnessed the relative success of diet habits in selected regions world-wide: the longevity of the Japanese on a spare soy and fish-based diet; the reduced heart disease incidence of the French despite an indulgent food-centered culture; the extreme heart disease-free lives of the Cretan Greeks.

Contrast this with the startling failure of the American diet experiment: We’re all (speaking for the collective whole) fat, diabetic, and miserably mired in the diseases of obesity. We’ve experimented with every possible iteration of diet from grapefruit or cabbage only, to calorie deprivation (a al Weight Watchers), to restricting this or that element of diet. The “official” organizations have made their contributions, as well: the American Heart Association’s Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (formerly Step I and II diets), a program eerily similar to what Americans are already eating and resulting in failure; the American Diabetes Association diet, incomprehensibly embracing carbohydrates when they are the root of the nutrition-habit-gone-wrong that caused the disease in the first place; the USDA and their Food Pyramid, encompassing a design that contains the germ of wisdom but is so heavily overweighted in grains that it is a sure-fire way to increase weight and heart disease were you to follow their recommendations.

What have we learned from our grand experiment, our nationwide misadventure in nutrition?

I believe that we’ve learned how not to eat: Processed snack foods, meals delivered in a fast-food setting with the offer to “super-size” your order, make-believe food ingested in your car eaten for the sake of staving off the inevitable hunger pangs. Few would argue that these are certain paths to obesity and poor health.

Certainly, if we’ve learned how not to eat, can we extrapolate just how to eat? And not just for weight loss, since most diets focus just on that, but on health , particularly heart health?

If Americans have so far failed to learn the lessons of the nutritional world, we certainly have not failed at talking about it. From books to blogs, websites, information gurus to infomercials, we certainly celebrate the capacity to share our experiences, our grief over our nutritional “misfortune,” despite a world of plenty.

Yet we swim in a sea of information. Can we sift through the chaff to discover the essential truth?

Let me articulate an extreme (extreme meaning closer to the truth, I hope) interpretation of nutritional wisdom:

--If it requires a label or nutritional analysis, reject it. The wondrous green pepper, or bottle of olive oil, for instance, require no such qualifications. Some exceptions: milk, yogurt, cottage cheese (unless, of course, you purchase straight from a local producer). I am always impressed with the contortions and frustrations people experience trying to decipher labels. Ironically, the healthiest foods don’t even require labels.

--If it is ingested in a rush, it’s likely to add to poor health. True food is meant to be consumed at leisure, not in haste to satisfy some irrational, unthinking impulse.

--Search for natural, whole foods. Natural, whole foods require no marketing. You pay a premium for a company to adorn a product with glitz, glamour, and appeal. Repackage Cocoa Puffs as chocolate flavored, round overly-processed wheat flour, sans marketing spin, and what is left? Processed foods areintentionallyaddictive. They are added to, modified, high-fructose corn syruped, etc. to increase desirability, but also create addiction. Eliminate them just as a smoker eliminates cigarettes.

--A corollary to the above issue: purchase foods that appear as if you had grown it or raised it yourself. If you were to grow corn in your backyard garden, you would eat it on the cob or some similar way. You would not grind it, pulverize, process it, nor serve it as cornstarch and add to a pile of chemicals to make breakfast cereal. Eat foods in their natural state, not the highly processed food-product that requires a colorful package and advertising to sell.

--Don’t keep bags of chips, boxes of breakfast cereal and crackers, frozen dinners, all “just in case.” Don’t allow yourself that opportunity because you will more than likely seize it. An alcoholic who keeps a secret bottle of gin hidden in the cabinet is well aware that it’s there and will eventually give in to impulse.

--When you eat meat, try to find free-range, organic products. Even better, purchase from a local producer who you trust.

--For anyone with patterns like low HDL, small LDL, high triglycerides, and blood sugar >100 mg/dl, following a diet that is as free of wheat products as possible will yield enormous benefits. Wheat is a part of all breads, virtually all breakfast cereals, pretzels, crackers, bagels, cookies, cupcakes, pancakes, waffles, etc. Going wheat-free is also a surprisingly effective weight loss strategy.

That’s just a few thoughts. The approach we use in the Track Your Plaque program helps achieve weight loss, but also helps correct lipoprotein patterns, often dramatically.

Many diets have failed to keep pace with the changing nutritional habits of Americans. In 1960, we ingested close to zero high-fructose corn syrup. We’re now approaching 80 lbs per year per American. Breakfast cereal in 1950 consisted of a handful of products, eaten intermittently; today, it is a staple with enough products to fill a modern supermarket’s entire aisle. Meats have changed, thanks to the factory farm phenomenon feeding its animals corn in inhumanely restricted conditions, a dietary shift for livestock that has modified the fat composition to something far different than 50 years ago, not to mention the antibiotics and other chemicals used to accelerate growth and fight off infection from the artificial, overcrowded conditions.

The American nutritional shift, along with rampant obesity, have also caused a relatively new cause of coronary heart disease to explode: small LDL particles . The contribution of small LDL has been enormously underestimated, since most physicians don’t know what it is, don’t know how to check for it, and don’t know what to do with it. Yet it has emerged as the number one cause for heart attack and heart disease nationwide.

Stay tuned for our rewritten New Track Your Plaque diet to be released as a Special Report on the website in future.

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