Perhaps it’s no coincidence that its abbreviation is S.A.D. More than a third of adults in America are obese, and more than 70 percent are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.
While a major factor for this crisis is a sedentary lifestyle, by far the biggest contributor is diet. Failing to break unhealthy eating habits for too long will come back in the form of pain and chronic inflammation, which, research shows, plays a role in obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
About 63 percent of the standard American diet is processed foods with added refined sugar, Dr. Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and author of GET OFF YOUR ACID, says. A quarter is animal-based foods, and only 12 percent are plant-based, he adds. “Half of that is French fries, so really only 6 percent of what most people eat is whole foods.”
Cheeseburgers and mac and cheese, for example, are popular examples of protein and starch. “This is the worst combination,” Dr. Gioffre says. “They cancel each other out.” The protein (the meat) is digested by the acid, called pepsin, in the stomach. The starch, in this case the bun or the macaroni, leads to the secretion of an enzyme called ptyalin, which creates an alkaline condition. So they neutralize each other — this makes your gut “a breeding ground for bad bacteria and sets off an inflammation cascade,” Dr. Gioffre says.
“We are the most technologically advanced country in the world, and yet we die sooner [than people in other rich country], and more than 80 percent of people die from a chronic disease, Dr. Gioffre says. The No. 1 killer in America is heart disease. One in four adults had two or more chronic health conditions, according to the CDC.
Most Americans are not eating the way that they should, Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, says. “The majority of Americans are eating more than the recommended amount of saturated fats, sodium, and added sugar. And about three fourths of the U.S. population is eating too little vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.”
Coffee, milk, fries, grains (beer), processed food, carbonated drinks…Take your pick. Consuming too many acid-producing products leads to acidity in your urine and chronic inflammation, which can lead to serious health problem on the long run. Too much acidity in your body can also increase your risk for developing cancer, as well as liver and heart diseases.
“In the U.S., we are consuming too much added sugar!” Gorin says. This is especially the case with sugary breakfast foods, such as doughnuts and pastries—and even smoothies with too much added sugar. “You can easily whip up a healthy breakfast that’s sweet and contains no added sugar but is full of health-helping nutrients,” she adds.
After the short-lived sugar rush comes the sugar crash. A study by the University of Illinois found that, matched calorie for calorie with the simple sugar glucose, fructose causes significant weight gain, physical inactivity, and body fat deposition. The mice that consumed more sugars traveled about 20 percent less, possibly because they gained weight. This is how eating ton of sugar really harms your body.
“In America, we are also eating a lot of salty foods such as some processed meats and certain frozen meals,” Gorin says. Making small swaps can help to reduce your sodium intake. “For instance, instead of adding three ounces of turkey breast deli meat—and more than 500 milligrams of sodium—to a sandwich, top a fresh veggie salad with plant-based proteins, instead, she says. You can add pistachios, which are among highest protein-containing nuts, or tofu, which is high in protein and low in sodium, she adds. This is how consuming too much sodium really harms the body.
They can increase your “bad” LDL cholesterol, lower your “good” HDL cholesterol, and raise your chance of heart disease, Gorin says. You can work to avoid them by reading ingredient labels to make sure that no partially hydrogenated oils are on the ingredient list. “These fats tend to lurk in foods like packaged desserts.” Gorin recommends instead making your own healthy, whole foods dessert such as a chocolate-banana nice cream, made of just bananas and unsweetened cocoa powder.
Behavioral changes may be due to a combination of both sugar and fat, according to research. Eating foods high in sugar decreases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps cells communicate to learn and form memories. Lower levels of BDNF are linked to higher blood glucose levels, increasing the risk of depression and Alzheimer’s.
Some may be confused about what “whole foods” really means. These are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined before consumptions. This also applies to foods that have been processed as little as possible. For example, instead of eating sugary breakfast cereal in the morning, make yourself a veggie omelet.
“It saddens me to see people missing out on fruits and veggies,” Gorin says. Adding these to your diet is one of the easiest ways to make it healthier—and these foods are rich in water, which means that they can help fill you up and help you eat less overall, she adds. “They’re also full of health-helping vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.”
“I think a large part of it is convenience and habit,” Gorin says. If you’re eating on the go, a lot of the foods that are available are the ones that are higher in calories, saturated fat, or added sugar, she adds. The office is a breeding ground for bad diet habits. What are the most largely available snacks there – pretzels, pizza, vending machine favorites such as chips, and soda, which is slowly killing you.
“Just planning ahead a little—whether that means finding a restaurant with healthier options or picking the healthiest item off the menu before you arrive at the restaurant—will benefit you greatly, Gorin says. Add some exercise to your day, make time for a walk after a meal to help digestion, and, perhaps surprisingly, pay cash for food. Credit card payments increase unhealthy food purchases, according to a study. This is because giving away actual bills is psychologically grimmer than simply swiping a credit card.
“You can do some light meal prep ahead of time at home, even if that’s slicing and bagging veggies over the weekend so you can add them to your sandwich or toss them into a stir-fry during the week,” Gorin says. Set a day for cooking. Make big portions of things you like so you have leftovers and you don’t have to think about cooking for a few days. One roast chicken, for example, can be turned into four meals with a salad or in a wrap.
Some of Gorin’s favorite suggestions for eating more fruits and veggies are to blend a banana into a smoothie, serve roasted asparagus alongside chicken breast or salmon, or add onions and green beans to a stir-fry. “I always keep frozen fruits and vegetables in my freezer so I have no excuses,” she adds.
People seem to be into smoothies a lot lately. However, some commercial smoothies have too much sugar, especially if they only contain fruits and no veggies at all. Some of the worst drinks that people think are healthy is the Naked juices that you see everywhere. Take a look at the amount of sugar – it’s the amount of over two candy bars. Some have 53 grams of it.