Read an Excerpt
Digestive WellnessCompletely Revised and Updated
By Elizabeth Lipski
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2005 Elizabeth Lipski
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe American Way of Life Is Hazardous to Our Health
"Of the ten leading causes of death in the United States, four, including the top three, are associated with dietary excess: coronary heart disease, some types of cancer, stroke, and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Together these conditions account for nearly two-thirds of the deaths occurring each year in the United States." —Betty Frzazo, "The High Cost of Poor Diets," USDA Food Review
Our physical bodies are composed of the foods we eat. That's frightening because today we are part of a massive, uncontrolled food science experiment. What happens when, for more than three generations, people are fed highly processed foods that lack nutrients and fiber and are loaded with chemicals? What happens when you put these same people under high levels of stress in sedentary jobs with poor air and water quality? Is it a coincidence that men's sperm counts have declined by 50 percent since 1980 worldwide, that Americans are fatter than ever before, that we are more violent than ever before, and that more people are committing suicide? Is it a coincidence that 20 percent of our children have behavior or learning problems and that children and adults have rapidly increasing rates of allergies, asthma, and chronic ear infections? Is it a coincidence that our immune systems are breaking down or that diabetes and heart disease rates have risen dramatically over the past century? I don't think so.
Americans are the most overfed and undernourished people in the world. When you add up the calories that we consume each day from high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, nearly half of our caloric intake comes from nutritionally depleted foods. We get 18.6 percent of our calories each day from sugar, 21.4 percent from fats and oils, and 5 percent from sweetened soft drinks. Compare this to only 4.5 percent of our calories from vegetables and 3 percent from fruits. No wonder the standard American diet is "SAD." Current studies report that we are consuming more nutrients than ever before, but this is because of the alarming increase in total number of calories consumed daily. (See Figure 1.1.) The result is that we are getting fat.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2001:
Americans each ate on average 147 pounds of caloric sweeteners, which translates into nearly 6.5 ounces per day.
Cane and beet sugar consumption was down to a mere 64.4 pounds, while hidden corn sweeteners rose substantially to 81.4 pounds per person. We each ate a little less than a pound each of syrups and honey.
Americans drank 24.2 gallons or 258 cups of coffee.
On average, Americans consumed 74.5 pounds of added fats and oils, which includes 23.1 pounds of hydrogenated vegetable shortening.
Average Americans each ate 26.9 quarts of ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt, and ice milk.
The average American drank 25 gallons of alcohol, or more specifically, 21.7 gallons of beer, 2 gallons of wine, and 1.3 gallons of distilled liquor.
The average American drank 49 gallons of carbonated soft drinks, or more specifically, 11.8 gallons of diet soda and 37.2 gallons of caloric soft drinks.
On average, Americans each ate 4.3 pounds of potato chips, 22.2 pounds of candy, and 38 donuts.
Aside from eating too much fat, Americans also eat the wrong kind. In 1910, a process called hydrogenation was invented, which turned liquid oils into solid fat that was inexpensive, suitable for frying and baking, and didn't go rancid. Since then, manufacturers replaced healthy oils with hydrogenated fats in thousands of products. On labels, you see them listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils or as vegetable shortening. According to the FDA, these "trans" fats now comprise about 2.6 percent of daily calories for those of us age twenty and older. These restructured fats are detrimental to our health and have been implicated in cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions.
Because of new regulations, trans fats will have to be listed on food labels by January of 2006. But why wait to eliminate them from your diet? Avoiding trans fats could be the dietary change that makes the largest impact because they are in nearly every processed food. This one change could help you vastly increase your consumption of more nutritious foods.
Although we eat too much fat, many of us are still deficient in essential fatty acids (good fats), especially the omega-3 fatty acids that are in seafood, grains, nuts, and seeds. These essential fatty acids are critical for growth, healing, reduction of pain and inflammation, healthy skin, reproduction, nervous system functioning, and overall well-being.
Dietary changes can substantially reduce the incidence of heart disease. Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, selenium, nitric oxide, glutathione, and carotenoids protect our blood vessels from inflammation—a process that is now believed to be associated with heart disease. But these nutrients are stripped from our highly processed foods. An elevated homocysteine level in our blood is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Increasing dietary and supplemental levels of vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid can normalize homocysteine levels. B vitamins are also lacking in the SAD diet. It's estimated that taking a multivitamin with B-complex vitamins could prevent 10 percent of deaths from heart disease.
The average person consumes 12 grams of fiber daily, according to studies done by the USDA and the National Institutes of Health. This falls far short of the recommendation of 20 to 30 grams and is half of what people ate 150 years ago. Dietary fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, is beneficial to our digestive tract and reduces risk of GI illness. Dennis Burkitt, father of the fiber revolution, found almost no appendicitis, colon disease, diabetes, or hiatal hernia in people eating traditional African diets, which are high in fiber. When these people move to cities or change to a Westernized diet—of high-sugar, highly processed, low-fiber, and low-nutrient-density foods—they begin to develop these illnesses at the usual rates. Fiber-rich foods help us manufacture short-chained fatty acids, which protect us against diseases of the colon.
We have changed not only our diets, but also the way we eat—for the worse. Often, we eat the same way we put gas in our cars: stop, fuel, go. We eat 45 percent of meals away from home, up from 39 percent in 1980 and 34 percent in 1970. Many of us skip breakfast, and others skip breakfast and lunch. Studies show that school-age children perform better when they've eaten breakfast. Adults are no different. In fact, small, frequent meals keep our energy levels even and our minds alert.
Americans often overeat socially and emotionally. This too contributes to digestive illness. We eat to give nourishment to our bodies, but meals are also a time for relaxation, rest, refreshment, and renewal. If we are relaxed while eating, we digest food better. People seem to know this intuitively. Saying grace or taking a couple of moments to center ourselves before eating is a global custom.
Food and the Environment
Thousands of years ago, people foraged and hunted for food. When populations increased, people learned how to farm and propagate plants and animals so that more people could be fed with regularity. Farmers used to grow many foods, rotate crops, and use natural fertilizers. Foods grown nearby were eaten fresh and primarily in season.
Today, we depend on the global economy to produce and supply our food. Are the foods that are shipped from far away just as nutritious as those grown locally? A ripe, juicy tomato from your backyard has about the same measurable nutritional value as those whitish-orange hothouse tomatoes on sale in winter. But, even though they have the same "scientific" measurements, our intuitive measurement tells us they are different.
The life in food gives us life. Once a plant is picked or an animal killed, a grain split or milk homogenized, it begins to lose its enzymatic activity. Transporting foods over long distances diminishes their life-giving capacity. Statistically, canned, frozen, and packaged foods often contain great nutrients, but we know instinctively that they're different from fresh or homemade foods. They don't have the essential enzymes that are critical aids to digestion and metabolism. Fresh fruits, vegetables, local fish and game, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds give us these necessary enzymes. If your body doesn't have to work overtime making enzymes, it has more energy for other processes. Whole foods are in balance with themselves and with nature. When we eat them, we benefit from their balance.
Not only are our foods processed, but they are also preserved. Preservation and packaging of food has killed much of the bacteria that cause food to spoil, helping to lengthen shelf life. But at the same time, we have also destroyed the beneficial bacteria and enzymes that help maintain our health.
Our soils are being depleted. Most food in America is grown on corporate agrifarms that grow monocrops. Chemical fertilizers add only the nutrients necessary for healthy plants, not nutrient-rich foods. Between 1993 and 1997, 19 to 24 percent of foods tested positive for pesticide residues. Pesticides have neurotoxic effects and can cause damage to our nervous systems. They are especially harmful to children whose small bodies are exposed to more pesticides per unit of weight than adults. The good news is that organic farming and integrated pest management are gaining momentum.
Most of our produce is hybridized. Its nutrient value is often sacrificed for pesticide resistance, ease of transportation, or appearance. Many of these hybridized foods look or taste better than their old counterparts, but corn, for instance, has 14 percent less protein now than it did forty years ago. Throughout the world groups of people now collect seeds from nonhybrid food plants and grow them. Someday we may be very grateful for these pioneers who are helping to protect biodiversity.
Food Preparation and Technology
The average American diet is seriously depleted in many nutrients because of food processing that destroys or extracts nutrients. For example, whole wheat contains twenty-two vitamins and minerals that are removed to make white flour. After the bran and germ are removed from the whole wheat kernel, 98 percent of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), 91 percent of manganese, 84 percent of magnesium, and 87 percent of fiber are extracted. One of the many lost nutrients is chromium, which is critical for maintenance of blood-sugar levels, normalizing high serum cholesterol levels, and fat burning. The incidence of diabetes has risen steadily in the past decade. It is estimated that 18 percent of all Americans over the age of sixty have diabetes. Most of this is largely preventable with improved diet, lifestyle, and micronutrients, such as chromium and magnesium.
From the earliest times, people salted meats and other foods to cure them. Later they canned foods with sugar, salt, and vinegar to keep them from perishing. Today, because food is produced and shipped from afar, manufactured chemical additives are put into foods to stabilize and preserve them. More than three thousand food additives are used in the United States alone—dyes, artificial flavors, dough conditioners, texturing agents, anticaking agents, and so on—to extend shelf life and enhance flavor, appearance, consistency, and texture. The average person eats an alarming fourteen pounds of additives each year.
While research shows that only a tiny percentage of the population is sensitive to food additives, I have seen many people in my practice with sensitivities. For instance, it is well documented that sulfites cause asthma and respiratory problems in sensitive individuals. The long-term effects of food additives on children are of special concern. Children consume more harmful substances per body weight than adults. Many researchers have found that additives caused significant behavior and learning problems in children who are sensitive to them. What are the long-term effects? No one really knows.
Additives have been tested singly but never in combination.
The chemistry experiment going on inside of us reminds me of my favorite experiment with a childhood chemistry set. I would mix two chemicals together and watch the test tube explode. Because the combining of food additives has not been tested, we have no idea what their synergistic effect really is. Healthy people can handle most food additives, but why burden your body with having to detoxify them?
Americans love the convenience of frozen foods. But if you read the labels, you'll find that most frozen foods contain additives that make the foods less perishable or less expensive. With careful shopping, you can find good-quality frozen foods.
Microwave cooking has spread like brush fire over the last two decades. Ninety percent of American homes have a microwave oven. Everyone seems to accept that cooking with microwave ovens is safe. Yet, a recent study from Swiss researcher Dr. Hans Ulrich Hertel reported that use of microwave cooking lowered hemoglobin levels and cholesterol levels while white blood counts rose. While this is only one study, I currently have a client who has used microwave cooking exclusively for the past fifteen years and he has found the same problems in his blood testing.
Studies show that when breast milk has been microwaved to 98.6° Fahrenheit, almost all the antibodies and lysozymes that protect us from infection are destroyed and vitamin C levels are diminished. One thing is for sure: microwaving foods is a recent innovation and we don't know what the long-term effects are. Until all the research has been done, I recommend conventional cooking methods—on the stove or in the oven.
Genetically engineered foods are a new concern in our food supply. For the first time, we now have genetically engineered foods available to us. They appear—without labeling—in a large percentage of the foods you find in your local grocery store. Technologists are splicing genes into dozens of foods to make them last longer, be juicier, grow bigger, and be more pest resistant. Proponents of genetically modified foods (GMF) believe that these engineered crops will reduce pesticide and herbicide usage, make crops more resistant to frost damage, make them more drought hardy, and increase nutritional value. Opposition to these foods is based on the fact that little long-term testing was performed prior to the rapid release of these foods into our global food supply. While the outcry has been large in Europe, Americans have been relatively quiet about the new food technology even though most of us are eating it on a regular basis. Many people are completely unaware of the issues involved.
Generally, the biotechnology has engineered changes to seeds that are planted. Soy and corn have been engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Round-Up. Formerly, when herbicides were sprayed, the soy or corn would also be affected. Now just the "weeds" are killed. When you eat foods that contain soy or corn that has not been organically grown, you are probably consuming these food products. Despite consumer protest, use of these crops is increasing steadily. In 1997, 17 percent of soybean acreage was planted in genetically modified crops. By 2001, 68 percent of the soybean acreage was planted in these crops and rose to 80 percent in 2003. Many processed foods contain soy derivatives, corn syrup, or corn starch. Cotton crops went from 10 percent herbicide resistant in 1997 to 56 percent in 2001. Only 10 percent of corn crops are herbicide resistant; however, additional varieties have been engineered with the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which makes the plant resistant to insects that go through a larval stage. Bt corn was introduced in 1996; by 1997 8 percent of corn was engineered with Bt, and that number was up to 30 percent in 2003. Because genetically modified foods were first developed in the mid-1990s, the long-term cost and environmental effectiveness is yet to be determined.
From an initial study done at Cornell University, there is concern that Bt corn will endanger monarch butterflies. Researchers dusted pollen from Bt corn onto the leaves of milkweed plants, which is the sole food of monarch butterflies. Nearly half of the caterpillars died and the remainder grew to only half their size. If monarch butterflies are so affected, what other animal species may also be impacted? Suffice it to say, more testing must be done before we can know the long-term environmental effects that these crops may produce.
The only sure way to avoid genetically modified foods is to buy and eat food products labeled "organic."
Excerpted from Digestive Wellness by Elizabeth Lipski Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Lipski. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.