By Dr. Mercola
A professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, Tim Spector, wanted to find out what happens to your gut if you eat only fast food, specifically McDonald’s, for 10 solid days.
His son, Tom, became the willing guinea pig and reported his symptoms, as well as sent stool samples to different labs, throughout the 10-day trial. If you watched Morgan Spurlock's documentary “Super-Size Me,” you probably have an idea of how the experiment panned out…
“Tom said that for three days he felt ok, but then started to become more lethargic and turned a slight gray color according to his friends. He reported feeling bad the last few days and says he also experienced some withdrawal symptoms,” TIME reported.1
The most revealing results came from the stool samples, however, which revealed what the fast food had done to Tom’s gut…
Gut Microbes ‘Devastated’ After 10 Days of Fast Food
Nearly 100 trillion bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms compose your body's microflora, and advancing science has made it quite clear that these organisms play a major role in your health, both mental and physical.
When you eat too many grains, sugars, and processed foods, these foods serve as “fertilizer” for pathogenic microorganisms and yeast, causing them to rapidly multiply. Meanwhile, microbial diversity is also important.
In one study, the hunter-gatherer Yanomami tribe—which had never come in contact with outsiders prior to the researchers’ arrival, and have never been exposed to antibiotics—had about 50 percent greater microbial diversity than American subjects.
They also had 30 percent to 40 percent more diversity than the Guahibo and the Malawian tribes, the latter two of which have adopted some Western lifestyle components, such as living indoors and using antibiotics.2 According to one of the authors:3
“As cultures around the world become more ‘Western,’ they lose bacteria species in their guts… At the same time, they start having higher incidences of chronic illnesses connected to the immune system, such as allergies, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune disorders, and multiple sclerosis.”
Echoing these sentiments were the results from Tom’s stool samples during and after 10 days of a fast food diet. The results, from Cornell University and the British Gut Project, found his gut microbes were “devastated.”
About 40 percent of his bacteria species were lost, which amounted to about 1,400 different types. Losses of microbial diversity such as this have been linked to diabetes and obesity.4
Food Industry Does Little to Improve Health as Part of UK’s ‘Responsibility Deal’
In 2012, the UK’s Department of Health created The Public Health Responsibility Deal (RD), a public–private partnership involving voluntary pledges between government and the food industry in an effort to improve public health.
Some of the interventions agreed upon included improved nutrition labeling, salt and calorie reduction, and increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
There were problems from the start, as the Department of Health charged the food industry itself, including companies such as McDonald's, KFC, PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars, and Diageo, with writing the policies.
Health secretary at the time, Andrew Lansley, set up five "responsibility deal" networks with businesses and according to The Guardian:5
"The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises... In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed."
Industry members were allowed to decide which interventions they would follow through on, and there were no penalties for not completing the interventions or for not committing to any at all.
New Study: Responsibility Deal Failed…
Now, new research has assessed whether the Responsibility Deal is working as planned… and revealed it has failed quite miserably. Not only has it not improved eating habits among Britons, but most of the food pledges do not reflect the most effective strategies to improve diet, such as restrictions on marketing and reducing sugar intake.6 Further, the study revealed:
“Most RD partners appear to have committed to interventions that probably were already underway.”
And as The Guardian reported:7
“Most of the pledges concerned providing information, raising awareness, and communicating with consumers, steps that evidence shows ‘may have limited effect…’ a focus on sugar intake is absent from the promises.
Even though it is increasingly recognized as a major contributor to rising obesity levels and despite ‘good evidence that an explicit focus by industry members on reducing sugars in processed and pre-packaged foods could have a positive impact on public health.’
In addition, ‘though RD partners claim that considerable sugar reduction has occurred under their calorie reduction pledge, the current [companies’ own] progress reports do not substantiate these claims.”
Simon Capewell, professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Liverpool University, further pointed out that asking the food industry to voluntarily make their products healthier was unlikely to happen:8
“The very idea that industries whose profits rely on unhealthy products would voluntarily do anything to cut sales is like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas. We and our families will pay the price in terms of disability and death for the coalition government pursuing the responsibility deal and shunning more effective policies.”
Is the Food Industry Marketing Less Junk Food to Kids on TV?
In the US, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) created the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which is “a voluntary self-regulation program comprising many of the nation's largest food and beverage companies.”9
Members of this Initiative pledge to only feature food options that meet certain criteria in ads directed at kids, while at the same time not emphasizing toys and promotional characters that will obviously heavily influence a child’s perception of the food.
Historically, research has shown that the food industry’s supposed self-regulation is nonsense, so is this voluntary initiative working? Many of the companies have met their targets; for instance, Kellogg pledged to feature foods with no more than 200 calories and 12 grams of added sugar per serving to kids.10
However, when researchers assessed the efficacy of industry self-regulation by comparing advertising content on children’s TV programs before and after self-regulation was implemented, they found the changes have done little improve the overall nutritional quality of foods marketed to children.
They may have met their targets, but the foods being advertised are still far from healthy. According to the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:11
“Findings indicated that no significant improvement in the overall nutritional quality of foods marketed to children has been achieved since industry self-regulation was adopted. In 2013, 80.5% of all foods advertised to children on TV were for products in the poorest nutritional category, and thus pose high risk for contributing to obesity.
The lack of significant improvement in the nutritional quality of food marketed to children is likely a result of the weak nutritional standards for defining healthy foods employed by industry, and because a substantial proportion of child-oriented food marketers do not participate in self-regulation.”
9-Year-Old Petitions Crayola to Stop Marketing Artificially Colored Candies
Even Crayola, most well-known for its crayons and markers, has jumped on the junk food bandwagon. Among their products are artificially colored (and flavored) candies designed to color your tongue while you eat them. They’re actually called “Color Your Mouth” candies… and are packaged to resemble the brand’s crayons and markers.
In 2007, a carefully designed, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the journal The Lancet concluded that a variety of common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate cause some children to become measurably more hyperactive and distractible.12 This wasn’t the first time such a link had been established. In 1994, researchers found that 73 percent of children with ADHD responded favorably to an elimination diet that included removing artificial colors.13
But in the case of the Lancet study, it prompted the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) to issue an immediate advisory to parents, warning them to limit their children's intake of additives if they notice an effect on behavior. They also advised the food industry to voluntarily remove the six food dyes named in the study and replace them with natural alternatives if possible.
In the US, however, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow these toxic ingredients in countless popular foods, including those marketed directly to children.
Nine-year-old Alessandra, who herself has experienced behavioral problems after eating artificial dyes and is highly sensitive to many artificial foods, is now petitioning Crayola to stop the use of unnecessary and unhealthy dyes, especially in a product marketed directly to kids.14 If you’d like to get involved, you can sign the petition to Crayola President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Perry, calling for the company to “stop telling kids to color their mouth with fake dyed candies.”
Food Industry Tries to Salvage Remaining Trans Fats in Foods…
In 2013, the FDA announced it would consider removing partially hydrogenated oils—the primary source of heart-destroying trans fats—from the list of "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) ingredients. If finalized, the FDA's decision means that food manufacturers can no longer use partially hydrogenated oils, i.e. trans fats, in their products without jumping through hoops to get special approval.
An estimated 5,000 Americans die from heart disease caused by synthetic trans fats each year, and another 15,000 will get heart disease as a result of eating too many trans fats.
Other CDC statistics suggest that as many as 20,000 heart attacks could be avoided each year by eliminating trans fats from the food supply.15 As the health risks became widely known, food companies began quietly removing the ingredient from their foods, and trans fat intake has steadily decreased over the past several years.
According to FDA estimates, Americans consumed an average of one gram of trans fat per day in 2012, compared to 4.6 grams per day in 2003. However, according to the Institute of Medicine, trans fat is unsafe at any level.
The FDA’s final trans fat ruling is set to be released, and it’s expected the ruling will essentially force food companies to remove all synthetic trans fats from their products. Unfortunately, the food industry is fighting back, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is leading an effort to draft a petition in favor of trans fats.16 The GMA apparently believes low levels of trans fats are safe and wants to continue to use partially hydrogenated oils in your food. If the petition is accepted, the FDA’s ruling may allow for “very limited amounts” of trans fats to remain in food – even though it’s been widely proven that no amount of synthetic trans fats should be consumed.
Ditch the Processed Foods and Get Healthy: ‘We’re Not Buying It’
If you want to eat (and be) healthy, I suggest you follow the pre-1950s model and spend quality time in the kitchen preparing high-quality meals for yourself and your family. If you rely on processed inexpensive foods, you exchange convenience for long-term health problems and mounting medical bills.
For a step-by-step guide to make this a reality in your own life, simply follow the advice in my optimized nutrition plan along with these seven steps to wean yourself off processed foods. Unfortunately, marketing is everywhere, and you cannot insulate your child from all of it all of the time.
However, in terms of mental and physical health, junk food ads are among the most harmful, and here you can lend your support for change. Talk to your kids about what they're seeing, and why fast food and processed foods simply aren't good for them—despite what the ad says.
Remember, ads are designed to sell products; not to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth... The Prevention Institute's "We're Not Buying It" campaign17 has petitioned President Obama to put voluntary, science-based nutrition guidelines into place for companies that market foods to kids. I urge you to go a step further and also stop supporting the companies that are marketing junk foods to your children today.