The Modern Food System and the Roots of Obesity

Story at-a-glance -

  • In a multi-part BBC documentary by investigative reporter Jacques Peretti, the foundational reasons behind the obesity epidemic are revealed
  • Government and the food and beverage industry have massively contributed to your expanding waistline by promoting low-fat diets, processed foods, CAFOs, and foods loaded with sugar (especially fructose) and artificial sweeteners
  • Today’s sky-high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease can be tied directly to changes in how our food has been grown and produced over the past 40 years
  • Humans are genetically programmed to seek energy-dense foods, which served us well thousands of years ago when food was scarce but is maladaptive in today’s environment of readily accessible, cheap, high-calorie but nutritionally bankrupt foods; the modern diet has tripped our “fat switch,” as Dr. Richard J. Johnson discusses in his new book
  • Even if you appear lean and healthy, you may have a dangerous buildup of fat around your internal organs; MRI scans are revealing people are accumulating more visceral fat, which is the most dangerous kind of fat for your health

By Dr. Mercola

If you've ever felt that you're overweight, it's your own fault because you are not smart enough to eat the right foods and you're too lazy to exercise... that's exactly what the government and food industry would like you to believe.

But in reality, government and industry share the blame for your ever-expanding waistline, as a new BBC documentary explores in detail. In this revealing film airing on BBC Two, investigative reporter Jacques Peretti explores the obesity epidemic and the roles government and industry have played. Although his focus is on the obesity problem in the UK, his findings are also appropriate for the US as well.

Please understand that I am not suggesting you are completely absolved of any responsibility for your size and health status. However, there are factors beyond your control, and the only way to avoid those "booby-traps" is to educate yourself so that you will be able to recognize and avoid these deceptive obesity landmines.

As with American adults, two-thirds of our British counterparts are overweight, and one in four is obese. Obesity is a problem of epic proportions because it increases your risk for a number of other serious diseases. This societal problem has emerged in just the past four decades, in spite of (and because of) misguided dietary guidelines.

What's happened over the last 40 years that would explain the widening girth of Americans and Brits alike? Our entire system of food production has changed.

Humans are Genetically Programmed to Seek Energy Dense Foods

In Paleolithic times (until about 12,000 years ago), the human diet consisted of primarily meats, non-starchy vegetables, seafood, nuts, seeds, and occasionally fruit. There was no processed food or refined sugar – not even bread, cereal, potatoes, or pasteurized dairy – a far cry from the standard American (and British) diet.

Food was much harder to come by, so humans developed a taste for foods that were nutritionally and calorically dense, which helped prevent starvation. It was literally feast or famine, as we had to "load up" when food was available. The craving for high-energy foods was programmed into our very genes, where it remains today.

However, what's different today is the constant accessibility of high-energy, calorie-packed foods that provide us with far more energy than we require. One of the most thorough looks into "Stone Age" nutrition was done by Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet and considered to be one of the world's leading experts on Paleolithic nutrition.

Dr. Cordain states:

"The nutritional qualities of modern processed foods and foods introduced during the Neolithic period are discordant with our ancient and conservative genome. This genetic discordance ultimately manifests itself as various chronic illnesses, which have been dubbed 'diseases of civilization.'

By severely reducing or eliminating these foods and replacing them with a more healthful cuisine, possessing nutrient qualities more in line with the foods our ancestors consumed, it is possible to improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease."

Our Stone-Age ancestors not only ate an incredibly wide variety of natural foods. Dr. Mark Berry, who is involved in Paleolithic nutrition research, explained that Paleolithic humans ate 20 to 25 different plant foods each day. Today, many Americans struggle to fit in five.The truth is, the typical American diet is incredibly monotonous and does not include the variety of nutritious foods upon which our body was designed to thrive.

Not only are we eating less of what we should be eating, but we're also consuming a lot of things we shouldn't be. And we're expending less energy from physical activity than our Stone-Age predecessors, who probably burned between 800 and 1,200 calories per day just hunting buffalo and dodging tigers – many times more than the modern city dweller inhabiting his "computer cave." Professor Jimmy Bell, obesity specialist at Imperial College in London, states:1

"Genetically, human beings haven't changed, but our environment, our access to cheap food has."

When you combine insufficient exercise, supersized junk food, uncontrolled stress, inadequate sleep, genetically engineered "frankenfoods," lack of sunshine and the resulting vitamin D deficiency, is it really any surprise we've gotten weaker and sicker? Next, let's take a look at some of the most significant underlying factors driving obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Click here to find out why 5G wireless is NOT harmlessClick here to find out why 5G wireless is NOT harmless

Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside?

Could you be thin on the outside but fat on the inside? A surprising number of people are; so many that the phenomenon has been given a name: TOFI, which stands for "thin outside fat inside." MRI scans, which allows body fat distribution to be visualized, are revealing a disturbing trend. People are becoming fatter on the inside, around their internal organs (visceral fat), even when they are thin on the outside.

Why is this a concern?

Studies prove that increased visceral fat is linked to a higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Jacques Peretti, who you can see in the film to be a reasonably lean person, volunteered himself for an MRI body fat assessment. They discovered Peretti had twice the amount of visceral fat as what is considered safe. According to the MRI physician, his kidneys are "swimming in a sea of fat." So, although being able to fit into those skinny jeans is a great start, it does not necessarily mean you're healthy and low risk – your insides might reveal a completely different picture. Subcutaneous fat may be more visible, but visceral fat is far more dangerous to your health.

Visceral fat, together with elevated blood pressure, unstable blood sugar and unhealthy lipid levels make up what we call "metabolic syndrome," which in turn increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Like all body fat, diet and exercise will help keep your visceral fat levels to a minimum, however there appear to be other factors involved as well, including dietary choices and the health of your digestive tract.

One of the most nefarious villains in the Western diet is sugar, particularly fructose in the form of high fructose corn syrup, as endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig explains in the following lecture.

The Sugar Tsunami

The number of calories the average Westerner consumes has jumped dramatically since the introduction of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). According to the featured BBC documentary, Americans consume an average of 3,900 calories per day now, compared to 3,200 calories per day in the 1970s and early 1980s. We are consuming twice as much energy as we need, and from the wrong sources.

One of the primary sources of calories in the American diet is soda, along with grain-based desserts and commercial breads – all of which are loaded with HFCS. About 90 percent of all the money Americans spend on food (both groceries and food outside the home) is spent on processed foods2 that are notoriously high in added, or "hidden" fructose.

The average American consumes 142 pounds of added sugars per year,3 which is an incredibly high metabolic load on your liver. Food scientist Dr. Jean-Marc Schwarz of the San Francisco General Hospital has been studying how sugars like HFCS are quickly and easily converted into fat.

The toxicity of fructose is not the fructose itself but rather the unnaturally high, super-concentrated quantities being consumed today. Peretti aptly describes it as a "tsunami of sugar" hitting your liver over and over again, day after day, generating fats in the blood that can lead to diabetes and other chronic problems.

Fructose also suppresses leptin, which is the hormone that tells your brain not to eat that second piece of chocolate cake. Lack of leptin signaling makes your brain think you're starving, no matter how much you've had to eat.

According to Dr. Lustig and other experts, sugar has an extremely addictive effect. The more sugar the food industry puts into processed foods, the more sugar Americans buy. One study showed refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine, a fact that is supported by the extensive work of Dr. Richard Johnson of the University of Colorado, whose interview about the health hazards of excess dietary sugar follows.

Total Video Length: 43:35

The Fat Switch

If you have ever struggled losing weight and keeping it off, you already know what a challenge that can be. Dr. Johnson has just published a book, called The Fat Switch, which presents a groundbreaking approach to preventing and reversing obesity. According to Dr. Johnson, based on his decades of research:

"Those of us who are obese eat more because of a faulty 'switch' and exercise less because of a low energy state. If you can learn how to control the specific 'switch' located in the powerhouse of each of your cells – the mitochondria – you hold the key to fighting obesity."

There are five basic truths that Dr. Johnson explains in detail in his new book:

  • Large portions of food and too little exercise are the result of your fat switch being turned on
  • Metabolic Syndrome is the normal condition that animals undertake to store fat
  • Uric acid is increased by specific foods and causes obesity and insulin resistance
  • Fructose-containing sugars cause obesity not by calories but by turning on the fat switch
  • Effective treatment of obesity requires turning off your fat switch and improving the function of your cells' mitochondria

I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, which has been described as the "Holy Grail" for those struggling with their weight. Dietary sugar is a significant "tripper of your fat switch," so let's now examine the relationship of sugar to your heart and blood vessels.

The TRUE Cause of Heart Disease: Sugar or Fat?

Nothing is more telling about the damage done by this "sugar tsunami" than our current rates of heart disease. In the mid-1970s, a fierce debate raged behind the closed doors of academia over heart disease. It boiled down to one simple question: what causes heart disease – sugar or fat? Thanks to some very misguided researchers, it was decided fat was to blame.The demonization of fat – particularly, animal fat – resulted in an entirely new genre: "low-fat" products.

However, once fat was removed, food tasted terrible, so something had to be added to improve the taste so that people would buy it. The perfect solution was to add sugar. The public embraced the new products, believing them to be more healthful. Were they ever wrong!

The low-fat craze, persisting for the past several decades, has resulted in nothing but increased heart attacks, strokes, obesity, liver disease, and diabetes…just about every chronic disease you see today is on the rise.

If avoiding saturated fat were really good for your heart, we'd have the healthiest nation in the world. Instead, we have one of the sickest. Replacing fat with sugar has been one of the most disastrous nutritional recommendations in human history, if not THE WORST. With each new study, science is proving the low-fat diet has been an absolute disaster. Like a snowball barreling downhill at high velocity… it's going to take a lot of work to slow it down.

Fake Foods and the Brain Destroying Chemicals They're Made Of

The foods eaten today bear little resemblance to the foods of our ancestors. The additives in processed food do nothing for you nutritionally, and in fact are anti-nutrients.

For example, one common food additive that, like fructose, has addictive properties is monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG excites the part of your brain that's in charge of fat storage – it's even used to fatten up mice for scientific studies because it's the perfect obesity drug. And this little chemical menace is added to 80 percent of all flavored foods.

Stay Away From Fake Sugars!

Perhaps the worst of the worst are artificial sweeteners. Consider aspartame, which is sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal. Diet cola, which often combines aspartame and caffeine, is the perfectly addictive beverage. These two agents create a very unique but deadly combination of excitotoxins that kill off your brain cells. However, before they do so, they go out with a bang by giving you something akin to a buzz. Ironically, studies now show that, in spite of their zero-calorie status, many artificial sweeteners actually cause weight GAIN because they stimulate your body to crave carbohydrates. But weight gain may be the least of your worries.

The food industry claims aspartame is safe. However, if you look at the studies professing to support aspartame's safety, you will see that 90 percent of them were funded by the food and beverage industry.

When you examine independent aspartame studies, it's a totally different story. Ninety percent of those have found serious health problems related to aspartame. The FDA merely evaluates the studies that the industry submits – it doesn't have a team of researchers conducting those studies itself, contrary to what you might expect. The truth is that aspartame causes formaldehyde to build up in your brain, which results in all sorts of potentially serious medical problems, including:

Frontal lobe inflammation Visual disturbances Migraines
A syndrome similar to multiple sclerosis Seizures Cognitive problems
Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia Symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease Symptoms similar to attention deficit disorder

An American Holiday Tradition: Binge Eating

When HFCS was first developed and added to processed foods in the early 1980s, it was simply a sugar replacement that spelled increased profits because it was so much cheaper than sugar. For the food and beverage industry and the corn growers, it was a no-brainer. Within short order, it was added to everything from soup to nuts. Literally!

It hasn't taken long for entire nations to become sugar junkies. Americans even build national holidays around food binges. For example, on Super Bowl Sunday, Americans consume:

  • 14,000 tons of tortilla chips, 1.25 billion chicken wings, and 75 million pepperoni pizzas
  • 30 million pounds of "snacks"4
  • 50 million cases of beer5
  • 1,200 calories during the game alone
  • 20 percent more antacid drugs the day after (no surprise there)

And those statistics apparently pale in comparison to Thanksgiving. A country SO food-obsessed and completely steeped in sugar is doomed to poor health, unless you take charge of your choices and become educated enough to avoid being duped by clever marketers. Many of the products advertised as "healthy" are simply not so.

A good first step is taking the time to view the above documentary, which presents an excellent overview of the history, political forces and other issues related to the obesity epidemic. With a little time and effort, you can learn how to make better lifestyle decisions, thereby sidestepping many of the health perils plaguing Westerners today.