When it comes to what we put in our bodies, Americans make poor choices. It’s clear that we suffer from diet-related diseases that are killing us. Some of the hazards in what casually passes for “food” in the Standard American Diet, or SAD, are clear and present: bad fats, sugars, empty calories, additives. Other hazards are not so clear: genetically modified organisms (GMOs), preservatives and processed foods.

As a rule of thumb, one can make a sweeping generalization that if you are not preparing the meals you eat completely from scratch or if you are dining out, you are eating food that detracts from your health, rather than promotes it. And, no, baking a frozen pizza is not cooking from scratch. Opening a can of black beans and making soup with it is not cooking from scratch. Bringing home a seasoned, breaded chicken breast from the most expensive of grocery stores and heating it in the oven is not cooking from scratch.

Why Americans are fat. The most obvious epidemic in America is obesity. The health problems linked to America’s weight problem are as vast as the waistlines of our masses. Heart disease, cancer, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, mental illness, autoimmune disease and a whole host of other complaints are linked to obesity. The billions if not trillions of dollars fat Americans cost the economy pales in comparison to the personal grief and lowered quality of life that parallels obesity.

Okay, here’s my theory for why we have an obesity epidemic. I’ve held it for decades and finally it’s supported by some research. Though many “experts” say obesity is caused by eating too much, moving too little and by genetics, that idea doesn’t ring true. The epidemic is too recent for genetics to be in play. Epidemiological studies have cast doubt on the “eating too much-moving too little” theory. But what is gaining traction is a take on obesity that I’ve long thought makes sense. The toxins we take in, either in our diet or otherwise, are the primary explanation for the fat epidemic. It’s not how much we eat. It’s what we choose to eat.

So-called food, processed and packaged by the agro-chemical industry, is laced with chemicals. Those chemicals are new to the planet, mostly invented in the last fifty years. Sources estimate that nearly 90,000 chemicals have been concocted since World War Two. The Environmental Protection Agency Master List records over 83,000 of them. Very few have even been tested for human safety and many chemicals are allowed in the food we eat.

Fatter living through chemistry. In the body, fat tissue has some important functions developed through evolution that contribute to our health. It is a rapid and available source of energy in the event we can’t find food. It’s a good insulator from cold and it’s actually an endocrine organ that secretes hormones needed in metabolic function. But one of the little-discussed de facto functions of fat is as a dumping ground for toxins and toxicants we consume or otherwise take into our body.

First, a little semantic clarity: A toxin is a substance poisonous to humans that is produced by a living cell, be it plant, animal or insect. But poisonous substances produced by human activity such as in a lab or by other human actions are properly called toxicants.

When a chemical is introduced into the body and the body has no evolved way of processing, metabolizing or excreting it, the body wants to get that poison as far away from vital organs as possible. One way of sequestering a noxious chemical in the body is to push it into a fat cell. It’s like storing those poisons out of site in the basement or garage. Trouble is, our garages are getting pretty big with all the chemicals we’re being forced absorb.

An easy way to look at it is that our bodies, through evolution over millions of years, know what to do with most naturally occurring substances. A doctor friend of mine once put it this way: “The human body knows what to do when we eat an apple. It knows how to metabolize it and break it down into substances we can use. But the body has absolutely no idea what to do when we eat aspartame [the common sweetener in sugar-free foods] or Red Number 3.”

Stuff like that gets dumped into fat cells. The more chemicals like that we consume, the more fat we need to dump them into. Why are most the people we see buying diet soda way overweight? Hmmm.

Organic answers. Choosing organic foods is not the be-all or end-all. But it is true that organic foods contain far fewer chemical pollutants. And people whine that organic food is pricier. In my experience, if you watch for sales and buy in-season, organic doesn’t have to be costlier. If you buy organic processed foods, you’re on your own. They are pricier. But processed is a bad idea, organic or conventional. And let’s give a shout out to the oft-maligned Whole Foods Markets. WF is a fantastic source for a wide range of real food and organic choices.

Just say “No” to GMO Genetically modified organisms have found their way into nearly all conventional foods over the past 20 years. They are a bad, bad deal. The health consequences of GMOs are still being revealed. One of the worst things about GMOs is that the industry is not required to identify GMO-added food. You are eating them and you don’t realize it. One obvious example is soy protein. About 97 percent of soybeans in the United States are genetically modified and proteins from them show up in untold amounts of food we eat.  Learn more about GMOs if you want to be healthy. And while you’re at it, endorse actions to enforce GMO labeling.

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at www.HeartlandHealing.com

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