July 1, 2013 - Obesity is America’s newest epidemic. We are what we eat is a thought which we all need to take even more seriously than we ever have before in our current civilized society.
Over the past fifty years foods and the manner in which we eat have evolved dramatically from home cooked meals to prepared pre-package foods loaded with salt, sugar and fat according to a recent bestselling book by Michael Moss, entitled Salt, Sugar, and Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss.
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar and two teaspoons of salt per day. Two teaspoons of salt equates to 4,650 milligrams. We don’t even recognize that we are addicted to the taste as we think it is the new normal. Food scientists have a term called the “Bliss Point,” which is actually a plateau where our taste buds and brain receptors become accustomed to having these quantities in order for us to think the food tastes good.
In actuality, newborns and infants like sweets; this is adaptive because they need the calories to double their weight in six months and triple it in a year. Infants, however, have no predilection for salt—at least not until they are exposed to these substances and grow up to want more.
Considering the increasing rates of diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes—not only in America but across the world—we have opportunities to better control our intake. There have been notable success stories within entire countries.
Finland had an epidemic of heart attacks and strokes about forty years ago, presumably due to high blood pressure secondary to salt consumption. At that time the average consumption per day was more than two teaspoons of salt. Most of the salt load was from processed food which were subsequently labeled “High Salt Content.” This awareness along with an ambitious public education program had a dramatic positive effect. By 2007, Finland’s per person consumption dropped by one third and there was an astounding 80% decrease in the number of deaths from strokes and heart attacks.
Processed foods are loaded with salt. A hamburger from a fast food outlet, for example, can contain 700 milligrams of salt—equivalent to a third of a teaspoon—compared to a hamburger prepared at home which may have as little at 70 milligrams of salt.
Fat also has remarkable powers to make food more attractive but is not healthful in the quantities we have become accustomed to in America. A hunk of cheddar cheese is one- third fat, and two-thirds of the calories in cheese are delivered from fat. While sugar and salt hit our tongues instantly, fat is far more subtle. Food scientists describe this sensation at “mouth feel.” The wonderful sensation of premium ice cream melting in our mouths, the creaminess of cheese cake or cream cheese on a toasted bagel are all nice examples of mouth feel.
The combinations, along with the qualities and quantities of salt, sugar, and fat, have accelerated all of our struggles with weight gain and the unhealthy consequences. Understanding that prepackaged foods, although convenient, are addictive and unhealthy is an initial step back to a healthy diet. Preparing food at home will take more effort initially but is well worth the investment in decreasing harmful side effects later on in life. We are what we eat and we can do better.