Keeping it Real
Real Food, Science, and Health
“If a product has an advertisement, you don’t need it.”
What is real food and what does it have to do with our health? Despite a vibrant food movement, the state of human nutrition (and the food system that is supposed to deliver it) is in a state of steady decline. Metabolic disease now affects one quarter of the global population and the pandemics of type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity are ravaging whole communities and even entire countries. And, its not just about obesity: 40% of non-obese Americans have some form of metabolic disease and 31% of American adults and 13% of kids suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Yes, you can be thin on the outside and fat on the inside (TOFI).
Every human being on Earth has a metabolic system – a cellular engine that can be powerfully transformative and uplifting or degenerative and debilitating – killing us slowly and painfully over the course of our lives. The metabolic system is comprised of several organs, hormones and enzymes that work together to digest, absorb, process, transport, and excrete the nutrients that are essential to life. When this system becomes faulty, our metabolic health is affected, and a host of diseases set upon us. The condition of your metabolic system is the difference between wellness and illness.
This connection with our metabolic health is vital – yet we suffer greatly by ignoring the harmful effects of irresponsible foods in our diet, and the lack of personal, social, and corporate responsibility in relation to our food system. The leadership of the IRN believes that it is possible to transform our metabolic health (e.g. conquering obesity and type 2 diabetes, achieving optimal health, living a long and fulfilling life, etc.) in ways that greatly improve our quality of life. So what is the magic transformational tool for achieving this transformation? Is it pharmaceutical? A surgical procedure? A medical device of some kind? The shortest answer, and the simplest one, is real food.
Real food nourishes farmers, consumers, communities and the planet. It is comes from a food system delivers health rather than disease, and fundamentally respects the welfare of human beings and their environment. Sadly, much of the food industry has evolved to deliver products that are eroding the health of both people and the planet – on an epic scale. There are significant parallels between the health of our metabolic systems and our global ecosystems. Both rely on healthy inputs, and sustainable practices that are based in real science.
For the last few decades, much of our common understanding of nutrition science has been based upon ideas that are no longer supported by current science. Take the calorie for instance; a standard unit of measurement in the field of nutrition. The calorie measures energy, and the tool for doing this is something called the bomb calorimeter – basically an oven of sorts. Unfortunately, this laboratory instrument doesn’t replicate the metabolic system, nor does it measure the biochemistry of food, or micronutrients and bioactive constituents that real food conveys and that are ultimately translated into real health. Processed food and beverage companies want you to believe that “a calorie is a calorie,” and as long as you maintain an “energy balance” you can get your calories from potato chips, soda pop, or an “energy bar” – because they are all equally valid sources of calories. But we now know that this is marketing hype, not nutrition science. The reality is that the processed food experiment has failed.
“NO NATION HAS LOWERED OBESITY RATES IN 33 YEARS”
-NEW YORK TIMES
The food landscape is confusing and frustrating, and many of us are exhausted with all of the conflicting claims about nutrition. Worse yet, we wonder whether our food is even safe? Yesterday, butter was bad, and today it “butter is back” as a healthy food and “the war on fat” is over. One source tells us diets high in animal protein is bad and to go “low-fat, plant based,” and another says a diet “lower in carbs, higher in fat” is the way to go.
We ponder whether to go “organic,” “gluten free,” “low-glycemic,” or “paleolithic.” Our food labeling system is broken and seems to hide as much as it reveals, and the FDA doesn’t seem to be able to monitor or enforce what is being thrown into our food supply. Apparently, toxins are acceptable in our food, as long as they are below a certain number of “parts per million,” or if they kill us slowly over long periods of time.
Who or what can you believe? There is a long line of self-proclaimed food gurus who cherry-pick data and extol the latest fad diets, and nutritionists appear to lack any consensus about what is really good for us. Then we have a group of pseudo-scientists that work for global food corporations that are only interested in profit margins, not health outcomes. The nation’s largest organization representing Registered Dietitians is sponsored by Pepsi and Coca Cola!
The HSF is not going to tell you we that have it all figured out or that we have the answers to every question about nutrition – we don’t. Clearly, human dietary needs and nutrition science are evolving. It is easy to understand why we might be skeptical of what nutrition scientists are saying – but this shouldn’t prevent us from taking advantage of what the best science has to offer. It should be known that there is a core community of independent scientists, doctors, and professionals that are amassing an impressive body of nutrition science that is unbiased by commercial interests.
The idea of one-size-fits-all nutrition is dead, as typified by the USDA MyPlate. We need specific data to inform each of us what the optimal diet might be; and the bathroom scale simply isn’t enough information any more. We need biometrics like blood sugar, percentage of body fat, BMI, and other key data points. Tracking and monitoring our food can be quite revealing. Where do you go for all this information? *Most primary doctors have had minimal education in nutrition, and most health care systems are severely lacking in preventive health resources for patients.
We do know that processed foods are a huge part of the problem. We have begun debunking some of the most misleading myths that are promulgated by the food industry, and are focusing on the where the nutrition science is the most solid and compelling. There are some practical and relatively easy steps that we can all take right now, that don’t require special diets or reading science journals. A great start for learning more and taking first steps can be found in Sweet Revenge: Turning the tables on processed foods, a public television program hosted by Dr. Robert Lustig and available at a discount or free to all IRN donors.
There are ways to tell the difference between industry hype and real science.
There is no paradox with regard to the causes of obesity. The obesity paradox is a scientific fiction created by the same class of scientists as those that work for the tobacco companies and declare that there is no data to implicate nicotine in e-cigarettes as a health risk. Sugar and HFCS in beverages, juices and processed foods are major causes of obesity and the resulting diabetes and heart disease. Countries that have an increase in sugary drinks consumption have a rise in obesity and diabetes. Don’t trust conclusions from studies funded by corporate sponsors.
Just follow the money trail. Is the source a truly qualified and independent voice, or do they receive funding from questionable sources? Is the science peer reviewed and published in independent journals? With all due respect, we really don’t want nutrition advice from the kettle bell instructor at the gym or to “ask the experts” at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
The science is getting clearer. For example, after reviewing thousands of studies, the independent scientists at SugarScience.Org tell us conclusively that “There is robust evidence now linking excess sugar consumption with heart disease, diabetes and liver disease, in addition to tooth decay.”
Clearly, we need to limit or eliminate our daily intake of added sugar.
Finally, health is a team sport. You don’t have to do this alone, and the HSF is actively working to build a community that you can rely on for support and reliable, science-based information on nutrition. Together we can shape the way food is produced, marketed and distributed so we can end food-related illness and promote good health.
“Out of the 116 medical schools in America, 68 have no requirement for nutrition classes. The remaining schools require just an average of two credits, basically one course, about nutrition.”
-John La Puma, M.D.