Americans are fat. More than two-thirds of us are either overweight or obese, and one in twenty of us is considered “extremely obese.” Being fat is not just a problem of appearance. It presents a significant threat to your health. Obesity is implicated in type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Economists estimate the medical cost of obesity is over $147 billion dollars in the United States alone.
Why are we so fat? There are two schools of thought.
One says we eat too much fat. The low-fat diet theorists gained influence in the 1980s. For decades, diet books and programs emphasized a low-fat approach, and the food industry took the fats out of foods and replaced them with added sugar. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued dietary guidelines recommending a low fat diet. But it didn’t work. Despite following the guidelines – or perhaps because of following them – we keep getting fatter.
The other school says the problem is that we eat too much sugar and too many simple carbohydrates (that the body turns into sugar). We know eating too many carbs causes spikes in our blood glucose levels, which then increases insulin production. That leads to increased fat storage.
So is reducing carbs the ultimate answer?
Here is one consideration: Americans now eat nearly 500 more calories a day than we did in 1970. It’s true our sugar intake has increased 12 percent, but our grain consumption has increased a full 42 percent. These are refined grains, with the fiber and nutrients stripped away.
We eat slightly more dairy than we did in 1970, but our consumption of cheese has increased 153 percent. Cheese is the number one source of saturated fat intake among Americans. It is also very high in sodium. Meat intake continues steady; we eat more meat than most people in the world, but we always have. Our consumption of fruits and vegetables is also relative unchanged. That is not good, because only four percent of Americans get the recommended minimum of six to eight services per day.
The single biggest change in American diets since 1970 is that our fat intake has increased 67 percent. So while we were eating low-fat packaged products, we were still loading up on meat and high-fat dairy.
In truth, the statistics tell a more complex story than either of those two schools of thought. Our epidemic of obesity is caused by both an over-consumption of fats and oils, and too many refined, processed carbohydrates.
Many people point out that most Americans now live a sedentary lifestyle. Is that why we’re fat?
Certainly you will be healthier if you are active, but activity is not really the answer to obesity. The average American consumes as many extra calories as are in a Big Mac, every day – calories over and above what the body needs. You would have to walk two hours a day, seven days, to work that off.
The real answer to the obesity crisis is found in the kitchen, not the gym. If you’re overweight, reduce – or better still, eliminate – your intake of sugar, simple carbs, and saturated fats. Consider a whole food, plant-based diet.