Comedians often joke that most children’s cereal is so bad that it would be healthier to eat the box. They are not far off – but it’s no joke.
Obviously I’m not suggesting you have your kids eat cardboard, but the present state of food processing is creating outrageous health problems for young people today. Approximately 25 percent of American children are overweight; of those, 11 percent are obese; and of those, two thirds are expected to remain obese in adulthood. Obesity is linked to many health problems, especially diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If this trend continues, a third of the children born in the US today will develop diabetes and the majority of them will not live as long as their parents. Similar disturbing statistics are being seen in European countries.
Many fitness gurus and medical organizations have blamed the excess consumption of high-fat foods as the major problem. Not true. According to the US Department of Agriculture, between 1971 and 1997 the consumption of saturated fat decreased from 53 grams a day to 50 (and protein consumption remained unchanged). In fact, a study published in the 2010 June issue of Circulation found no association between heart disease and the consumption of red meat. Fat is not the problem.
Cause #1: Processed Carbs
Although fat and protein consumption cannot be blamed for obesity in recent years, what did happen was an increase in calories. Between 1982 and 1993, the average daily calorie intake increased by 500 calories, and remained so through 1997. But the kicker is that about 90 percent of those additional calories came from carbohydrates, and most of those carbs were processed carbs. It’s not just processed carbs that are the problem, as the same study in Circulation found that eating processed meats increased the risk of heart disease by 42 percent.
One characteristic of processed carbs is that they adversely affect blood sugar levels. If you start your children’s day with a breakfast of pancakes smothered with processed syrup washed down with processed orange juice, such a combination will cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and will result in your kids bouncing off the walls. This will soon be followed by a release of the hormone insulin, which will create a sudden and prolonged drop in blood sugar that will in turn cause your children to turn into walking zombies who will crave even more carbs to raise their blood sugar. (For ideas on how to prepare a healthy breakfast, please read The Poliquin Meat and Nuts Breakfast.)
One way to avoid feeding your family processed foods is to follow the diet used by the Paleolithic people – lean meats, seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables – over the types of diets that became dominant after the Agricultural Revolution. One of my favorite mottos that describes the Paleo Diet is “If it doesn’t fly, swim, walk or isn’t green – don’t eat it!” To learn more about this type of diet, I recommend Dr. Loren Cordain books, The Paleo Diet (2002, John Wiley & Sons) and The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young (John Wiley & Sons, December 2011).
Besides refined carbs, there is another type of processing that you need to avoid feeding your kids. Its deadly initials are GMO.
Cause #2: GMOs
GMO stands for genetically engineered organism. It is created by taking the genes of one species and inserting them into the DNA of a food or animal to introduce a new trait. As an analogy, think of the plot of the Resident Evil movies, but using plants rather than humans.
For example, inserting a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis into plants makes these plants toxic to insects, such that if they try to eat the plant, they will die. The result is higher crop yields. Another trait that can be engineered in plants is resistance to toxic herbicides – again, increasing crop yields. That’s the good news – the bad news is that GMOs, quite simply, are bad for you and your kids. Let’s look at some research.
In the 1990s Dr. Arpad Pusztai of the United Kingdom received a $3 million grant from his government to study GMOs. Pusztai found that when rats were fed genetically modified potatoes, the rats developed problems in the liver, brain and testicles – along with a compromised immune system and precancerous cell growth. But Pusztai is not the only scientist interested in the possible effects of GMOs on health.
In a study on GMOs that was published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, researchers found that rats that had been fed genetically modified corn developed disorders of the liver, kidney, heart, adrenal glands and spleen. Likewise, in a Russian study, female rats were fed either genetically engineered soy flour or non-genetically engineered soy flour before, during and after gestating their young. Nine percent of the rats that were fed non-genetically modified soy flour died, compared to 55.6 percent of the GMO group. Of the GMO-fed rats that survived, 36 percent were underweight, compared to 6.7 percent underweight rats in the control group. As for larger animals, in 2008 a farm allowed 13 buffalo to graze on genetically engineered cotton plants, and all 13 animals died within three days.
Have you noticed, or perhaps read about the increases in allergies in the US and other countries? For example, between 1997 and 2008, the number of peanut allergies in children tripled; and from 1997 to 2002, emergency room visits for allergies doubled! One reason could be the consumption of GMOs.
There are many reasons to suspect GMOs for the increase in allergies because their modified proteins possess properties of known allergens, and because genetically modified crops have residues of toxic herbicides that can cause allergic reactions. It has also been found that genetically modified soy products can decrease the amount of digestive enzymes in the body. These enzymes affect the body’s ability to break down proteins, and this can cause allergic reactions to foods. Further, it’s been found that, across the board, foods that are genetically modified have lower nutritional quality than non-GMO foods.
Because the government considers GMOs safe, the US doesn’t require informing consumers if foods contain GMOs. This is a serious problem, as an estimated 70 percent of the foods on supermarket shelves contain GMOs. Among the products containing GMOs are soy, corn, canola and cottonseed oil, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and crookneck squash.
To help you identify and avoid GMOs in foods, you can download a free guidebook from www.responsibletechnology.org. You can also start buying organic foods, looking for products that say they are non-GMO, consulting a non-GMO shopping guide and avoiding foods that are likely to contain GMOs.
Feeding the world is a problem that needs to be addressed by all world leaders. There are many solutions proposed, but one thing is for certain: Processed foods and genetically modified foods should not be the future of food.