Get invited to any party in America, and you’ll be faced with nosh that’s both delicious and a perfect reflection of the Standard American Diet (SAD): greasy chips and cheesy dips, deep-fried anything and bacon-wrapped everything, wheat bread or crackers next to a tray of cold cuts and cheese slices…
Oh, yeah – and maybe a “veggie tray” of carrots, celery, and broccoli with ranch dressing.
SAD-ly, this is the way plenty of folks eat every day, as well. It’s no wonder we’re facing an epidemic of malnutrition, what the recent winners of this year’s World Food Prize – “the Nobel for agriculture – have called the “challenge of our time,” not just in the US but around the world.
Though Americans are renowned for overeating, far too many of us are starved for actual nutrients. Nutrition is so seriously lacking in so much of the convenience foods that have moved to the center of the average American diet, malnourishment has become an issue.
What makes it so hard to eat right? For one, says Lawrence Haddad, one of the World Food Prize recipients and head of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition,
People can’t get enough nutritious food because it’s too expensive or unavailable and the stuff that they shouldn’t be eating a lot of, stuff that’s high in sugar, salt, and fat, is really cheap and available….
This is the big challenge of our time. It’s not about how to feed our world. It’s about how to nourish our world.
To that, we can add challenges like not having the means or skills to cook real food and a culture in which we’re constantly bombarded with marketing for hyper-processed food-like products. If you’ve been accustomed to eating SAD, then it can take some time and effort to make the shift to eating real, nutrient-dense food.
As you make the shift, you may notice your appetite begin to shift – out of “addicted” mode. For hyper-processed foods are largely engineered to be addictive. As cardiologist Dr. Mike Fenster has noted, the “tremendous amount of sugar, salt, and fat” that a hyper-processed diet delivers “damages our sense of taste and seals our reliance on these unnatural and innutritious foods.”
In other words, we keep eating more of the same, cementing our reliance on those big, manufactured tastes.
But while the flavors may be big, the nutritional punch is not.
For one, industrial processing tends to strip nutrients from even the most wholesome ingredients. One recent study found, for instance, that turning corn into cornflakes resulted in the loss of almost all phenolic compounds – phytochemicals that play a vital role in cancer prevention.
“We did see an increase in soluble phenolics, but it was so small, you could have gotten the same benefit from going to the refrigerator and eating a few blueberries,” [lead author Carrie] Butts-Wilmsmeyer says.
Then there are the additives that can change the way our body processes the vitamins and minerals we do get. For instance, phytic acid – added to many breads and other grain products – has been shown to inhibit absorption of magnesium. As Dr. Axe notes,
Today, nearly 80 percent of Americans are magnesium deficient, leading to leg cramps, insomnia, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. An additional study found that phytic acid also inhibits the absorption of zinc and calcium resulting in loss of bone density, loose teeth and tooth decay.
The answer is real food. Nutrient- dense food. And if your diet could use some improvement, there’s no better time to start than now. For instance, check out these simple ways to get more veg and fruit into your diet. Or try these tips for breaking the sugar habit.
As they say, every journey begins with a single step.