Imagine if waiters told you the truth about your dinner order. They’d probably start like this:
“Hi, folks! Thanks for dining with us tonight! We’ve got some delicious specials for you. Our featured pizza comes on a dough built partially from plastic foam; topped with human hair, duck feathers, and the desiccated abdomens of beetles; and finished with a delicate dusting of silicon dioxide—you know it as sand. And for the kids, we have a yummy selection of ice creams blended with wood shavings and flavored with extract from the anal scent glands of beavers. And, as always, your meal comes with a chef’s selection of more than half a dozen chemicals that are only suspected of causing—but let me emphasize, have not yet been 100 % proven to cause—obesity, hyperactivity, asthma, cancer, and diabetes!”
Wait, Can This All Be True?
Are we feeding our kids anal scent glands and human hair? Yes, in fact, as well as more than 3,000 natural and artificial chemicals approved by the Food and Drug Administration as preservatives, additives, and artificial and “natural” flavorings. (Wood chips, beaver anuses, and beetle bellies are natural, so they’re among the “natural” ingredients you might be enjoying with your “healthy” dinner tonight.)
So if you’re wondering why watching your weight has become so challenging—why all the diet foods and the low-carb this and low-fat that aren’t making a difference—it might have to do with something more than your willpower. It might have to do with the fact that much of the food we’re buying is filled with things that only vaguely qualify as “food,” and that marketers and manufacturers are using a remarkable array of tricks, tools, and tactics to fool us into buying their products.
In fact, as more and more Americans become health-conscious—as we spend more time reading labels and looking for “whole foods,” “organic foods,” and “natural foods” (not to mention gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, unsweetened, low-fat, dairy-free, and no-high-fructose-corn-syrup-added foods), marketers have become even more savvy at finding ways to force-feed us things that can make us fat, without our even knowing.
You can follow any diet plan out there, but unless you know exactly what’s in your food, no diet is really going to make a difference, at least not in the way you’d hope. Not until you learn how to Eat It to Beat It!
EAT IT! (left) Wendy's Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe: 350 calories, 19g fat, 7g saturated fat, 830mg sodium, 2g fiber, 7g sugar, 17g protein
BEAT IT! (right) Ruby Tuesday Bacon Cheese Pretzel Burger: 1,759 calories, 105g fat, 3,257mg sodium, 9g fiber, 68g protein
Why Is Our Food So Weird?
As I said, there are more than 3,000 food additives approved by the FDA, and all of them have been proven safe for human consumption.
No, wait that’s not true. In fact, the FDA doesn’t even assess food additives. Manufacturers themselves decide—with absolutely no government or independent oversight—that additives and preservatives meet a standard known as “generally recognized as safe,” also known by the acronym GRAS. So, basically, if the manufacturer says there’s no definitive proof that what they’re adding to our food causes issues like, say, weight gain or diabetes or asthma, then they can do what they like. It’s like telling us to go ahead and jump into a dark swamp because there’s no definitive proof that a swarm of hungry crocodiles is waiting below. (I, for one, like to take a little looksee around before risking a headfirst leap into the jaws of death. But that’s just me.)
And that’s too bad, because, like you, I love junk food. Unlike most healthy-eating advocates, I’m not all about forsaking fries and Fudgsicles for falafel and fruit salad. After all, our grandparents wooed each other at the soda shop over burgers and chocolate malts; why can’t we have the same kind of fun?
They’re taking all the good, clean fun out of eating bad!
And if you don’t think all these crazy additives and preservatives are having an impact on your weight, just look at a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that the average restaurant meal contains:
- 1,128 calories, or about 56% of the average person’s daily calorie intake
- 2,269 milligrams of sodium, or 151% of a person’s daily recommended intake. (In fact, researchers consider 600 milligrams or less a “healthy” meal, yet only 1% of all chain restaurant meals meet this standard!)
- 58 grams of fat (89% of what we should eat in a day)
Eat It! (left) Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream: 250 calories, 17g fat, 10g saturated fat, 50mg sodium, 0g fiber, 19g sugar, 4g protein
Beat It! (right) Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby: 240 calories, 21g fat, 11g saturate fat, 150mg sodium, 2g fiber, 25g sugar, 7g protein
And things aren’t any better in the supermarket aisles, either. In the dessert section, Pepperidge Farm’s 3-Layer Coconut Cake boasts 32 ingredients, including propylene glycol (an ingredient in antifreeze). In the chips and dips aisle, Pace Jalape