It’s fascinating to look back at our ancestors to see how long they lived. Unbeknownst to many, the signers of The Declaration of Independence lived into their 70s, 80s and even 90s! This was at a time when dysentery, smallpox and Scarlet Fever killed many, before the discovery of antibiotics and vaccines. Are we really living longer today? If so, what is the quality of life for people beyond 50?
The truth is we are technically living longer today due to advances in not only medicine, but also plumbing, heating, infrastructure, and other technological advances. However, in 1776, if you were lucky enough to make it through childbirth and past the age of two, you had a pretty good shot of living a life into your 60’s and even beyond. When you take away infant deaths and deaths of women during childbirth, you see that life expectancy hasn’t changed all that much with medical advances. Our metabolic health may be getting worse.
Today, the United States has never been fatter or sicker. In a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, only 12% of American adults are metabolically healthy. Metabolic health consists of normal blood sugar level, minimal belly fat, stable appetite and energy, healthy muscles, joints, and bones that allow activity and normal blood pressure. All five parts should remain in normal range without the use of medications.
We are constantly being thrown new fad diets such as plant-based, keto, paleo, gluten-free, fat free, cleanses, eating less calories than we burn and other numerous weight loss gimmicks. Yet Americans are still sick. While all these methods have pros and cons, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss or metabolic health.
From 1993 obesity stats, most states had an obesity rate of less than 15% and no state had a prevalence of over 20%. This started to grow in the late 1990s and by 2003 more than half of the US had obesity rates over 20% and a few states were showing obesity rates over 25%. In 2018, it is estimated that over 65% of adults in the US are overweight or obese and up to 34% of children ages 2-19 are overweight. We need to look at what changed in the 1990s to drastically speed up obesity, heart disease and cancer rates.
In America, we are not set up for success to properly achieve and maintain metabolic health. Not all calories are created equal. While the consensus of weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume; this focus often leads to the inability to keep weight off. Factory farming is now a norm and processed food takes up most space in the grocery store leaving many of us rightfully confused on how to eat healthy.
The undeniable fact: there is no magical “diet” for weight loss or metabolic health. It’s as simple as eating whole food all the time. There should be no cheat days, nor should you feel starved. This can be extremely difficult in our society today for multiple reasons including: the Modern American Diet (MAD) generally consists of a low intake of micronutrients and a high intake of refined grains, seed “vegetable” oils, and sugars. The increase in pesticides and chemicals in our foods and environment combined with lack of movement is a creating a perfect storm for hormonal imbalance and poor microbiomes.
The good news is that it is never too late to start your path towards metabolic health and our bodies are very resilient. Simply removing canola and other seed oils from your diet is a great place to start and you will see drastic improvement in your health if you make this change. Before the 1990s, most restaurants cooked and fried their food in animal fat and butter. This is the healthiest way to cook because of the chemical structure of saturated fats.
In the late 1980s, government health agencies recommended restaurants replace saturated fats for vegetable oils in the name of cardiovascular health; even though multiple studies in different countries never proved that eating a diet high in saturated fat led to cardiovascular disease. In fact, many of these studies showed no difference in heart disease by reducing saturated fats and replacing them with seed/vegetable oils. Today, seed oils are deemed healthy, and they are the norm in even the finest dining places. Every restaurant uses canola oil, soybean oil and/or a vegetable oil blend in their kitchen and these oils are usually the first ingredient in processed foods. The result: skyrocketing obesity, diabetes, and cancer.
Canola oil is man-made and comes from the rapeseed plant. More than 80% of canola oil is genetically modified and can withstand glyphosate exposure. Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Roundup, which is a weed killer used on all non-organic grains, barley, oats, potatoes, soybeans, and rapeseed. Glyphosate impairs the shikimate pathway in bacteria and deemed safe for humans because we don’t have that pathway. However, the microbiota or bacteria in our gut does use this pathway. When we consume copious amounts of non-organic grains, seed oils and processed foods; we impair this metabolic pathway in the bacteria of our gut.
This gut bacteria, also called microbiome, produces several important amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters responsible for producing serotonin, GABA, dopamine, and melatonin. Consequences of glyphosate exposure are numerous and can cause cellular death in immune cells, depression, anxiety, impaired vitamin synthesis of B vitamins, K vitamins and impaired short chain fatty acid synthesis in the large intestine; all of which are directly related to poor metabolic health, lowered immune health, and obesity.
The best oils for cooking are saturated fats including organic coconut oil, butter, ghee, and tallow from pastured meats. Not only are these fats wonderful to cook with in terms of flavor, but they also contain nutrient dense vitamins. Tallow (rendered from animals) contains about 50% saturated fat, 45% monounsaturated fat and 5% polyunsaturated fat as well as Vitamins A, D, E, K, choline, and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.
Eliminating seed oils can be tough and it takes a conscious effort. The first step is to throw them out and replace them with organic coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, pastured butter, beef, chicken, and pork tallow. Begin reading the labels of everything you buy. Most processed foods will contain some type of oil. If the ingredient list says canola, soybean, or sunflower oil, don’t purchase it. Beyond Burger and plant-based meats are big offenders of including these processed seed oils. Salad dressings and mayonnaise are even worse, but there are healthier options available. Primal Kitchen uses avocado oil in their condiments, and you can easily make your own with olive oil and vinegar. Making your own plant-based burgers with properly soaked nuts and beans are a more time-consuming option, but worth your while. There are certain types of plantain chips, popcorn and seaweed that use coconut or olive oil in their preparation as well.
Dining out can be tough. It is important to choose quality farm-to-table restaurants as opposed to chain and fast-food dining. Quality Greek, French and Italian places will most likely use olive oil (except in their fryers) and will be a safer choice in terms of dining out. Look at the menu before you go and find healthier options that appeal to you such as a protein and vegetables. When you are at the restaurant ask for your food to be cooked in olive oil, ghee, butter or tallow. Higher quality restaurants will most likely already cook this way or be more inclined to make the change for you.
Plan for your dining experiences when traveling. Bring prepared food in the car and make stops in bigger cities that will have more restaurant options. You can even book your hotel close to a Whole Foods or Sprouts Farmers Market where you can buy quality, fresh foods.
By making this small but drastic change in your diet, you will undoubtedly see drastic results in your health. You may find that you drop pounds, have more energy, better sleep, mental clarity, improved fertility outcomes, increased gut health and feel less anxious or depressed. With all these vast improvements in medicine, it is safe to say that our quality of life and health has declined. Factory farming, pesticides and toxic chemicals are unquestionably a part of our everyday lives and can be difficult to avoid. While there is no possible way to escape them completely, we can take steps to reduce our exposure. The quickest way is to stop using seed oils completely. Today, we are less likely to die of cholera, smallpox, or dysentery, but more likely to die of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Is the tradeoff worth it in the end? Maybe as we find more ways to reduce exposure to these environmental toxins, make our voices heard and refuse to buy products that are not made responsibly, we can create an environment that fosters health.
DISCLAIMER: Please do your own research. The information on this website has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any illness.
BIO: Carrie Rutledge is studying to become a Nutrition Therapist Master at The Nutrition Therapy Institute in Colorado. She believes in healing the body through a nutrient dense diet that respects biochemical availability and individuality, while understanding the scientific mechanisms of food as medicine.