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Curse of American Nutritionism: Industry Ignores Realities of Healthful Eating

(Photo: Ted Eytan / Flickr)

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Nutrition label.(Photo: Ted Eytan / Flickr)It all started in the US in the late 1960s as a result of the countercultural revolt. Disaffected youths rebelled against conventional norms, including the proliferation of processed food and the chemicals used to grow, process and preserve food. Gradually during the past four decades, however, this legitimate concern has given rise to a monstrous industry that contributes heavily to neurotic disorders, physical disease and capitalist profits.

The nutritionist industry inadvertently serves a political purpose as well, keeping the American working class confused, self-hating, tranquilized and demoralized. Nutritionism is an original American belief that a person’s health hinges on what one puts into one’s mouth. “You are what you eat,” has become the national slogan; “Eat right!” has become the prime medical imperative.

Nutritionism and American advertising

Only in industrially advanced, English-speaking countries, especially the United States, do we find nearly all packaged grocery store items with health claims plastered all over their exteriors.

“Our healthy/natural/organic/calorie-reduced food . . . which is fat-free/sugar-free/low in carbs/protein-rich/vitamin-enriched. . . and is fortified with anti-oxidants/omega 3 fatty acids/extra fiber/phytonutrients/folic acid/vitamin Z . . . will boost your energy/cleanse your body/burn fat/strengthen bones/make you smarter/reverse aging/get you laid.”

In France and Germany, the claims are quite different. “Fresh,” “extra-rich,” “extra-creamy,” “super delicious” and “party-sized” are the usual assertions that European food companies make in order to sell their products. If they were to place health claims on their packages, the public wouldn’t buy the food because they would figure there was something wrong with it in the first place. Most people in the world, including Europeans and Japanese, do not suffer from the American food crazies yet. Most French people do not know a carbohydrate from a carburetor – and probably don’t care to know.

American TV and print commercials are constantly giving advice on what to eat and drink to be healthy. Diet book authors, nutritionists, health professionals of all disciplines and friends are always ready to tell us what to eat and drink, what not to eat and drink, when to eat and drink and what supplements are absolutely needed to be healthy.

“Truth in advertising” is a big fat lie. Companies can claim anything they think will sell and will hire battalions of spin doctors, lawyers, scientists and lobbyists to fight for them.

Although advertising was not invented in the US, it was developed to its full potential by American propagandists in the early part of the 20th century, namely by advertisers and public relations people. The PR folks working for the US government found great success in convincing reluctant Americans of the dire need to fight first the degenerate Spanish then the sub-human Filipinos and finally, in World War I, the evil Huns.

Soon after the war, an American publicist named Edward Bernays wrote an influential book titled Propaganda. Bernays went on to devise a brilliant advertising campaign in the ’20s that successfully convinced American women that cigarette smoking was the cool thing to do. American advertisers have since evolved psychological trickery to an exalted science and art that the rest of the world can only hope to emulate.

Self-trust vs. trusting the “experts”

All life forms instinctively know what, when and how much to eat and drink. Plants, animals and humans have never needed advertisers, nutritionists, doctors, scientists or college degrees in nutritional science to tell them what, when or how much to eat or drink. Biology is wondrously efficient in this regard.

Trusting our physical and emotional instincts is the true foundation – the starting point – for self-confidence and self-esteem.There is no substitute.

Fatigue indicates the need for rest and sleep. Peppiness indicates the need for vigorous movement. Pain is a message that orders us to investigate a problem. Mad, sad, glad, scared and bored all suggest some specific actions that must be considered.

Hunger – an empty feeling in the upper abdomen – is nature’s physical message saying that it is time to work for food and then eat it. While hungry, the body knows if there are any special nutrients needed or foods to be avoided. Reaching the abdominal comfort level at the end of a meal is the body counting calories and saying that it is time to stop eating to avoid discomfort – and weight gain.

Across all time and space, thesethree eating instincts have been universally successful at supplying humans and animals with just the right kind and amount of nutrition for optimal health, precluding any need for the contradictory dictates of nutritionism.

And contradictions abound. What was “healthy” yesterday suddenly becomes “unhealthy” today, and vice versa, based on the latest lab rat discovery. Just to cite one example out of a multitude, cow’s milk has over the years gotten a bad rap from most nutritionists because it causes problems for many (who were either weaned too early or are missing the dairy gene). However, it has also been known for 15 years that cow’s milk is acancer-fighting agent, as well as a product that decreases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

The incidence of food allergies in the US has skyrocketed over the years, largely because of the internal inflammation that results from continual overfeeding. Each human and animal body knows every time whether it wants a particular food or not. Even more important for overfed Americans, the body knowsif and how much of a particular food it wants to eat and drink.

Abandoning our infallible eating and other instincts in favor of the fickle winds of human advice sabotages self-trust, self-reliance, self-respect and the ability to think critically. Like a ship without rudder and sail, Americans are led hither and thither in the current of public opinion, easy targets for professional scammers and profiteers.

The three sacred corollaries of American nutritionism that keep food and supplement sales booming.

1. Americans lack proper nutrition, and consequently are nutritionally deficient.

The United States is the most overnutritionized population in the history of the world, with fully one-third suffering from obesity and another third to half officially overweight. According to theCenter for Disease Control and Prevention,childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, with more than one-third of American children and adolescents overweight or obese in 2010.

Body fat is stored nutrition. Its main biological purpose is to supply life-saving nutrition during famines or long winters. Excess body fat also keeps people and bearscalm, lazy, warm and unhungry, useful conditions for surviving six months of cold and dark.

When Americans are carefully questioned, one discovers that most never feel hunger and are in fact eating toprevent hunger. Hunger – a healthy instinct – is routinely associated with a condition of sickness and death. “Dying from hunger” is actually a mistaken notion, since no one ever died from a feeling. Ironically, when people are actually starving, their hunger feelings diminish, just like those approaching obesity.

Hungry is actually an indication that folks are relatively lean and are fasting before eating. Hunger is very bad for business. Advertisers scream “Eat this!” instead of “Eat less!” – and “Healthy means eating 3-7 times per day” – and ching-ching go the cash registers.

Occasionally, the public is subjected to human-interest news stories about “hungry” American children going without dinner. Eating is a human right that is not honored in this dog-eat-dog system. However, the question naturally arises, do overfed children really need to eat dinner? And most importantly, where are the photos of starving American children with pencil-thin arms and legs, skeletal faces and distended bellies that are all too common in parts of the Third World?

Compared with many areas of the globe, food in the US is so rich, varied and cheap that the only people actually suffering from starvation or malnutrition are anorexics, drug addicts, alcoholics and some terminally ill hospital patients. Government food assistance still exists; a hamburger (with lettuce and tomato) still costs a dollar, and working class neighborhoods are filled with fast food restaurants, 99-cent stores and local government and charity food outlets.

What is often unavailable at low cost is fresh organic produce, politically correct food. This is the true meaning of “food insecurity” in the US – and it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

There is a popular notion that modern agriculture and processed foods do not supply enough of the right kind of nutrition. The problem with this thinking is the lack evidence – of nutritional deficiency epidemics so common in underdeveloped countries. Where are diseases like scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, kwashiorkor, night blindness and rickets – as well as the blood tests that would indicate broadly based nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition?

Based on this general food paranoia, supplement companies do a booming business, mostly in the US. According toForbes, one of the fastest-growing industries in the world is the nutritional supplement group. Producing about $32 billion of revenue for just nutritional supplements in 2012, it is projected to double that, topping $60 billion in 2021, according to theNutritional Business Journal.

Scientific evidence for the benefits of over-the-counter supplementation is sketchy at best. In some cases, it has proven harmful. The prescribing of vitamin and mineral megadosages by trained health professionals for short-term problems has seen some successes. However, this is no indication at all of generalized malnutrition.

The real danger for Americans in this regard is that the long-term use of supplements worsens mental health by feeding the growing deficiency mind-set, fueling food paranoia and emphasizing a dependency on things to put in the mouth. In the Land of Excess, we are warned repeatedly that we are not gettingenough – cars, electronic gizmos, drugs, entertainment, sex, snake oil, and of course nutrition. Ching-ching.

Real nutritional security has been understood since the Stone Age to be embodied in one word –variety. Bands of forager-hunters understand this well, being notorious for consuming everything and anything they can find that is humanly digestible.

2. Americans are full of toxins from consuming junk food.

Chemicals on and in food – herbicides, pesticides, hormones, preservatives, artificial flavors and colorings, and the rest – are there solely to increase private profits. In a world in which human needs trump profit, these food chemicals will be eliminated, as well as the practice of increasing sales by removing the bitter taste and spiking food with the survival tastes of sweet, salty and fatty.

However, the trouble with passing negative judgments on foods is that these same judgments are relayed along to the people who eat these foods, creating a climate of guilt and self-recrimination. Only junk people eat junk food, right? This is the essence of a diet consciousness in which being “good” for a while is inevitably followed by being “bad.” Feelings of deprivation and guilt help nothing and only worsen mental health. The typical American is wracked with deprivation and guilt around the food issue.

The demonization of food has, in fact, created a War on Food in the panicked minds of many. Food has become the enemy, lurking around every corner, ready to make us sick and fat and turn us into bad people.

But credible evidence for the pathogenic properties of non-PC food is weak or nonexistent, including for the newest Darth Vader – genetically modified food. No studies have shown that eating Crispy Crème donuts or red meat directly cause high cholesterol or heart attacks. Evidence also is missing for the novel idea that food additives confuse our eating instincts.

The problem with all of these nutritionist studies is that the researchers fail to consider – or even understand -hunger and the huge difference between eating with hunger and eating without hunger. So they overdose lab rats with food X and then claim that food X is a “bad” food.

Americans are justified in not trusting the corporations. They understandably want to believe that the food industry is poisoning them, but believing does not make it so.

All the detox and cleansing programs, laxatives, colonics and fresh vegetables in the world cannot fix the problem of toxic accumulation nor substitute for healthy mental and physical habits. Every bite of PC or non-PC food eaten by someone who isn’t hungry delivers far more toxicity than the small amounts of food additives found in processed food. Food not wanted by the body provides stagnating material for “extras” like tumors, blood cholesterol, phlegm-like accumulations, impacted fecal matter and disease-prone fat storage.

The healthy body and mind – calm, lean, vigorous and hungry – knows quite well how to search for and destroy microscopic invaders. If poisons from processed food are piling up in someone, it is only the result of poor circulation and a sluggish immune system – generally the consequence of anxiety-producing tightness, the clogging action of excess body fat, a sedentary lifestyle or the relentless prevention of hunger with food.

One caveat should be mentioned: The people who might want to stay away from highly processed food are pregnant and nursing women and small growing children, simply as an insurance measure.

3. Some foods make you fat and some make you lean.

Never was there a more misleading statement than this one, nor a more popular one for Americans.

The truth is simple. If you consume more food-energy (calories) than you use, your body will store most of the extra nutrition in fat cells. If you use more food-energy than you consume, your body will “eat” fat, thus reducing the size of fat cells.

For example, if a person consumes 2,000 calories of politically correct organic fruits and vegetables in a 24-hour period and uses only 1,500 calories, 500 calories will be subsequently stored mostly as fat, at seven calories per gram.

There are no special ingredients in any foods or supplements that magically shrink fat cells or mysteriously enlarge them.

A steady diet of low-calorie food, the essence of most weight-loss programs, will create calorie-deficit days and the shrinkage of fat cells. However, only five percent to ten percent of Americans on these will-power-driven regimens manage to keep the weight off. The hallmark of yo-yo dieting is the bouncing between being “good,” and then being “bad” – eating vegetables and avoiding ice cream, followed by eating ice cream and avoiding vegetables.

These repeating episodes of weight loss and weight gain induce a state of demoralization and self-loathing, precisely what Americans do not need, except for those Americans at the top of the money pile who are cashing in on our gullibility and desperation.

Worrying, hurrying and overeating – the true causes of disease and obesity in America

Since the resumption of the Global Crisis of Capitalist Overproduction in the 1970s, the American working class has been subjected to increased job “efficiency,” growing unemployment and underemployment, a declining standard of living and a consequent deterioration of mental and physical health. (Read Truthout’s The Political Roots of American Obesity for details.)

Most Americans worry excessively. Worse than useless, worry and anxiety and their permutations prompt the body to tighten up various internal and external muscles, often unknown to the worrier. This unhealthy state of affairs reduces circulation, speeds cellular aging and contributes to a long list of minor to life-threatening physical problems.

Americans are notorious for hurrying and scurrying around like ants on fire. Sleep deprivation, the worship of speed, multitasking, jockeying for position and over-scheduling contribute heavily to internal friction and the growing epidemic of inflammatory and auto-immune diseases in this Inflammation Nation.

In response to worry and hurry, Americans turn to their favorite tranquilizers – food and enlarged fat cells – to maintain some semblance of mental health. Unfortunately, carrying excess body fat accelerates chromosomal aging and has terrible consequences for one’s physical health. But proponents of nutritionism are right there to sell Americans the “correct” food, drink and supplements to resolve this problem and all others besides.

There simply are no oral answers to the challenges of worrying, hurrying and overeating. Nutritionism’s (and Big Pharma’s) quick-fix solution for every problem – to buy the right stuff and put it into our mouths – shifts our focus away from the vital task of improving mental health, which can occur only individually with the re-establishment of trust in ourselves and our own healthy instincts.

Self-trust is a revolutionary force – not promoted by any institution of capitalist society – and will ultimately expedite the consignment of the profit system to the garbage can of history.

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