It's not just the high fat, salt or sugar content of processed foods that is driving obesity and diet-related illnesses — the lack of food diversity is killing our gut flora, claims one researcher. If we exclude sugar, approximately 80 percent of all calories in processed foods come from a combination of four ingredients.
Drawing upon evidence from multiple studies, Professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London and author of The Diet Myth, Tim Spector said the restrictive nature of highly processed diets which use just a few ingredients is responsible for reducing our microbe diversity – and is making us ill.
“That junk food is bad for you is not news — the combination of saturated fat, calories, sugar, chemicals and lack of fibre is an obvious signal. The lack of diversity in the diet, though, is an overlooked factor: 80% of processed food is made up of just four ingredients — corn, wheat, soy and meat,” he wrote.
Were it true that these four foods were health promoting, whole-wheat-bread-munching, soy-milk-guzzling, cheese-nibbling, corn-chip having populations would probably be experiencing exemplary health among the world's nations. To the contrary, despite the massive amount of calories ingested from these purported “health foods,” we are perhaps the most malnourished and sickest people on the planet today. The average American adult is on 12 prescribed medications, demonstrating just how diseased, or for that matter, brainwashed and manipulated, we are.
“[In comparison] fifteen thousand years ago our ancestors regularly ingested around 150 ingredients in a week.”
In the manner of film-maker Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me experiment, Spector's son volunteered to follow a junk food diet for ten days. Stool samples were taken before and after the diet.
In addition to feeling lethargic and sick, the samples showed that his son's microbial gut richness had been decimated, with a loss of 40% of his detectable species after just three days.
How could this be? After all, doesn't the USDA Food Pyramid emphasize whole grains like wheat above all other food categories, and isn’t dairy so indispensable to our health that it is afforded a category all of its own?
With Monsanto's patented genes being inserted into roughly 95 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., the company has also used its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, including big players in the food industry which have made an entire country falsely believe that these are health foods.
If junk food is so bad for us then why do our bodies crave more? Spector said it was the proliferation of certain â€˜bad bacteria' in the gut that was fueling our cravings for more processed food:
“Each species of microbe has a preference for certain food sources, which allows them to feed and reproduce. They therefore have their own evolutionary drive to maintain their ecological niche and will do anything to ensure their survival. This includes sending signals to the hosting human that they want more of the same junk food that they thrive on.”
We need only consider the undeniable fact that these four “health foods” are also sources for industrial adhesives, in order to see how big a problem they present.
End this modern trend: Reformulate
Spector's advice for consumers was to eat as varied a diet as possible, rich in fresh fruit and vegetables that provide essential vitamins and fibre — but he also said manufacturers should reformulate to boost the ingredient diversity of their products.
“This is an interesting area – increasing the use of nuts, seeds, and high fibre vegetables would be an improvement.”
“[Manufacturers should] be aware of the consumer demand for foods that are more microbiome friendly and start changing the food labels to reflect this.”
Freelance dietitian Carrie Ruxton also called on food manufacturers to accept part of the responsibility for the obesity crisis, taking proactive steps to reverse it.
“Processed foods are part of our modern culture so companies can help consumers by reducing the energy density of products (fewer calories per 100 g), including vegetables, fruits or wholegrains where possible, and boosting the fibre content,” she told FoodNavigator.
Gluten intolerance is no longer a fringe medical concept. Researchers are fully aware there is a very big problem with modern wheat cultivation.Wheat is far from being a health food. It makes you fat, causes gas and makes your intestinal tract your enemy, or rather vice-versa. High-yielding and now genetically modified varieties of wheat are making this one cereal grain you'll probably want to axe from your food list.
Diary is processed by man, homogenized and pasteurized, making it a completely dead food, lifeless and void of nutrients.
Most soy products block the production of thyroid hormone and reduce energy in the body by inhibiting tyrosine kinases, enzymes involved in the transfer of energy from one molecule to another. These enzymes drive cell division, memory consolidation, tissue repair, and blood vessel maintenance and regeneration.
Are probiotics the answer?
Spector said that personalised probiotics could be the solution.
“Either they [the personalised yoghurts] could include 4 or 5 strains together or they contain one that we know would suit the rest of your gut microbes. To do that everyone would need to be tested for their gut microbes and put into groups. This may be relatively easy to do — as the test costs only around 70 euros and crowd funding projects like www.britishgut.org are allowing direct testing.”
A recent University of Pittsburgh study highlighted how quickly and radically sensitive gut microflora can change following changes in diet — for better and for worse.
For two weeks a group of African-Americans swapped their high-fat, low-fibre Western diet with that of rural Africans, rich in beans and vegetables. The researchers found that each group rapidly took on the biomarkers of the other, including bacterial activity, fibre fermentation and intestinal inflammation.
Lead researcher Stephen O'Keefe said: “These findings are really very good news. In just two weeks, a change in diet from a Westernized composition to a traditional African high-fibre, low-fat diet reduced these biomarkers of cancer risk.”
Whether you now believe that removing Wheat, Dairy, Soy and Corn from your diet is a good idea, or still need convincing, it doesn’t hurt to take the “elimination diet” challenge. The real test is to eliminate these suspect foods for at least 2 weeks, see how you feel, and then if you aren’t feeling like you have made significant improvements in your health, reintroduce them and see what happens. Trust in your feelings, listen to your body, and you will move closer to what is healthy for you.
Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.