by Misty Simons
We’ve all heard the old adage – ‘You are what you eat.’ Just how much truth does that statement hold? Most people eating a typical Standard American Diet (SAD) or Western Diet feel they are getting balanced nutrition by eating foods from all the food groups, the food pyramid or the more recent “plate.” Each of these versions incorporates a variety of foods into the diet including protein (usually from lean meats), dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables. In theory, this sounds ideal, since the body does need amino acids (derived from protein), sugars, fats and a variety of vitamins and minerals to survive and thrive. Put into practice, this plan falls very short.
In the United States, the Standard American Diet or SAD consists of an unbalanced proportion of foods which are sabotaging our health and very survival. 90% of the money used by Americans to by food is spent on processed foods[i]. That is including the 20-25% of Americans who eat fast food daily, and the money spent on groceries. It is bad enough that these foods are packed full of fats, wheat, sugar, chemicals and toxins which make us sick. What is interesting is how much of these foods have some form of corn in them.
It is found in everything from burgers, cereal, sodas and spaghetti sauce all the way to the unexpected items like wax coating on fruits, salt, toothpaste, gum and even charcoal. Corn is found in many products, but slyly hidden under pseudonyms like HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), maltodextrin, excipients, GDL (glucona delta lactone), malt extract, mono- and di-glycerides, MSG, xantham gum, zein and dextrose. It is also included in part of the processing or raising of certain foods/animals.
Most of the meat consumed by Americans are fed (and fattened) by corn. As a matter of fact, according to the USDA, US livestock are the largest consumers of corn in the world (note- for the first time ever, ethanol will be the largest consumer after this year)! As a side note, livestock are the largest source of methane producers; they also produce other emissions, all of which are greenhouse gasses[ii]. Our desire for beef is not only damaging our health, but the environment as well.
Between 1995-2005 the US government paid farmers a total of $51,261,278,801 in subsidies to grow corn[iii]. The corn subsidies go mostly to feed cattle and chickens for meat and dairy production.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says processed foods are to blame for the quick rise in obesity and chronic disease across the globe. According to PCRM, “more than 60 percent of the deaths in the United States are caused by heart disease, cancer, and other diet-related diseases. Approximately 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. In 2008, the direct medical costs associated with obesity added up to $147 billion.”
An independent documentary film, “King Corn,” discusses this phenomenon. It explains how the governmental Farm Bill has created tremendous subsidies for corn farmers, allowing corn to be used in many aspects of our foods. It has made unhealthy foods cheaper and healthy foods more expensive[iv].
This over-eating of corn products and animals raised on corn can be seen in our own hair. Testing done by Dr. Stephen Macko, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, demonstrates this. Hair tested for isotopes can reveal what makes up our diets, and Dr. Macko has found that for most people on the SAD diet, overwhelmingly, it is mostly corn[v]. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondant, interviewed Todd Dawson, a plant biologist at UC-Berkeley, just a few years ago. Professor Dawson also has done this same type of testing and has come to the same conclusion, corn is consumed as a large part of our diets[vi]. Just over the past 30 years, our consumption of high fructose corn syrup has increased by over 1000%[vii]!
What should we do about this? We should try to pay more attention to the foods we eat, and eat healthier food options – avoid things that are processed and packaged. We should instead look to a different set of nutrition standards, more like one put out by PCRM, which gives us a different kind of “plate.”
Hopefully by millions of people changing to healthier diets, demanding better foods and complaining to our government, industry standards and practices will change. Maybe then corn won’t be utilized as a cheap feed option, or processed as part of many of our foods… and we will no longer be, children of the corn.
[i] Schiosser E. “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal”. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
[vii] Imhoff, Daniel, Food Fight, (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media), 2007, p. 91.