How people tend to (sadly) respond to the truth about functional medicine and plant-based diets being able to prevent and reverse autoimmune disease, among other health issues.
How people tend to (sadly) respond to the truth about functional medicine and plant-based diets being able to prevent and reverse autoimmune disease, among other health issues.
This article basically states what many of us in the functional medicine/nutrition/plant-based diet community have already known. This is a big contributor to autoimmune disease. If people would just eat a more plant-based diet, avoiding processed foods (ESPECIALLY wheat/gluten and sugar), they could not only possibly prevent or even reverse autoimmune issues, but also have more energy and even lose some weight.
Yes, salt is also a contributing factor, but wheat, gluten and sugar are much more the main causes from food than sugar.
The modern diet of processed foods, takeaways and microwave meals could be to blame for a sharp increase in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, including alopecia, asthma and eczema.
‘This study is the first to indicate that excess refined and processed salt may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases,’ they said.
Junk foods at fast food restaurants as well as processed foods at grocery retailers represent the largest sources of sodium intake from refined salts.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal sent out an international team of researchers to compare the salt content of 2,124 items from fast food establishments such as Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. They found that the average salt content varied between companies and between the same products sold in different countries.
U.S. fast foods are often more than twice as salt-laden as those of other countries. While government-led public health campaigns and legislation efforts have reduced refined salt levels in many countries, the U.S. government has been reluctant to press the issue. That’s left fast-food companies free to go salt crazy, says Norm Campbell, M.D., one of the study authors and a blood-pressure specialist at the University of Calgary.
Many low-fat foods rely on salt–and lots of it–for their flavor. One packet of KFC’s Marzetti Light Italian Dressing might only have 15 calories and 0.5 grams fat, but it also has 510 mg sodium–about 1.5 times as much as one Original Recipe chicken drumstick. (Feel like you’re having too much of a good thing? You probably are.
Bread is the No. 1 source of refined salt consumption in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just one 6-inch Roasted Garlic loaf from Subway–just the bread, no meat, no cheeses, no nothing–has 1,260 mg sodium, about as much as 14 strips of bacon.
The team from Yale University studied the role of T helper cells in the body. These activate and ‘help’ other cells to fight dangerous pathogens such as bacteria or viruses and battle infections.
Previous research suggests that a subset of these cells – known as Th17 cells – also play an important role in the development of autoimmune diseases.
In the latest study, scientists discovered that exposing these cells in a lab to a table salt solution made them act more ‘aggressively.’
They found that mice fed a diet high in refined salts saw a dramatic increase in the number of Th17 cells in their nervous systems that promoted inflammation.
They were also more likely to develop a severe form of a disease associated with multiple sclerosis in humans.
The scientists then conducted a closer examination of these effects at a molecular level.
Laboratory tests revealed that salt exposure increased the levels of cytokines released by Th17 cells 10 times more than usual. Cytokines are proteins used to pass messages between cells.
Study co-author Ralf Linker, from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said: ‘These findings are an important contribution to the understanding of multiple sclerosis and may offer new targets for a better treatment of the disease, for which at present there is no cure.’
It develops when the immune system mistakes the myelin that surrounds the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord for a foreign body.
It strips the myelin off the nerves fibres, which disrupts messages passed between the brain and body causing problems with speech, vision and balance.
Another of the study’s authors, Professor David Hafler, from Yale University, said that nature had clearly not intended for the immune system to attack its host body, so he expected that an external factor was playing a part.
He said: ‘These are not diseases of bad genes alone or diseases caused by the environment, but diseases of a bad interaction between genes and the environment.
‘Humans were genetically selected for conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, where there was no salt. It’s one of the reasons that having a particular gene may make African Americans much more sensitive to salt.
‘Today, Western diets all have high salt content and that has led to increase in hypertension and perhaps autoimmune disease as well.’
The team next plan to study the role that Th17 cells play in autoimmune conditions that affect the skin.
‘It would be interesting to find out if patients with psoriasis can alleviate their symptoms by reducing their salt intake,’ they said.
‘However, the development of autoimmune diseases is a very complex process which depends on many genetic and environmental factors.’
Stick to Good Salts
Refined, processed and bleached salts are the problem. Salt is critical to our health and is the most readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world. Our bodies are not designed to processed refined sodium chloride since it has no nutritional value. However, when a salt is filled with dozens of minerals such as in rose-coloured crystals of Himalayan rock salt or the grey texture of Celtic salt, our bodies benefit tremendously for their incorporation into our diet.
“These mineral salts are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated,” argues Dr Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life. “We have salty tears and salty perspiration. The chemical and mineral composition of our blood and body fluids are similar to sea water. From the beginning of life, as unborn babies, we are encased in a sack of salty fluid.”
“In water, salt dissolves into mineral ions,” explains Dr Hendel. “These conduct electrical nerve impulses that drive muscle movement and thought processes. Just the simple act of drinking a glass of water requires millions of instructions that come from mineral ions. They’re also needed to balance PH levels in the body.”
Mineral salts, she says, are healthy because they give your body the variety of mineral ions needed to balance its functions, remain healthy and heal. These healing properties have long been recognised in central Europe. At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved in a salt mountain. Asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms in 90 per cent of cases.
Dr Hendel believes too few minerals, rather than too much salt, may be to blame for health problems. It’s a view that is echoed by other academics such as David McCarron, of Oregon Health Sciences University in the US.
He says salt has always been part of the human diet, but what has changed is the mineral content of our food. Instead of eating food high in minerals, such as nuts, fruit and vegetables, people are filling themselves up with “mineral empty” processed food and fizzy drinks.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.
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.
WHAT will it take to get Americans to change our eating habits? The need is indisputable, since heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all in large part caused by the Standard American Diet. (Yes, it’s SAD.)
Though experts increasingly recommend a diet high in plants and low in animal products and processed foods, ours is quite the opposite, and there’s little disagreement that changing it could improve our health and save tens of millions of lives.
And — not inconsequential during the current struggle over deficits and spending — a sane diet could save tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs.
Yet the food industry appears incapable of marketing healthier foods. And whether its leaders are confused or just stalling doesn’t matter, because the fixes are not really their problem. Their mission is not public health but profit, so they’ll continue to sell the health-damaging food that’s most profitable, until the market or another force skews things otherwise. That “other force” should be the federal government, fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good and establishing a bold national fix.
Rather than subsidizing the production of unhealthful foods, we should turn the tables and tax things like soda, French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks. The resulting income should be earmarked for a program that encourages a sound diet for Americans by making healthy food more affordable and widely available.
The average American consumes 44.7 gallons of soft drinks annually. (Although that includes diet sodas, it does not include noncarbonated sweetened beverages, which add up to at least 17 gallons a person per year.) Sweetened drinks could be taxed at 2 cents per ounce, so a six-pack of Pepsi would cost $1.44 more than it does now. An equivalent tax on fries might be 50 cents per serving; a quarter extra for a doughnut. (We have experts who can figure out how “bad” a food should be to qualify, and what the rate should be; right now they’re busy calculating ethanol subsidies. Diet sodas would not be taxed.)
Simply put: taxes would reduce consumption of unhealthful foods and generate billions of dollars annually. That money could be used to subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit.
We could sell those staples cheap — let’s say for 50 cents a pound — and almost everywhere: drugstores, street corners, convenience stores, bodegas, supermarkets, liquor stores, even schools, libraries and other community centers.
This program would, of course, upset the processed food industry. Oh well. It would also bug those who might resent paying more for soda and chips and argue that their right to eat whatever they wanted was being breached. But public health is the role of the government, and our diet is right up there with any other public responsibility you can name, from water treatment to mass transit.
Some advocates for the poor say taxes like these are unfair because low-income people pay a higher percentage of their income for food and would find it more difficult to buy soda or junk. But since poor people suffer disproportionately from the cost of high-quality, fresh foods, subsidizing those foods would be particularly beneficial to them.
Right now it’s harder for many people to buy fruit than Froot Loops; chips and Coke are a common breakfast. And since the rate of diabetes continues to soar — one-third of all Americans either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic, most with Type 2 diabetes, the kind associated with bad eating habits — and because our health care bills are on the verge of becoming truly insurmountable, this is urgent for economic sanity as well as national health.
Justifying a Tax
At least 30 cities and states have considered taxes on soda or all sugar-sweetened beverages, and they’re a logical target: of the 278 additional calories Americans on average consumed per day between 1977 and 2001, more than 40 percent came from soda, “fruit” drinks, mixes like Kool-Aid and Crystal Light, and beverages like Red Bull, Gatorade and dubious offerings like Vitamin Water, which contains half as much sugar as Coke.
Some states already have taxes on soda — mostly low, ineffective sales taxes paid at the register. The current talk is of excise taxes, levied before purchase.
“Excise taxes have the benefit of being incorporated into the shelf price, and that’s where consumers make their purchasing decisions,” says Lisa Powell, a senior research scientist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “And, as per-unit taxes, they avoid volume discounts and are ultimately more effective in raising prices, so they have greater impact.”
Even in the current antitax climate, we’ll probably see new, significant soda taxes soon, somewhere; Philadelphia, New York (city and state) and San Francisco all considered them last year, and the scenario for such a tax spreading could be similar to that of legalized gambling: once the income stream becomes apparent, it will seem irresistible to cash-strapped governments.
Currently, instead of taxing sodas and other unhealthful food, we subsidize them (with, I might note, tax dollars!). Direct subsidies to farmers for crops like corn (used, for example, to make now-ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup) and soybeans (vegetable oil) keep the prices of many unhealthful foods and beverages artificially low. There are indirect subsidies as well, because prices of junk foods don’t reflect the costs of repairing our health and the environment.
Other countries are considering or have already started programs to tax foods with negative effects on health. Denmark’s saturated-fat tax is going into effect Oct. 1, and Romania passed (and then un-passed) something similar; earlier this month, a French minister raised the idea of tripling the value added tax on soda. Meanwhile, Hungary is proposing a new tax on foods with “too much” sugar, salt or fat, while increasing taxes on liquor and soft drinks, all to pay for state-financed health care; and Brazil’s Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program features subsidized produce markets and state-sponsored low-cost restaurants.
Putting all of those elements together could create a national program that would make progress on a half-dozen problems at once — disease, budget, health care, environment, food access and more — while paying for itself. The benefits are staggering, and though it would take a level of political will that’s rarely seen, it’s hardly a moonshot.
The need is dire: efforts to shift the national diet have failed, because education alone is no match for marketing dollars that push the very foods that are the worst for us. (The fast-food industry alone spent more than $4 billion on marketing in 2009; the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is asking for about a third of a percent of that in 2012: $13 million.) As a result, the percentage of obese adults has more than doubled over the last 30 years; the percentage of obese children has tripled. We eat nearly 10 percent more animal products than we did a generation or two ago, and though there may be value in eating at least some animal products, we could perhaps live with reduced consumption of triple bacon cheeseburgers.
Government and Public Health
Health-related obesity costs are projected to reach $344 billion by 2018 — with roughly 60 percent of that cost borne by the federal government. For a precedent in attacking this problem, look at the action government took in the case of tobacco.
The historic 1998 tobacco settlement, in which the states settled health-related lawsuits against tobacco companies, and the companies agreed to curtail marketing and finance antismoking efforts, was far from perfect, but consider the results. More than half of all Americans who once smoked have quit and smoking rates are about half of what they were in the 1960s.
It’s true that you don’t need to smoke and you do need to eat. But you don’t need sugary beverages (or the associated fries), which have been linked not only to Type 2 diabetes and increased obesity but also to cardiovascular diseases and decreased intake of valuable nutrients like calcium. It also appears that liquid calories provide less feeling of fullness; in other words, when you drink a soda it’s probably in addition to your other calorie intake, not instead of it.
To counter arguments about their nutritional worthlessness, expect to see “fortified” sodas — à la Red Bull, whose vitamins allegedly “support mental and physical performance” — and “improved” junk foods (Less Sugar! Higher Fiber!). Indeed, there may be reasons to make nutritionally worthless foods less so, but it’s better to decrease their consumption.
The Resulting Benefits
A study by Y. Claire Wang, an assistant professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, predicted that a penny tax per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages in New York State would save $3 billion in health care costs over the course of a decade, prevent something like 37,000 cases of diabetes and bring in $1 billion annually. Another study shows that a two-cent tax per ounce in Illinois would reduce obesity in youth by 18 percent, save nearly $350 million and bring in over $800 million taxes annually.
Scaled nationally, as it should be, the projected benefits are even more impressive; one study suggests that a national penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would generate at least $13 billion a year in income while cutting consumption by 24 percent. And those numbers would swell dramatically if the tax were extended to more kinds of junk or doubled to two cents an ounce. (The Rudd Center has a nifty revenue calculator online that lets you play with the numbers yourself.)
A 20 percent increase in the price of sugary drinks nationally could result in about a 20 percent decrease in consumption, which in the next decade could prevent 1.5 million Americans from becoming obese and 400,000 cases of diabetes, saving about $30 billion.
It’s fun — inspiring, even — to think about implementing a program like this. First off, though the reduced costs of healthy foods obviously benefit the poor most, lower prices across the board keep things simpler and all of us, especially children whose habits are just developing, could use help in eating differently. The program would also bring much needed encouragement to farmers, including subsidies, if necessary, to grow staples instead of commodity crops.
Other ideas: We could convert refrigerated soda machines to vending machines that dispense grapes and carrots, as has already been done in Japan and Iowa. We could provide recipes, cooking lessons, even cookware for those who can’t afford it. Television public-service announcements could promote healthier eating. (Currently, 86 percent of food ads now seen by children are for foods high in sugar, fat or sodium.)
Money could be returned to communities for local spending on gyms, pools, jogging and bike trails; and for other activities at food distribution centers; for Meals on Wheels in those towns with a large elderly population, or for Head Start for those with more children; for supermarkets and farmers’ markets where needed. And more.
By profiting as a society from the foods that are making us sick and using those funds to make us healthy, the United States would gain the same kind of prestige that we did by attacking smoking. We could institute a national, comprehensive program that would make us a world leader in preventing chronic or “lifestyle” diseases, which for the first time in history kill more people than communicable ones. By doing so, we’d not only repair some of the damage we have caused by first inventing and then exporting the Standard American Diet, we’d also set a new standard for the rest of the world to follow.