On June 18th 2013, the AMA (American Medical Association) officially labeled obesity as a “disease.” According to AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris, the decision was made because the board felt, “[r]ecognizing obesity as a disease [would] help change the way the medical community tackle[d] this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans” (IDEA Fitness Journal Sept 2013, 14). Originally, I was quite disturbed by this news. Great! Now pharmaceutical companies can create yet another slew of pills to help us combat obesity! Wonderful! Now bariatric surgeons can really push their number of lap band sugeries, sleeve gastrectomies, and gastric bypass surgeries to new heights! Sadly, the groups that appear to be left in the dust with the AMAs label are the personal trainers, Registered Dieticians, and Certified Nutritionists who combat obesity with exercise and nutrition knowledge.
Still, there had to be a logical reason the AMA made such a decision, right? So I decided to look up the definition of disease. According to Dictionary.com, a disease is a “disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of …poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavourable environmental factors.” Ah! Poisons! Nutritional deficiency! Toxicity! Now we’re talking! Now we’re making sense! As a NASM CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist (FNS), I stress to my clients that their results in the gym are truly driven by the food choices they make-80% driven, in fact. However, I have found that in too many cases, it is very hard to convince people to take the time to cook their own meals, pack their own lunches/snacks, and to read nutrition labels on packages. Why is this? I feel that it’s because much of the public believes what food manufacturers say about their food (they said it was healthful on the commercial, so it must be so) or what the manufacturers tout on their food labels (97% fat free…who wouldn’t buy that?). Americans want it fast, they want it now, and they trust industry to do right by them when it comes to providing healthful options.
One of my clients shared with me that her boyfriend’s sister (who is morbidly obese) told her she eats Mc Donald’s McNuggets because they are chicken. Now for someone who trusts the industry to do right by her, there is some logic in that. After all, aren’t we bombarded from every direction about the health benefits of eating chicken? Low in fat, high in protein…what’s not to like? Even when you go to the McDonald’s web site and check out the FAQ, the company assures the public “[t]he only meat used in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets is chicken breast meat.” What McDonald’s conveniently leaves out in that little statement are the number of chemicals (yes, chemicals! Some of which are toxic!) added to that little nugget in order to preserve it and fill it. What they are relying on is the fact that the general public 1)isn’t going to take the time to actually read the ingredients and understand them and 2) is going to trust McDonald’s is doing right by them when it comes to nutritional value. So let’s take a little peek at those ingredients, shall we?
CHICKEN MCNUGGETS (4 piece)
Prepared in Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil with TBHQ and Citric Acid added to preserve freshness)
Ingredients: White Boneless Chicken, Water, Food Starch-Modified, salt, Seasoning (Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Salt, Wheat Starch, Natural Flavoring [Botanical Source], Safflower Oil, Dextrose, Citric Acid), Sodium Phosphates, Natural Flavor (Botanical Source). Battered and Breaded with: Water, Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Yellow Corn Flour, Bleached Wheat Flour, Food Starch-Modified, Salt, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Lactate), Spices, Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Corn Starch.
Prepared in Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil with TBHQ and Citric Acid added to preserve freshness).
Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
This information comes straight from the McDonald’s web site and if you have never surfed the web sites of your favourite fast food/dine-in restaurants, I encourage you to do so. What you learn may shock you. Hopefully, it will shock you enough to never step foot into one of these places again.
First, take note that while the first ingredient of the nugget is white boneless chicken, it is followed by a list of twelve other ingredients; this is in reference to just the chicken portion of the nugget. What are these other twelve ingredients? In order to keep cost cheap, McDonald’s adds “fillers” to the chicken in order to give the nugget “bulk.” What this means is that the company can use less chicken per nugget, yet still give it the appearance of volume.
There are eleven other ingredients in the breading, one of which is bleached wheat flour. Typically, wheat flour is bleached with benzoyl peroxide and chlorine. You know—the products associated with acne fighting and whitening whites? Another agent used in bleached wheat flour is potassium bromate. While this product doesn’t have any bleaching agents, it does strengthen gluten development in the flour. By the way, all three of these chemicals have been banned for use in the EU. Poison. Toxicity.
What is the most alarming to me, however, is what these little bites of processed pseudochicken are prepared in. I am sure many of you are already familiar with the negative health effects of hydrogenated oils, but do you know what Dimethylpolysiloxane and TBHQ are? Let’s take a look at Dimethylpolysiloxane first. As stated in the ingredient list, this chemical is added to Mc Donalds’ oil as an antifoaming agent. Basically, the product is added to ensure the oil doesn’t bubble over when food (and I use the term food very loosely here) is added to it. What McDonald’s fails to share is the fact that this chemical is one derived from silicone and is also used in shampoos (it’s what gives your hair the shiny, slippery appearance), in the manufacturing of contact lenses, in caulk, in lubricating oils, and in heat resistant tiles. Poison. Toxicity.
Mc Donald’s does let the public know that unhealthful hydrogenated soybean oil is one of the four oils used to prepare their fried foods. They also let the public know that TBHQ is used to help preserve freshness. Again, however, they are banking on the complacency of the public here. The chemical is listed, but how many people are really going to take the time to research what the chemical is? So let me share with you the many wonderful uses of this fine chemical that Mc Donald’s and the FDA finds acceptable to put into our food supply and therefore, our systems. TBHQ is used as a corrosion inhibitor in biofuels; it is used in perfumes to lower evaporation rates; and it is used in varnishes, lacquers, and resins. Yum, right? In fact, scientific studies have shown that TBHQ can lead to hyperactivity, asthma, and dermatitis. It can also lead to cancer in high doses (1-4 grams). Poison. Toxicity.
Let me not just pick on Mc Donald’s, though. Many people feel that Chick-Fil-A provides better, more healthful options in comparison to all of the food chains out there. However, take the time to browse their site and you will discover they use the same chemicals in their food preparation as Mc Donald’s. And if you are watching your salt intake (the recommended daily allowance for sodium intake in healthy people is 2300 mg; for those with high blood pressure, that allowance drops to 1300-1500 mg), those Mc Nuggets are actually a better option than Chick-Fil-A’s standard chicken sandwich, which comes in at a whopping 1390 mg sodium (a 4 piece Mc Nugget has 360 mg). Poison. Toxicity.
While I use fast food as an example, the harmful chemicals that are poured into our food supply are certainly not limited to fast food chains or sit down restaurants. I’m looking at a package of Ritz Crackers right now and see that listed in the ingredients are partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and high fructose corn syrup. Not only is that fact disturbing, but nutritionally, five of these little suckers provide 80 calories, with 50% of the calories coming from fat! So many of the processed foods sitting on our supermarket shelves are loaded with chemicals and fats, yet they are touted as healthful. Is it any wonder, then, that in a country where we don’t know how to decipher food labels and where we trust our food suppliers and government to hold our health paramount we are seeing a rise in obesity? Is it any wonder that this generation growing up has less likelihood of outliving their parents due to the effects of obesity? Is it any wonder that Americans are so easily persuaded to follow trendy diets in an effort to save their health, not realizing that some of these diets are actually causing real damage to the way their body functions?
You may still argue that obesity is not a disease. Ultimately, one makes the conscious decision to purchase fast food, to dine out, or to purchase processed items so obesity is simply a condition created by the choices we make. Well honestly, that is a topic for another blog but in order to for you to at least begin to understand the influence foods have on our mental state because of the chemicals placed in them, then might I suggest you watch Supersize Me by Morgan Spurlock? It’s a documentary which follows Spurlock as he decides to see what happens if, for one month, he does a McDonald’s driven diet. I think the end result will disturb you deeply.
So yes, I now believe obesity is a disease. Our bodies are being poisoned by the foods we eat and our minds--our very way of thinking about food—are being altered by the chemicals that make us “feel good” as we eat them. But attacking this epidemic shouldn’t come from new medications and new surgeries. This epidemic must be attacked by 1) forcing companies to stop using the very products which disease our bodies; 2) forcing government to apply more strict regulation when it comes to quality of our food supply; and 3) welcoming the help of trainers, dieticians, and nutritionists in order to educate the public on how we can help save ourselves from a disease that shouldn’t exist.