Why Processed Foods Make You Sick And Fat

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When buying food, we see the benefits of processed foods: they are more practical, look amazing, taste delicious, can be stored for weeks, if not years and children love them. These reflect the hard work of the principal instigators: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Unilever, General Mills, Nestlé, Mars, Kellogg, Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.

Yet it is obvious that the prevalence of chronic diseases has grown in parallel with the growth of processed food. There’s no question obesity, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 Diabetes have increased sharply and we are now paying the costs of increased processed food consumption.

Why are processed foods inherently bad for health?

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Why Your Weight Loss Plan Is Not Working

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There’s the case of the college guy who wants to look chiseled for Spring break. But no hard how he tries, the scale won’t move.

There’s the other case of the busy professional who’s seen a series of specialists, nutritionists, doctors, consulted with fitness trainers. She has wonderful meal plans, and a training plan customized to her needs, but she can’t shed a pound.

The two cases above are real, and the issues are common. Here’s what I’ve found after lengthy discussions.

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66% of Packaged Foods Have Sugar

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Think you are eating healthy? Think again.

A team of researchers went through ALL products sold in a typical north american food retailer. What they found was a surprise: 66% of packaged foods had sugar as an ingredient. (see reference #1 below for more)

This excluded such as vegetables, fruits, or other raw foods such as water, rice and grains.

Sugar was found as an ingredient in 86% of snacks and 79% of beverages. It also showed up unexpectedly in foods generally seen as healthy such as yoghurt (73%) or baby infant formula (47%).

What does it tell us?

First, it tells us that if you pick an item randomly at a food retailer, it most likely has sugar. That’s what will happen next time you are going to a grocery store, if you are not careful.

Second, even if you pick “healthy” foods with nice big labels on it (such as whole wheat, 0% fat, fortified etc.), it most likely has sugar or an equivalent in it. Read the ingredients list to confirm. Even organic food have sugar in them.

Third, this also means that if you buy food on the go, it most likely has sugar in it. Fast food restaurants have the same suppliers as food retailers. The difference is that you won’t get to read the ingredients label.

Finally, this shows that our society is ADDICTED to sugar. We are relying on an industrial food industry that likes to sprinkle large amounts of sugar on any food it produces, and not just sweets, in order to sell more. This addiction leads to inflammation. 10 years or 20 years later, it leads to obesity, and then chronic diseases.

Eating sugar continuously is equivalent to a permanent attack on our body’s system. Whenever we eat sugar, cells around our intestines produce Interleukin-1beta, a messenger substance that can cause chronic inflammation, increase insulin production and also causes insulin-producing beta cells to die off in patients with diabetes. (See reference #2 below)

 

What should we do?

As long as it is impossible to identify the presence of added sugars using nutrition labels and impossible to identify amounts of added sugars in packaged foods, a general guideline is to stay away as much as possible from packaged foods. Get raw foods – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, simple water etc. Those are the foods without any paper or plastic packaging. This way, you also stay away from food chemicals, additives and emulsifiers. If you really have to pick a packaged food, take 30 sec to read the ingredients list. Pick the ones that have ingredients you know (and not an unpronounceable chemical), with the least amount of sugar, corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.

If we all do this together, perhaps it will encourage a few food suppliers to actually care and offer healthy prepared foods!

References:

  1. Rachel B. Acton, Lana Vanderlee, Erin P. Hobin, David Hammond. Added sugar in the packaged foods and beverages available at a major Canadian retailer in 2015: a descriptive analysis. CMAJ Open, 2017; 5 (1): E1 DOI: 10.9778/cmajo.20160076
  2. Erez Dror, Elise Dalmas, Daniel T Meier, Stephan Wueest, Julien Thévenet, Constanze Thienel, Katharina Timper, Thierry M Nordmann, Shuyang Traub, Friederike Schulze, Flurin Item, David Vallois, Francois Pattou, Julie Kerr-Conte, Vanessa Lavallard, Thierry Berney, Bernard Thorens, Daniel Konrad, Marianne Böni-Schnetzler & Marc Y Donath. Postprandial macrophage-derived IL-1β stimulates insulin and both synergistically promote glucose disposal and inflammation. Nature Immunology, January 2017 DOI: 10.1038/ni.3659

Healthy Snack Alternatives

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My general rule : don’t snack. It is much easier to eat junk food when snacking. We also dismiss easily calories from snack but they easily add up. It is better to sit down with others and take a significant and balanced meal.

There are cases where snacking is ok. Endurance & strenuous exercise is a good case. Missing breakfast or a meal is another case. Eating something to prevent hypoglycemia or decrease effects of strong alcohol are other good cases.

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The Vertues of Slow

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Faster & Better.

This is the motto of modern western countries. Entrepreneurs, corporations and governments live by it, and brought many inventions: plastic packaging, engines, planes, frozen meals, fast food, 4K TV, e-commerce, white (refined) flour, hamburgers, coke, antibiotics, genetically-modified food, laptops and VR headsets.

At every iteration, the faster and better products are celebrated. Every year, we get more pixels, more speed, more calories per gram, more fat and sugar per gram, more caffeine in a can, and more social notifications in a day of Facebook than our grandparents would ever get in a lifetime. Amazing, isn’it? And addictive.

 

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Improving Metabolism With Intermittent Fasting

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Chances are that if you read this blog, you live in a developed country. Food is readily available.

Look around you. There is plenty of food. Plenty is not the right word. We love food. We swim in food. We adore food so much we have large, humongous signs outside. We have *temples* dedicated to food on every block. Our love life is around food. We give food to others to show how much we care. Or we deprive kids of food to punish them. We bestow moral values to food and our whole belief system is centered on the idea that food, or more food, is always good.

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Goals for 2017

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Happy New Year !

My goal for 2016 was simple : get back into exercise, be lean again, and clean up diet.

I got with a group of friends to start running during the summer, and do routinely 35 km per week (5k, 10k, and 21k). The performance were good.. until it started snowing. Surprisingly, I like running in the snow in the woods. It’s a good time to reset the clock and I feel fresh after the run… although completely frozen.

Weight is under control, leaner than my martial art days. That’s something I’m not going to complain about.

For diet, I stopped eating processed foods and 90% of my foods come from cooking. Of course, there are foods like chocolate, soya products or bread that I can’t make at home. But the whole adventure has been fun: discovering all kinds of vegetables and fruits, knowing how to prepare them, and experiment with different recipes.

The year wasn’t perfect. I had to go a dozen times to the dentist, for cavities I delayed. This is extremely costly in Canada, where health insurance doesn’t cover dental costs. I’m still learning how to control blood sugar. Oh good times 🙂

The new year is upon us – and it’s time to start fresh. An opportunity to start new projects, to look forward, and reach for the stars. Because why not. Better be young, hungry and scrappy.

My goals for 2017 are simple: train for a marathon (amongst others), continue sharing good knowledge here, and continue working on applications and platforms like OutcomeReference. I hope to share the journey here and create a good community along the way. I also hope you succeed in your goals and have a happy, healthy 2017!

Of course, these goals won’t be possible without good foundations. When people start a new year, it’s about joining a gym and start lifting weights. Or join an aerobics class. Or maybe trying a new diet. If I have a suggestion, it’s to take a holistic view and remember that exercise alone won’t solve health issues. All these make a good foundation:

  • Moderate exercise (a good 90mn per week) will burn the fat, give you energy, and improve your immune system. Simply you can’t do without.
  • Diet is the response to any weight issues (and probably many other issues). If any doubt, look at the Mediterranean diet: olive oil, legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and the occasional fish
  • Manage your stress. Stress can wreak havoc in your circadian rhythms, make you age faster, and make your life miserable, without you knowing it. Listen to music, take one or two hours completely off every week, spend time with friends.
  • And be conscious of environmental factors like indoor air pollution or chemicals exposure.

Of course, you can do more than these bare minimum foundations. If you have interesting ideas for 2017, let me know !