The biggest causes of death in the world are preventable, lifestyle-related diseases.
These include obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes and various types of cancer.
In the year 2011 alone, these diseases killed over 15 million people.
Interestingly, most of these diseases appear to be completely absent in populations that eat a non-industrial diet.
What this implies is that there is something in the Western environment that is causing them.
The unhealthy diet that we are eating is probably the biggest contributor.
These 4 common foods are by far the worst…
1. Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup
Added sugar is often considered unhealthy because it contains “empty” calories.
That is, plenty of energy without any vitamins or minerals.
This is true, but it is really just the tip of the iceberg.
Let me explain why…
Sugar (as in table sugar, or sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup consist of the simple sugars glucose and fructose in about a 1:1 ratio.
Every cell in the human body can metabolize glucose, but the liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in meaningful amounts.
While the liver can easily metabolize the small amounts of fructose found in fruit, large amounts of fructose from added sugars can overload the liver.
When the liver gets more fructose than it can handle, it turns the excess into fat.
This fat either gets shipped out of the liver as VLDL (very low density lipoprotein), or it may lodge in the liver and cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease… which can lead to a host of problems.
Controlled trials in humans show that large amounts of fructose can lead to most of the characteristic features of the metabolic syndrome in only 10 weeks:
- Increased triglycerides, small, dense LDL cholesterol, apoB and oxidized LDL. This indicates a massive increase in the risk of heart disease.
- Insulin resistance, a stepping stone towards type II diabetes.
- Elevated insulin and blood glucose levels.
- Fat deposition in the abdominal cavity (the dangerous visceral fat).
Given the harmful effects of sugar on metabolism, it is not surprising to find strong statistical associations between sugar consumption and obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even cancer.
Additionally, sugar can contribute to weight gain and obesity via several different mechanisms. The dramatic increase in insulin (the fat storage hormone) is just one of them.
When people eat fructose, they don’t feel the same level of satiety as they do from glucose. Fructose also doesn’t lower the hunger hormone ghrelin.
To top things off, added sugar is also downright addictive, leading to a vicious cycle of cravings, binge eating and fat gain.
All of this combined… elevated insulin, high levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, cravings, addiction, etc… is a recipe for fat gain disaster.
Conversely, including sugar in your diet will make it very difficult to lose weight.
Bottom Line: Added sugar, due to its high fructose content, can cause many features of the metabolic syndrome and is associated with obesity and all sorts of serious diseases.
2. Trans Fats
Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been chemically modified to be solid at room temperature.
They are also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats.
The manufacturing process is very disgusting and requires hydrogen gas, high heat, lots of pressure and a metal catalyst.
These “frankenfats” were never available to humans until about a hundred years ago and it amazes me that anyone thought this stuff would be fit for human consumption.
Our cells don’t know what to do with them and they can cause various harmful effects in the body.
Trans fats raise small, dense LDL cholesterol, lower HDL, increase fat in the abdominal cavity, lead to inflammation and insulin resistance.
Over the long term, consumption of trans fats is strongly associated with various serious diseases. This includes cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, depression and cancer.
Even the governments around the world have begun taking action against trans fats, setting laws to reduce the amount of them in the food supply.
But things are taking a long time to change and trans fat consumption is still way too high.
I recommend that you read the labels on everything you eat. If you see the word “hydrogenated” anywhere, don’t eat it.
Bottom Line: Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been chemically modified. They are highly toxic, cause serious harmful effects on health and may be a leading driver of many serious diseases.
3. Industrial Seed- and Vegetable Oils
Seed- and vegetable oils are highly refined oils that are extracted from various seeds.
This includes corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil and canola oil.
The extraction method is complex and involves high heat, pressing, bleaching and the toxic solvent hexane.
The problem with these oils is that they contain massive amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids, but we need to consume Omega-6s and Omega-3s in a certain balance.
When we consume too many Omega-6s, which is common in the Western diet because of these oils, then many things in the body can start to go wrong.
Too many Omega-6 fats can contribute to inflammation, which is a causal factor in some of the most serious diseases of our times.
Studies show that the amount of Omega-6 in the bloodstream directly correlates with the risk of cardiovascular disease. Several controlled trials have confirmed this finding.
These fats are also highly reactive due to the abundance of double bonds in the fatty acid molecules. They tend to sit in our cell membranes and increase their susceptibility to damage.
These oils have also been associated with various other diseases, including cancer, fatty liver disease, depression and altered immune function.
Not only that, but a study of common vegetable oils sold in the U.S. found that 0.56 to 4.2% of the fatty acids in them are highly toxic trans fats.
This does NOT apply to other plant oils like olive oil and coconut oil, which are extremely healthy.
If you want to improve your health and minimize your risk of chronic disease, avoid these processed seed- and vegetable oils like the plague.
Bottom Line: An increased consumption of vegetable oils can cause inflammation and increase the risk of many serious diseases, including cardiovascular disease.
4. Wheat – Including “Heart-Healthy” Whole Wheat
Evidence is mounting that wheat is a significant contributor to many diseases.
This includes whole wheat… which is commonly mistaken as a health food.
The main reason is that wheat contains large amounts of a protein called gluten.
It is well known that people who have celiac disease can not tolerate gluten. But now studies have identified a less severe form called gluten sensitivity, which is much more common.
People who are gluten sensitive mount an immune response in the digestive tract when they consume it. This can damage the lining of the intestine and cause pain, stool inconsistency, bloating, tiredness and other symptoms.
There is also evidence that gluten can make the intestinal lining more permeable, potentially allowing other substances from the digestive tract to “leak” into the bloodstream, which can lead to a host of problems.
Wheat may contribute to nutritional deficiencies via various mechanisms:
- It is high in phytic acid, a substance that binds important minerals and prevents them from being absorbed.
- One study shows that wheat fiber makes the body burn through its Vitamin D stores 30% faster.
- In individuals who are gluten sensitive, the damage to the intestinal lining can decrease the absorption of all nutrients.
Wheat may also increase your risk of heart disease. In one study, whole wheat increased LDL cholesterol by 8%, LDL particle number by 14% and small, dense LDL by a whopping 60.4% compared to whole oats.
Several controlled trials show that a gluten free diet can improve some cases of schizophrenia, autism and cerebellar ataxia.
Saying that whole wheat is better than refined wheat is like saying that filtered cigarettes are better than unfiltered cigarettes.
Using that same logic, you could say that everyone should be smoking filtered cigarettes for the health benefits. It doesn’t make sense.
5. Anything Else?
Of all the horrible things in the modern diet, these 4 foods are by far the worst.
Feel free to leave a comment if you want to add to the list!