MAKE AMERICA EAT AGAIN was how President Trump’s campaign slogan appeared on my television screen as I watched him thank his supporters. The podium was in the way of the actual slogan, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”. This drew on “Let’s Make America Great Again” which featured in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign. The irony is that was the same year the US government issued its first Dietary Guidelines. The most prominent recommendation: the promotion of a low-fat diet, designed to improve health and control waistlines. Well, we know how that turned out. Maybe MAKE AMERICA EAT MORE REAL FOOD AGAIN is the health campaign the nation really needs?
Bill Clinton was probably the first Fast Food President, famous for ending his jogs at McDonald’s. President Trump seems to be an even bigger fast food fan, keen on Kentucky Fried Chicken, or McDonald’s burgers and fries washed down with Diet Coke. His genuine appetite for fast food undoubtedly played well politically amongst his supporters, while Big Food lobbyists must also be delighted to have a fast food fan in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s a more alarming story for the nation’s healthcare specialists.
Obesity does not get a mention on death certificates, but its “gifts” do: heart disease, lifestyle cancers, type 2 diabetes, stroke and kidney disease. With fears that a third of the US population is on its way to becoming diabetic, and suggestions from prominent real food alliance campaigners such as Dr Robert Lustig that type 2 diabetes should be renamed “Processed Food Disease”, for too long the critical importance of what Americans eat has been ignored in the fight against the rise of chronic disease.
There has been lots discussion about FAKE NEWS, but is FAKE FOOD a bigger problem?
Calorie counting is unsatisfactory when it comes to evaluating food. Of course, calories are a perfect arithmetical measurement of energy for Big food and the diet industry to employ to compare their products to real food. But fully appreciating and understanding food encompasses the sophisticated biochemistry of foodstuffs, and not just in determining the benefits of the nutrient-dense quality of real food, but also in assessing the problems associated with the energy-dense, nutrient-poor quality of processed food. It’s the difference between consuming food with minimal processing and refining, maximising nutrition from natural ingredients rather than artificial substances and eating foods that help protect the body, rather than foods that risk damaging it.
Extraordinary as it may seem, if our diet is dominated by processed food, we cannot be certain what we are consuming. Fifty years of processed food product development was built upon the mistaken general recommendation that we cut down on fat. This has helped lead us to our current obesity problems, when by trying to cut out fat, or take the “low-fat” route, saturated fat ended up being replaced in processed foods with sugar.
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When considering the production, processing, labelling and marketing of food, we cannot take anything at face value. Research continues to expose how increasingly sophisticated the food industry has become in engineering addictive processed products, filled with cheaper “empty calories”. These are foods that should be eaten rarely, if at all, yet this “Fake Food” continues to dominate the diets of large portions of the US population.
Mounting evidence from researchers in neuropsychiatry also links nutrition and depression. It was Nobel prize winner Professor Angus Deaton and his wife Professor Anne Case who first identified a sharp relative deterioration in mortality and morbidity among middle-aged white American men, due to suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse. Curiously white American women between 25 and 55 have also been dying at accelerating rates over the past decade. According to the Washington Post, studies of death certificates highlighted that the trend is even worse for women in the centre of the United States, worse still in rural areas, and worst of all for those in the lower middle class. Drug and alcohol overdose rates for working-age white women have quadrupled. Suicides are up by as much as 50 percent.
It has been established that depressive symptoms are more prevalent in people with impaired nutritional status, those with decreased nutrient intakes and poor diet quality. This suggests such groups may be at much higher risk of not only contracting chronic disease because of their diets, but in succumbing to depression that may lead them to even more destructive addictive substances.
A food health crisis bigger than tobacco?
I leave the politics of Obamacare to others, but it cannot be questioned that, with the long-term funding of US healthcare now uncertain, the threat posed by increasing rates of chronic disease has made it urgent that people are at least educated to be able to distinguish between Real Foods versus processed products. This should be combined with a health campaign on the same scale of the warnings against smoking that began some fifty years ago. While people must retain their freedom to choose what to eat, their ignorance of the implications of their diet as well as the hidden levels of salt, sugar and fat in processed products is indefensible.
Of course, there couldn’t be a bigger contrast between this administration and the previous one, with Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House, along with her work in shaping American food policy, to try and fix the way Americans eat. Yet hope springs eternal. Extraordinary progress has been made over the past fifteen years in identifying how the sum of the advantages of assorted real foods is more than the individual parts, while health professionals increasingly recognise that health and food are intertwined.
Who knows, to have the best chance of serving two terms perhaps President Trump will yet take some of these concerns to heart, if only for the sake of his own heart. Review his fast food fetish and even consider following a Clinton lead: by all accounts Bill eats mostly vegan these days.
Peter Allen is CEO of No Targets Just Routine, the creators of Just Routine, the real food app designed to help make eating real food just routine. As Managing Director of Lombard Street Research, the internationally acclaimed independent economic forecaster, he worked with its founder Professor Tim Congdon before taking over the running of the company. A longstanding advocate for independent investment research, as Chairman of Euro IRP – The European Association of Independent Research Providers – he helped revolutionise the world of investment research. He plans to do the same in the world of food.