Americans Fatter at Same Level of Food Intake and Exercise

Americans, to state the obvious, are unhealthier with each passing generation. And the most obvious sign of this is rising obesity rate. In one analysis, this was shown to be true even when controlling for levels of food intake and exercise (see article below). This is the kind of data that undermines conventional dietary advice based on Christian moralizing about the deadly sins of gluttony and sloth.

Heart attacks and obesity first became a public health concern in the 1940s and 1950s. That was following decades of seed oil and margarine consumption having mostly replaced lard in the American diet. We were told that saturated fat is dangerous and that seed oils were great for health. Americans were listening and they strictly followed this advice. Even restaurants stopped cooking their french fries in tallow.

In particular, olive oil has been sold as the best. Why is olive oil supposed to be so healthy? Because it has monounsaturated fat, the same as is primarily found in lard. Not too long ago, the healthiest population in the United States was in Roseto, Pennyslvania. Guess what was their main source of fat? Lard. They also ate massive loads of meat, as do other long-lived populations in the world such as in Hong Kong.

Red meat also decreased over that period and has continued to increase since then. Dairy has followed this pattern of decline. Americans are eating less animal fats now than ever before in American history or probably human existence. It’s true that Americans are eating more lean chicken and fish, but we were told those are healthy for us. Meanwhile, Americans are eating more fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds than ever before.

Calories-in/calories-out has been an utter failure. It’s not how much we are eating but what we are eating. That then determines how our metabolism functions, whether it burns fat or stores it. Exercise is largely irrelevant for fat loss. Fat people can exercise all the time and not lose weight, while some skinny people hardly move at all. Another study “demonstrated that there is no difference in total energy expenditure between traditional hunter-gathers, subsistence farmers and modern Westerners.”

One explanation is an increase of obesogens. These are chemicals that cause the body to create fat. In general, fat is where the body stores excess toxins that overwhelm the body. And indeed younger Americans are exposed to more toxins. Then this makes losing weight hard because all the toxins get released and make one feel like shit. It’s hard for the body to eliminate a lifetime of accumulated toxicity. On top of that, the young are prescribed more medications than ever before. Antidepressants and antipsychotics have been given out like candy for anyone with mild mental issues. What is a common side effect of these drugs? Yep, weight gain.

A third possibility is more complex. We know the gut microbiome has shrunk in number and diversity. It’s also changed in the profile of bacteria. Research is showing how important is the microbiome (see The Secrete Life of Your Microbiome by Susan L. Prescott and Alan C. Logan). Toxins and drugs, by the way, also alter the microbiome. So does diet. Even if total calorie intake hasn’t changed much relative to the increased height of the population, what has changed is what we are eating.

In place of animal fats, we are eating not only more seed oils but also more carbs and sugar. Animal fats are highly satiating and so food companies realized they needed to find something equally satiating. It turns out a high-carb diet is not only satiating but addictive. It knocks people out of ketosis and causes them to put on weight. It doesn’t matter if one tries to eat less. In processed foods, when carbs are combined with seed oils, the body is forced to burn the carbs immediately and so it has no choice but to turn the seed oils into fat.

By the way, what alters metabolism also alters the microbiome. This is seen when people go from a high-carb diet to a ketogenic diet. Ketosis is powerful in its impact on how the body functions in so many ways, even changing epigenetic expression of genes. Here is the worst part. Those epigenetic changes have been happening for generations with the loss of regular ketosis. Even epigenetics for obesity, following an environmental trigger like famine, have been shown to pass on across multiple generations. The microbiome, of course, also is inherited and each of those bacteria likewise have an epigenome that determines their genetic expression.

Everything we do as individuals, good and bad, doesn’t only affect us as individuals. People are getting fatter now not only because of what they are doing differently but because of everything that was done by their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. As I’ve said before, even if we reversed all these changes instantly, as we are unlikely to do, it would still require generations to fully reverse the consequences.

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Why It Was Easier to Be Skinny in the 1980s
by Olga Khazan

A study published recently in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise. […]

Just what those other changes might be, though, are still a matter of hypothesis. In an interview, Kuk proffered three different factors that might be making harder for adults today to stay thin.

First, people are exposed to more chemicals that might be weight-gain inducing. Pesticides, flame retardants, and the substances in food packaging might all be altering our hormonal processes and tweaking the way our bodies put on and maintain weight.

Second, the use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically since the 1970s and ’80s. Prozac, the first blockbuster SSRI, came out in 1988. Antidepressants are now one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S., and many of them have been linked to weight gain.

Finally, Kuk and the other study authors think that the microbiomes of Americans might have somehow changed between the 1980s and now. It’s well known that some types of gut bacteria make a person more prone to weight gain and obesity. Americans are eating more meat than they were a few decades ago, and many animal products are treated with hormones and antibiotics in order to promote growth. All that meat might be changing gut bacteria in ways that are subtle, at first, but add up over time. Kuk believes that the proliferation of artificial sweeteners could also be playing a role.

Why Do Americans Keep Getting Fatter?
by Chris Bodenner

Notwithstanding the known errors of dietary assessment, it is interesting that we observe consistent trends over time in terms of how dietary intake relates with obesity and how this relationship has changed over time. This lends more confidence to our primary findings and suggests that there are either physiological changes in how diet relates with body weight or differences in how individuals are reporting their dietary intake over time. […]

[W]e observed that the BMI associated with a given leisure time physical activity frequency was still higher over time in men. This may be attributed to changes in non-leisure time physical activity such as reductions in occupational physical activity or increasing screen time. However, a study using doubly labelled water demonstrated that there is no difference in total energy expenditure between traditional hunter-gathers, subsistence farmers and modern Westerners. Thus, numerous other factors in addition to energy intake and physical activity may be important to consider when trying to explain the rise in obesity, and should be further evaluated in further studies.

Obese Military?

I came across some articles on obesity and the military (see below). Metabolic syndrome, obesity being one part of it, is on the rise in the military and in the population in general, along with much else such as autoimmune and mood disorders.

Weight issues are not an issue of mere exercise, as I discovered in aging. The weight began accruing in my thirties and continued into my forties. I’ve always been active and so, in response, I became even more active. I had long done aerobic exercise multiple times a week, often long jogs and sometimes carrying extra weight. Weightlifting was added to my regimen these past few years. Still, the body fat wouldn’t budge. Besides, the worst rates of obesity are found among the young and so aging is not the issue, as further demonstrated by age-related diseases (e.g., what was once called adult onset diabetes) hitting hard at younger and younger ages.

Why is that? Some of it is basic biological changes in aging, of course — still, that couldn’t explain it all since it is happening in all age groups. I had improved my diet over time, but admittedly I was still eating a fair amount of carbs and sugar, even if no where near the amount the average American gets. In the wider population, the consumption of carbohydrates and added sugars has drastically increased over time, specifically as dietary percentage of red meat and saturated fat has gone down while dietary percentage of vegetables and vegetable oils has been on the rise. There are other complex factors that could be mentioned, but I’ll keep it simple.

The point is that the American population, in and outside of the military, are in compliance with official dietary recommendations. The military is even able to enforce a high-carb, low-fat diet on military personnel since they have few other choices when food is prepared for them, and it is specifically during deployment that military personnel have the worst diet-related health decline. There is no greater opportunity than the military for gathering highly-controlled dietary data, as the only other segment with more controlled diets are those locked away in institutions. Also, the military enforces a rigid exercise program, and those who join are those who self-selected for this lifestyle and then had to meet high standards to be accepted. Yet military personnel apparently are getting fatter and fatter.

The amount of carbohydrates we’re talking about here is not insignificant. The USDA recommends 50-60% of the diet to consist of carbohydrates with an emphasis on grains, most of those simple starchy carbs. Even adding some fiber back into processed foods doesn’t really make them any healthier. Grains alone brings up a whole mess of other issues besides gluten (e.g., grains block absorption of certain key nutrients) — it’s long been known that the best way of fattening animals is with grains.

To put in context how distorted is our diet, a recent study compared a high-carb and a low-carb diet where the latter consisted of 40% carbs. If that is what goes for low-carb these days, no wonder we are such a sickly population. Most traditional societies rarely get such high levels of carbs and what they do get usually comes from sources that are fibrous and nutrient-dense. Look at hunter-gatherers — 40% carbs would be at the extreme high end with many groups only getting 22% carbs. As a concrete example, compared to potato chips or a baked potato, chewing on a fibrous wild tuber is a laborious process because of how tough it is, only gaining slightly more calories than you’d be expending for all the effort.

For further perspective, a study published this month implemented a ketogenic diet (Richard A. LaFountain et al, Extended Ketogenic Diet and Physical Training Intervention in Military Personnel). That by itself isn’t noteworthy, as ketosis has been scientifically studied for about a century. What is significant is that it was the first time that such a diet done was done with military personnel. If you’re familiar with this area of research, the results were predictable which is to say they were typical. Military personnel aren’t essentially any different than other demographics. We all evolved from the same ancestors with the same metabolic system.

The results were positive as expected. Health improved in all ways measured. Body fat, in particular, was lost — relevant because the subjects were overweight. Benefits were seen in other aspects of what is called metabolic syndrome, such as better insulin sensitivity. All of this was accomplished while physical fitness was maintained, an important factor for the military. Going by what we know, if anything, physical fitness would improve over time; but that would require a longer term study to determine.

Ketosis is how I and millions of others have lost weight, even among those who don’t know what ketosis is. Anyone who has ever restricted their diet in any way, including fasting, likely has experienced extended periods of ketosis with no conscious intention being required — ketosis simply happens when carbs and sugar are restricted, and even commercial diets like Weight Watchers are quite restrictive along these lines. Other ketogenic gains often are experienced in relation to hunger, cravings, mood, energy, stamina, alertness, and focus. The point here, though, was weight loss and once again it was a glorious success.

That such studies are finally being done involving the military indicates that, after a century of research, government officials are maybe finally coming around to taking ketosis seriously. It’s understandable why drug companies and doctors have been resistant, since there is no profit in a healthy sustainable diet, but profit isn’t a concern for the military or shouldn’t be, although military contractors who provide the food might disagree (high-carb food is cheaper to provide because of high-yield crops subsidized for a half century by the government). If the USDA won’t change its guidelines, maybe the military should develop its own. A military filled with those of less than optimal health is a national security threat.

As for the rest of us, maybe it’s time we look to the studies and make informed decisions for ourselves. Not many doctors know about this kind of research. And if anything, doctors have a misinformed fear about ketosis because of confusion with diabetic ketoacidosis. Doctors aren’t exactly the most knowledgeable group when it comes to nutrition, as many have noted. And the government is too tied up with agricultural and food corporations. Any positive changes will have to come from the bottom up. These changes are already happening in a growing movement in support of alternative diets such as ketogenic low-carb, which is maybe what brought it to the attention of some military officials.

Government will eventually come around out of necessity. A global superpower can’t maintain itself in the long run with a malnourished and obese population. The healthcare costs and lost sick days alone could cripple society — even now most of the healthcare costs go to a few preventable diseases like diabetes. I’m willing to bet that when the next world war is fought the soldiers will be eating low-carb, high-fat rations made with nutrient-dense ingredients. Not doing so would risk having an inferior military. For-profit ideology only goes so far when the stakes are high.

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Is U.S. Nutrition Policy Making the Military (and Recruits) too Fat to Fight?
from Nutrition Coalition

This year, for the first time since 2005, the Army fell short of its recruitment goal, according to the recent report, “Unhealthy and Unprepared,” by The Council for a Strong America, a group of retired generals and admirals. Obesity was largely to blame. Some 71% of young people between the ages of 17 and 24 fail to qualify for military service, says the report. These alarming numbers raise the disturbing question of whether the U.S. will be able to continue the luxury of maintaining an all-volunteer army in the future.

Another recent study, this one by the Rand Corporation found that some two-thirds of the nation’s active military personnel are overweight or obese. Topping the scale is the Army, with 69.4% of its personnel overweight or obese. But even the trimmest military branch – the Marine Corps – isn’t much better, at 60.9%. These numbers may be misleading, since “obesity” is defined by BMI (body mass index), which does not distinguish between whether extra pounds come fat or muscle—the latter being more likely to be the case in the military. Still, rates of 60-69% are disturbingly high. Since these folks are following the military’s exercise program, we certainly can’t blame them for shirking on physical activity.

It seems, in fact, that the U.S. military diet actually worsens health, according to an Army publication six years ago. Chanel S. Weaver of the U.S. Army Public Health Command wrote, “Even those Soldiers who are actually fit enough to deploy can face challenges in maintaining a healthy weight while serving in the deployed environment.”

In the article, Dr. Theresa Jackson, a public health scientist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command, states, “Literature suggests that fitness decreases and fat mass increases during deployments.” This is an astonishing fact: fitness declines in the military, despite mandated regular exercise.

This paradox could be explained by the growing understanding that exercise plays a relatively minor role in weight loss. “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet,” is the new common catchphrase among experts. Instead, the principal factor driving obesity, as the data increasingly show, is poor nutrition.

A look at the Army’s nutrition guidelines shows that they emphasize low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. The Army recommends eating “…high protein, low-fat items such as: fish, beans, whole wheat pasta, egg whites, skim or 1 percent milk, and low-fat yogurt” while avoiding “items such as: fried items, high fat meats, egg yolks, and whole milk.” This guidance comes from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), a policy that has been co-issued by USDA and US-HHS since 1980. The military essentially downloads these guidelines and serves food in mess halls to reflect DGA recommendations.

Ironically, this reliance on the U.S. Guidelines could well be the very reason for the military’s obesity problems. This diet tells the entire U.S. population to eat 50-60% of their calories as carbohydrates, principally grains, and just as a high-grain diet fattens cattle, a large body of government-funded science shows that a high-carbohydrate diet, for most people, is inimical to sustainable weight loss.

The argument that Americans don’t follow the guidelines is not supported by the best available government data on this subject—which demonstrates widespread adherence to the Dietary Guidelines.

New military study: “Remarkable” results among soldiers on a ketogenic diet
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher

Those on the ketogenic diet lost an average of 17 pounds (7.5 kg), 5 percent of their overall body fat, 44 percent of their visceral fat, and had their insulin sensitivity improve by 48 per cent. There was no change in the participants on the mixed diet. Training results in physical strength, agility, and endurance in both groups were similar.

The researchers noted:

The most striking result was consistent loss of body mass, fat mass, visceral fat, and enhanced insulin sensitivity in virtually all the ketogenic diet subjects despite no limitations on caloric intake. Physical performance was maintained…. These results are highly relevant considering the obesity problem affecting all branches of the military.

[…] Although neither group counted calories, the ketogenic diet group naturally reduced their caloric intake while eating to satiety.

The most noteworthy response was a spontaneous reduction in energy intake, resulting in a uniformly greater weight loss for all ketogenic diet participants.

The military should lead the U.S. fight against obesity
by Steve Barrons

That advice, driven by the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, has largely stuck to the familiar low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that calls on us to cut meat, butter and cheese. Yet in recent years, the science has evolved, and it has become increasingly clear to people like me that fats aren’t the enemy. Indeed, as I ate more fat and reduced my intake of sugars and other carbohydrates like grains, I lost weight and became healthier.

Experiences like mine are now backed by a fast-growing body of science, showing carbohydrate restriction to be effective for fighting obesity and diabetes while improving most heart-disease risk factors.

For many, it’s hard to get past the basic assumption that the fat on your plate becomes the fat in your body. But the truth is that it’s excessive carbohydrates that turn into body fat — completely contrary to what Americans have long been told.

So why hasn’t the government’s dietary advice caught up to the science? According to a rigorous investigation in The BMJ on the dietary guidelines, the experts appointed to review the scientific evidence relied on weak scientific standards in their report and failed to review the most recent science on a number of topics, including optimal intakes for carbohydrates, saturated fat and salt. Most critically, the report relied heavily on observational studies in which researchers follow test groups over long periods of time. But even the best epidemiological studies, according to the BMJ, “suffer from a fundamental limitation. At best they can show only association, not causation. Epidemiological data can be used to suggest hypotheses but not to prove them.” This is science 101.

The U.S. military serves more than 150 million meals per year to its personnel, and when those meals are based on a government-advised, high-carbohydrate diet, our troops have a harder time staying trim and healthy. The Army’s own website warns people to stay away from high-fat meats, egg yolks and whole milk and advises “eating less fatty food for better overall health,” while encouraging a diet that includes pasta and bread. Making matters worse, service members usually have fewer options for avoiding these nutritional mistakes, especially on deployments when they often can’t cook their own meals.

Pentagon eyes controversial diet in bid to build more lethal warriors
by Ben Wolfgang

Ditching carbs may be the key to military success in America’s future wars.

Top Pentagon officials say research has shown that human bodies in ketosis — the goal of the popular and controversial ketogenic diet — can stay underwater for longer periods, making the fat- and protein-heavy eating plan a potential benefit to military divers. It is one example of a rapidly growing trend as military researchers zero in on how nutrition and certain drugs can enhance how fighting men and women perform in battle. […]

But industries that specialize in the link between diet and performance are eager to engage in complex conversations about using cutting-edge science to optimize the human body while preserving basic elements of choice and individuality. The example of how ketosis — a biological process in which the body burns fat for fuel — could produce more capable military divers is one of the clearest examples of the 21st-century debate that now confronts the Pentagon.

“One of the effects of truly being in ketosis is that it changes the way your body handles oxygen deprivation, so you can actually stay underwater at [deeper] depths for longer periods of time and not go into oxygen seizures,” Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology at U.S. Special Operations Command, said at a high-level defense industry conference in Tampa late last month.

“That kind of technology is available today,” she said. “We can tell whether you are or are not in ketosis. We have really good indications of how to put you in ketosis. And we know statistically what that does to your ability to sustain oxygen.

“The problem,” she said, “is I don’t have the authority to tell people — swimmers, submariners, etc. — that they’re going to get themselves in ketosis so they can stay in the water longer. That’s an authority question, not a technology question.”

Defense Department to ban beer and pizza? Mandatory keto diet may enhance military performance
by Kristine Froeba

The controversial ketogenic or “keto” diet may be the future of the military, some defense officials say.

Service members, and Navy SEALS especially, may have to forgo beer and burritos for skinny cocktails and avocado salad (forget the tortilla chips) if a proposal from Special Operations Command gains momentum.

While a nutritionally enhanced future could eventually be put into effect for all branches, the SEALS and other underwater dive-mission specialists might be the first groups targeted for the change in nutritional guidelines. […]

Discussion of new dietary guidelines for service members comes at a time of growing concern about obesity in the military and its potential threat to readiness. […]

For the diet to be implemented laterally across the military, produce choices and meat quality at military dining facilities across the world would have to change significantly, not to mention the high-carb and sugar content of MRE’s. The popular pepperoni pizza MRE would be a thing of the past. Although one benefit of formulating a new high-fat ration is that it would be lighter weight to carry.

“You can carry even more calories because fats weigh less, which is an advantage,” said Kinesiologist Jeff Volek, a professor at Ohio State University’s Department of Human Sciences and author of the study.

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Gravy, the Elixir of Youth!

We’re in the holiday season. It’s the time of year when there are lots of deserts and delicious foods. Many struggle against gaining weight.

Let me share Stella Blue’s dieting tip. She is my calicao cat, about 18 years old now. She has always maintained her girly figure.

How does she do it? Like anyone else, she enjoys food. She prefers tasty wet food multiple times a day. But she has a trick to not letting the weight creep up.

Here it is: Only eat the gravy. Fill your plate with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and whatever else. Pour gravy over it all. And then lick the gravy off the top, leaving the rest on your plate.

All the gravy you want and that trim figure you’ve always dreamed of!

I’m going to try it out this year. I’ll have to make sure there is plenty of extra gravy for the coming week. I might need to carry around my own personal supply of gravy when family is around.

Maybe I’ll keep a flask of gravy in my pocket, for those moments of temptation. That piece of pie or candy is looking tasty. Well, just pour gravy on it. Problem solved.

Thanks, Stella! Your wisdom is neverending. I guess she should be wise at this point, since she is entering her 90s in human years. May we all be equally as wise when we reach that that ripe old age. And may we all still be able to run up cat trees as if we were still wee kittens.

Gravy, the elixir of youth. Eat up and enjoy the holidays!