The United States takes the top title for many things in the world. For one, the U.S. is the world’s oldest living democracy. Also, the country has one of the most (if not the most) sophisticated defense and military establishment, albeit the benefits of that are debatable. The United States also pulls rank for one last thing: a huge population of unhealthy people, where the disease largely stems from lifestyle.
Rather than war, famine, or rampant illness, the U.S. is being assailed by the cheeseburger, 64 oz of soda, and recliner. As time goes on, states are seeing a relentless rise in weight-gain. In fact, “two thirds of Americans are now either overweight (defined as a body-mass index (BMI)of 25 or higher) or obese (A 30-plus BMI).”
To us, we just see different types of delicious food. But to our bodies, food is a molecular compilation of different nutrients, energy sources, and uses. That said, what is going on in our lifestyle that is leading to this obesity?
Macronutrients – What are they and how do they work?
For some brief review, let’s take a look at how food works.
There are three types of “macronutrients”. These are called “macro” because they are large in molecular standards, and our bodies must first break them down before we can begin to use them, as well as because they represent three major nutrient groups. First, we have protein – a macronutrient crucial for the creation of amino acids. Next, there are carbohydrates – the current primary energy source for our bodies in the average diet. And finally, there is fat – which has a number of molecular functions, promoting blood clots and preventing us from bleeding to death would be one example.
While there is no “most important” macronutrient, each has its details. Protein, for example, is something that must continuously be supplied from food. Essential amino acids actually get their name from the fact that we must obtain them from our diet, either from food or supplements. Despite it not being a popularity contest, fat is the macronutrient America should be interested in because fat is what many health care professionals think we’re getting too much of.
It should be noted that fat, although associated with obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle, isn’t a “bad” thing. Certain types of fats – namely trans fat and saturated fats – are arguably “worse” than others (especially when over consumed), but they are all useful. Omega-6 and Omega-3, for example, help promote good balance between vasodilation and vasoconstriction, keeping blood pressure in its correct range. Over consumption of any fat (or any macronutrient in general), however, can lead to health problems.
What’s Recommended and What’s Consumed
Numerically speaking, the problem really is percentage; we are just consuming a disproportionate amount of one of the macronutrients and not exercising enough. Because each macronutrient has different chemical uses, when we consume them, our bodies treat them differently. Fat, for example, is easily stored when it is consumed in excess; hence the overabundance of body fat among Americans.
Want to get an idea of how off the chart America is? Daily caloric intake stems from these three macronutrients, and experts offer a suggested daily recommended intake (DRI) for our sources of energy. Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, and depending on your goals, you may want to adjust your macronutrient distribution accordingly. (Recommended is for someone with a very active lifestyle, not looking to build mass; alt recommended is for those looking to build more mass; consumed is average consumed today).
Calories from fat – Recommended: 10-15% Alt. Recommended: 25-30% Consumed: 30-35%
Calories from carbs – Recommended: 65-75% Alt. Recommended: 40-60% Consumed:40-50%
Calories from protein – Recommended: 15-20% Alt. Recommended: 25-30% Consumed:15-20%
After looking at the numbers, it’s clear that fat should be consumed the least, but is actually consumed in twice its suggested proportion. Some may ask, what’s the difference? The answer lays in the fact that fat is a poor energy source for our bodies. Furthermore, because of our more sedentary lifestyles – lots of eating, and little (if any) exercise – we are more prone to fat storage rather than fat use. Even worse, the consequences of this trend can be life-threatening.
“But,” as many also ask, “why this is happening now? Why haven’t we seen signs of this from the past?” While the answer is more complex here than with the simple difference between macronutrients, many point to the fact that our daily lives have changed and the quality of food has gone way down.
First, unlike any other time in history, we aren’t functioning as an agrarian society. In other words, we aren’t farmers. Perhaps in another time, this writer would be working with a plow rather than hunched over a computer typing away. The vast majority of the nation fits this analogy, with each of us committing little time to maintaining our bodies. Little exercise is one thing, but a poor diet is another.
So yes, it tastes delicious and there is more of it, but the actually benefits of eating a cheeseburger are slim to none. It doesn’t provide our bodies with a square meal. In fact, it provides us with a product full of sodium, refined sugars, and fats. Remember, our bodies look at food on a molecular levels, not through the lens of a taste test. Unfortunately, as consumers we face fast food meals that have 50 percent of their calories from fat. Most of our foods are fried in a lot – a lot – of oil, meaning that we become fatter and fatter each day.
Because of the increase in fat and the more sedentary lifestyle than in the past, people are becoming obese. For the same reasons, the instance of cardiovascular disease in America is skyrocketing along with diabetes and different types of cancers. The human body is just like a machine: for good performance, you need to use good fuel. And here in America, we are eating ourselves to death.
Who’s winning here? Jack in the Box, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., McDonalds. Their “meals” are cheap to make, and on average, they supply consumers with about half of the caloric intake per day with the poorest quality of food. This amounts to profit, profit, profit.
What can we do? Stop eating so many fatty foods and get off the couch! Unfortunately, anything that has ‘trans-fat’ in it tastes delicious, but in the pursuit of better health, it’s prudent to cut back. In addition, people must begin exercising more. Stretching daily along with a light to moderate exercise can help with overall health tremendously. The power of consumer demand is the best tool for any person worried about fast food. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your neighbors: a poor diet is easy to brush off, but it can lead to some serious consequences when coupled with low to no activity.