Mary Shelly warned us. Well-intended or not, our bastardization of nature has its consequences. Just as a mad scientist might sew-together a hodgepodge of parts that were never meant to be, so too does our food industry combine all manner of ingredients that were never tested as "biologically compatible" by the wisdom of mother nature.
We may not be dealing with a grotesque monosyllabic monster in a literal sense, but our over-creative toying with foods has created monstrous problems. Obesity is epidemic, diabetes is on the rise, heart disease is our number one killer. Even those who exercise fairly regularly can find themselves struggling with body fat and related health issues. Yet bizarrely, rather than choosing wholesome foods or better ways to exercise, we're often taught portion-control as we live and eat in a world of processed, pre-packaged abominations.
Where does this leave a physique-conscious person like you? Without good dietary judgment, it could leave you a frustrated, metabolic and hormonal train wreck struggling to get off that muscle-blurring body fat in a world polluted by "frankenfoods."
Sometimes I wonder what my grandfather would say if he walked into a modern grocery store. Probably something like: "Where's the FOOD?" He'd see aisle after isle of brightly colored cans, boxes and bags of tasty, processed, confectionary delights. But he'd be thinking: "Don't these people eat actual food? Where are the lean cuts of meat, the fruits and the vegetables? That's what we used to eat."
They're along the side or in the rear of the store, Grandpa. They're stuck over there because they're boring and nobody eats actual food anymore.
Perhaps saddest of all is that those of us who want to stay lean without being hungry all the time are offered "health foods" that are just as false and freaky as the junk foods. Let's take a look at foods that you may have in your own cupboard. Foods that leave your body wondering how the heck it's going to deal with them...
Low-fat Peanut Butter
Brilliant. Let's take the healthy, mostly monounsaturated fat out and mix-in some corn syrup solids. Whether this appeases the leaders of the "fat witch hunt" or not, it just creates a nice fat-plus-sugar combo that we just don't need. And although Consumer Reports has stated that there is actually little trans-fat in most peanut butters, I still pass on the creamy run-of-the-mill stuff. I like the taste of real mashed-up peanuts in their own oil. It's bizarre, if you think about it, that we have to pay significantly more for "natural peanut butter." In the name of George Washington Carver! That's the REAL stuff! In fact, it's sometimes only offered in stores with a specialty foods section. Ugh.
Here another smart move, eh? Industry's efforts to find an alternative to butter (which admittedly isn't something that should be over-indulged-in) brought our society to margarine. Trans fatty acids replaced the saturated ones and voila –vascular disease is more common than ever.
When I use margarine, it's an olive oil-based, trans fat-free type. Or, on occasion, I even use actual butter. Or how about just getting used to life without it? Learn to suck it up, you pampered child of the kindly West! You're just smearing fat on your carbs by remaining dependent on buttered toast and margarine-fried pancakes. Not good for a dieter. These foods aren't really that different from donuts; would you diet on those?
Listen, margarine–at least in its original form–was basically a mistake. Even if it is a modern-day staple. On holidays, I still find myself smiling at how far society has drifted into our fancy new hydrogenated world when my mom announces "I'm serving this with REAL butter!"
Fat-free hotdogs and bologna
Exactly what is this stuff, anyway? More demonization of fat–as if our ancestors didn't evolve on the stuff–has resulted in these freaky little processed thingamabobs. They're about as natural as TC starting a new column in Oprah magazine. Or Chris Shugart marching with Rosie O'Donnel against the NRA. Besides, they're typically just as riddled with nitrites as the fatty versions. And nitrites are (arguably) potently carcinogenic.
Admittedly, however, not everyone agrees on the carcinogenic potential of n-nitroso compounds.(1, 6) One study found significant relationships between hotdog consumption and brain cancer in kids–especially those rugrats who didn't get a multivitamin.(11) Not good. I don't even want to think about how many hotdogs and bologna sandwiches I ate as a kid. Although an upcoming summer picnic can admittedly leave me buying a pack of low-fat dogs for indulgence ("real" hotdogs and bologna are similarly abominable), this stuff just has no place in a bodybuilder's usual diet.
Fat free ice cream
Hey, I know! Let's take all the fat out of something that was never meant to be eaten regularly so we can indulge in a little sugar rush/ insulin nightmare every night! Forget the fact that it's supposed to be a rare treat. Gobbling the stuff as an after dinner desert is even better! At this time our glucose tolerance is so bad, we might as well insert an intravenous drip of Karo syrup. But hey, it's fat free, right?
Of course, we can take the advice of certain nutrition authorities and self-enforce rigorous portion control–frustrating ourselves on a nightly basis with a mere quarter cup! Why do this to yourself? Time once more to suck it up and lose the crutch.
Historically, Frankenfoods have been myopic mistakes that folks use as a crutch (unwittingly to their own detriment) rather than learning REAL, biologically correct dietary choices. It has yet to dawn on us that our efforts to make something "healthy" that was never meant to be anything but a rare treat backfires more often than not. By trying to fool Mother Nature, we have perennially created abominations that catch up with us in the long run. Why frustrate yourself continually when learning not to crave Frankenfoods (which admittedly takes months for most of us) is so much more logical? Then, if you want the REAL stuff on a special occasion, go eat a big bowl without guilt.
Although perhaps less offensive, this useless Frankenfood is one of the most common. It rots your teeth with its acids, adds in a little extra sodium and caffeine (sometimes) and offers nothing by way of actual nutrients–aside from the fluid itself.
Still (and sadly) it's a big improvement over the even more tooth-rotting,(2) occasionally sodium and caffeine providing, nutrition-less AND sugary soda pops. Did you know that pop is being called "liquid candy" by researchers?(13) Did you know that Pepsi has a pH of just 2.4?(14) Yikes! Whose teeth wouldn't demineralize? I personally don't want to swish around in my mouth and then actually swallow something that would eat a hole through my living room carpet.
Here's a tip: go drink some freaking water. If you need some flavoring to help increase consumption, find some spring water with a twist of lime or perhaps small amounts of sucralose flavoring. (I realize sucralose isn't natural either but after decades on aspartame, I'd rather ditch the aspartame for a while–when I use sweeteners at all.)
If you're a diet pop junkie, try replacing just one diet soft drink daily with water containing a twist of lemon or lime; barely-sweetened green tea is a great choice too. And regarding your teeth, mineral waters are a research-supported "safe alternative to more erosive acidic beverages"(10)–not to mention they actually give your body a fluid it recognizes. By sweetening drinks yourself, you can titrate the sweetness downward each month. Over time you'll actually lose your taste for ultra-sweet Frankenfoods.
I've certainly admitted before that I love beef in a big bloody way. But as a society we've taken cattle off their natural diet (grass) and served them up copious quantities of corn. Can you imagine a free-ranging cow up on its hindquarters nibbling the tip of a stalk of corn? Me either. It's like the furniture commercial says: "that's just not natural!"
It's true that the term "corn-fed beef" does sound appetizing to a carnivore like me but "grass-fed beef" is far superior. The fatty acid composition is much better suited for hardcore bodybuilders and health conscious folks alike (see Good Fat and Where It's At). Although I am grateful that agriculture successfully maintains much of the world population, I am also grateful that I live in a culture that provides a biologically correct alternative.
That's right, bread. Don't let its prevalence fool you. White bread is perhaps more disturbing than the rest of the Frankenfoods. Just because you grew up on the stuff doesn't mean it's okay. There is actually literature describing Americans' preference for white bread over healthier types.(3) There's also literature relating this spongy Frankenfood to obesity. Here's a scary quote:
"The mean annual change in waist circumference was more than 3 times as great for subjects in the white-bread cluster as for those in the healthy cluster".(8)
It's been stripped of most of the grain's benefits and artificially fortified a bit in an effort to resuscitate it. It's so insulinogenic that it's actually used in glucose tolerance tests (e.g. in labs to spike blood sugar/ insulin as rapidly as possible). This kind of food doesn't exactly lend itself to fullness and satisfaction. In fact, did you know that 76% of foods offer more satiety than white bread?(4) This stuff needs to be saved only for post-workout periods.
And the "wheat" bread you see is usually just white bread dyed brown. It's like a fat guy with a tan. He's still a fat guy. Unless it specifically says "whole wheat" in the ingredients list, it's not. The fiber content and other nutrients are just like white bread. Besides, if you've been feeling good about consuming the usual brown stuff instead of white, ask yourself what the white stuff is made of... wheat, duh!
Since so few people eat vegetables at all, it would be remiss to chastise everyone for consuming some canned green beans or corn. Vegetables are a great way to increase fiber intake, reduce calorie load, take-in beneficial phytochemicals, and even lose body fat over time. But if you're trying to eat more veggies for health reasons, why bother with sodium-loaded, unattractive canned types? Most fresh or frozen vegetables aren't typically expensive and they're WAY more attractive than those grayish, canned "green" beans you've been choking down.
My guess is that you've had a hard time complying with recommendations to eat more vegetables; do you think those daily canned, gray, salty "Franken-beans" are helping? Have you ever thought: Oh yeah! Give me a second helping! Conversely, a purposeful attempt to buy a different bag (or three) of fresh or frozen veggies each week can go a long way toward complying with your diet and reverse your downward spiral into that hormonal-metabolic-physique trainwreck we mentioned earlier. You've just got to take a moment and think about preparing them in a quick, visually-appealing way.
|Low-fat PB||Natural PB, mixed nuts|
|Hydrogenated corn oil margarine||Olive oil margarine, straight olive oil or nothing|
|Fat free processed meats||Fresh chicken breast - perhaps bought un-brined; salmon; 93% lean burger or grass-fed beef; round steak|
|Fat free ice cream||Low-fat or no-added-sugar ice cream, as a treat only|
|Diet pop||Water, tea|
|White or "wheat" bread||100% whole-wheat (or 100% whole-grain) bread or better still: baked potatoes with skin, oatmeal, oat bran hot cereal, wheat bran cereals (hot or All-Bran type) or other unrefined sources of carbohydrate (vegetables)|
|Processed, canned vegetables||One to three 16-oz. bags of frozen veggies weekly to be entirely consumed within seven days|
Listen, eating real food doesn't have to be excruciating. Blandness and unattractive presentation of wholesome foods is a real (and huge) factor that drives people away. I know; I just finished several weeks of boiled potatoes, broccoli, and "dry" chicken breasts during contest prep. Not everybody can–or wants to–do that. Unfortunately, the ever-convenient, ever-tasty, ever-colorfully-packaged Frankenfoods are beckoning. They aren't just fun-foods, they masquerade as "healthy choices" that are little more than a crutch for the weak minded. Some persons "cave" to the temptation but some resist with a little effort at the grocery store and the stovetop. You have to ask yourself flatly and DAILY: what is my choice?
In my lectures, I often mention that athletic (physique) success is 90% nutrition and recovery, at least temporally. That is, even with a lengthy two-hour training session (which admittedly is a critical 8-9% of one's day), one is still left with 22 hours each day outside of the gym. That's over 90% my friends. Do you want to put in thought and effort only 10% of the time? What kind of health and progress do you expect to achieve living on Frankenfoods, even if you do train well?
Maybe this little tirade was a wake-up call; maybe we all just need to be reminded of some basic, obvious stuff at times. But for those struggling to rid themselves of body fat and improve health, these adjustments away from Frankenfoods could be a measurable help.
Don't make your diet a horror story.
References and Related Reading
- Eichholzer, M. and Gutzwiller, F. Dietary nitrates, nitrites, and N-nitroso compounds and cancer risk: A review of the epidemiologic evidence. Nutr rev 1998; 56(4 Pt1): 95-105.
- Grobler S., et al. In vitro demineralization of enamel by orange juice, apple juice, Pepsi Cola and Diet Pepsi Cola. Clin Prev Dent. 1990;12(5):5-9.
- Hallfrisch J, and Behall K. Breath hydrogen and methane responses of men and women to breads made with white flour or whole wheat flours of different particle sizes. J Am Coll Nutr. 1999;18(4):296-302.
- Holt, S. A satiety index of common foods. Eur J Clin Nutr 1995 Sep;49(9):675-90.
- Knekt, P., et al. Risk of colorectal and other gastro-intestinal cancers after exposure to nitrate, nitrite and N-nitroso compounds: A follow-up study. Int J Cancer 1999; 80(6): 852-856.
- McKnight, G., et al. Dietary nitrate in man: friend or foe? Br J Nutr 1999; 81(5): 349-358.
- Mirvish, S., et al. N-nitroso compounds in the gastrointestinal tract of rats and in the feces of mice with induced colitis or fed hotdogs or beef. Cancinogenesis 2003; 24(3): 595-603.
- Newby, P., et al. Dietary patterns and changes in body mass index and waist circumference in adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 77(6):1417-25.
- Oldreive, C. and Rice-Evans, C. The mechanisms for nitration and nitotyrosine formation in vitro and in vivo: impact of diet. Free Radic Res 2001; 35(3): 215-231.
- Parry, J., et al. Investigation of mineral waters and soft drinks in relation to dental erosion. J Oral Rehabil 2001; 28(8): 766-772.
- Sarasua, S. and Savitz, D., Cured and broiled meat consumption in relation to childhood cancer: Denver, Colorado (United States). Cancer Causes Control 1994; 5(2):141-148.
- Schuurman, A., et al. Animal products, calcium and protein and prostate cancer risk in The Netherlands Cohort Study. Br J Cancer 1999; 80(7): 1107-1113.
- Spruill, W. PDA establishes position statement on cola contracts in schools. Pa Dent J (Harrisb) 2000 Sep-Oct;67(5):29-32.
- van der Horst G, et al. Chemical analysis of cool drinks and pure fruit juices–some clinical implications. S Afr Med J 1984;66(20):755-8.
Want more references? Go for a walk in the country, look around and imagine what was available to the humans that evolved before you – you know, the ones who adapted and set your very genetic code. How many cheese puffs and cola drinks were around then?