The war on tobacco continues till today ever since the link between tobacco and lung cancer was established in 1952. Governments around the world have taken various measures of tobacco control such as taxing, ban cigarette advertising, plain packaging, education etc. The prevalence of daily smokers decrease steadily over the years in most countries, except Russia. The graph below is made from data in OECD factbook 2013 on Google public data.
What about fast food? It has been proven to be unhealthy, causes obesity, increases risk of diabetes and heart disease. The consequences are much more severe than tobacco. Why fast food is not banned? Fast food outlets are standing up at almost every street corner and in every shopping malls all over the world. Fast food advertisements are on TV, at bus stop, in the subway, and anywhere else we lay eye on. Hundreds of fast food ads are bombing the children in the US.
McDonald’s is promoting happy meals to children and dollar meals to the poor without any restriction.
Why is it so? How come the government is not taking any action to control fast food, like what they did for tobacco? What is the dark truth behind it?
Most people who are against fast food ban cited reasons such as free will, freedom of choice, cheap (thus can feed the poor), fast, taste good. These reasons sound so lame, much like a child cry for a toy. They must be against tobacco control as well for the same reasons. They may not be the ones who get sick due to fast food, since they are healthy enough to surf the internet and shout out their opinions.They are not aware that their choice is affecting other people’s choice, especially children who are too young to make rational choices and poor people who do not have many choices. Because of their preference to fast food, fast food is colonizing the world. Children are used to fast food because it is surrounding the school and their house. Poor people are addicted to fast food because it is cheap and everywhere. Fast food may not make you sick but your choice can indirectly make other people sick.
I can’t find out the real reason why fast food is not banned. I have listed below some might-be reasons:
- Solid research is needed. The current evidences are not strong enough to push the government to impose the ban on fast food. Unbiased, high quality research studies are needed to further confirm the harms of fast food on health. The studies would be difficult to carry out or get published due to the pressure from fast food industry.
- Tax revenue from fast food. As such a fast-growing industry, fast food outlets are generating huge tax revenue for the government. The government may be reluctant to close down a prosperous revenue-generating business even though it has negative impact on people’s health. Chemical factories are not banned though they causes air and water pollution that harms people’s health. Same goes for fast food.
- Strong lobbying by fast food. Fast food chains are powerful international corporations that can have a say on government policy. Their lobbyists are penetrating into the circle of decision makers and affecting national policies such as dietary guidelines and health programs. A bill that suggests fast food ban will be immediately rejected by their supporters.
What we can do as consumers is not contributing to their business. And tell our friends and family to stay away from fast food too. If everybody does so, the problem is solved.
Do not buy fast food. It kills.
Diet does not mean a short-term crush course on weight loss. It’s about what you eat and drink every day. Diet is a very personal thing. No one can control your diet except yourself.
There are so many diets advocated by doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, fitness coach, or even your neighbor. Each of them claims that it can make you loss weight and reduce risk of diseases. It is very hard to decide which diet fits you. It is even harder to strictly follow a certain diet for a long time. I think the easier and more feasible way is to create your own healthy diet plan according to your taste and eating habit. Since you can still eat what you like, you will be more likely to keep up with it.
Here are a few principles that you should follow when making your own diet plan:
- Eat real food. Real food is food that grows from the soil and can be eaten in their original form. Fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc. Try to make them the major part of your diet. For example, eat fruits and nuts for breakfast and snack, and replace the dessert with raisins or dates. If you can afford organic, keep to it. If not, just carefully wash the food before eating. Never refuse real food because of the fear of insecticide residual. The benefits you get from eating real food far exceed the potential harms.
- Eat in moderation. No matter how good the food is, do not eat too much. Stop eating when you are 70% to 80% full. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize that you are full. If you keep on eating till you receive the feedback from your brain on satiety, you have already over-eaten, at least 20% more than what you need. This is a major threat for your weight control.
- Avoid any refined, processed food and drink. This includes all the nice-looking packages that fill up 90% of the shelves in the supermarkets. If you want to control what goes into your body, avoid all these as much as possible: coca cola, packaged fruit juice, potato chips, cereals, ready-made microwave packages, and anything else with ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Milk, oil and cheese are also under this category. If it is not possible to avoid them completely, choose those less-processed such as extra virgin olive oil, fresh milk without added sugar. Replace white rice and bread with brown rice, whole grain bread, quinoa, beans can help lower blood sugar.
- Avoid trans-fat and added sugar/artificial sweetener, limit saturated fat and salt intake. If you can avoid processed food and drink, you have already get rid of trans-fat and added sugar from your diet. I put it as a separate point because it deserves all your attention. Anything with trans-fat (potato chips, nutela, fried chicken, french fries, coffee creamer. margarine, cakes/cookies made with vegetable oil) should be forbidden. Anything with added sugar/artificial sweetener (soft drinks, packaged fruit juice, candies, cookies, syrup) should not enter your house. If you crave for sweetness, bake your own cakes/cookies at home. Make your own fresh fruit juice from real fruits. Saturated fat and salt can be part of your diet but they should be taken in moderation. There are debates going on over their harms and benefits but you would not want to experiment with your own body I suppose. To play safe, limit their intake.
Try to make your own diet plan according to the 4 principles. You will find it easier to follow than the diet made by experts. Do not aim too high. Make the change gradually but steadily. Here are some tips to achieve your diet plan:
- Cook at home as often as possible. This is the best way to control what you eat. Buy real food, control the amount you eat, limit added sugar and salt, avoid processed food, all these can be easily achieved if you cook your own meal at home.
- Stay at the fresh product section in the supermarket. When you go to the supermarket, directly walk to the rear where the fresh products are. Fill up your shopping basket there and leave. Do not go to those rows of shelves in the middle with all the packages. You don’t need them.
- Drink water. Water is the cheapest and most effective pill for weight control. Do not buy any sugary drinks. Buy a water bottle and drink water.
- Eat slowly and do not eat alone. Take your time to eat. Eating is an enjoyable process. Relax and enjoy the taste of food. If possible, eat with friends and family whenever you can. Turn off the TV and put down your phone when you eat.
Be nice to yourself. Be kind to your body. Eat healthy food and enjoy the food.
In search for the causes of obesity, I came across this wonderful lecture by Stephan Guyenet on What causes leptin resistance? as shown below. Stephan is an obesity researcher and neurobiologist. His blog Whole Health Source is full of useful information on obesity and nutrition.
This video contains technical terms on cell signaling pathway and biochemical research. If you have some training in these fields, please watch the video. If you find it difficult to understand, I have summarized the main information in plain language below.
Leptin is the satiety hormone that prevents you from getting fat. When your adipose tissue (the fat cells) stores up fat, it secrets leptin. Leptin travels up to your brain and your brain will tell you to eat less and spend more energy, and thus to reduce fat in your body. As illustrated in the graph below taken from Stephan’s video lecture.
This is a sophisticated circular system that ensures our body fat remaining relatively constant over time. This system works perfectly well unless it is disrupted by the following factors: excessive leptin, inflammation and lipid metabolites. Let’s explain these factors one by one:
- Excessive leptin: Leptin level is proportional to body fat mass. So if you have too much body fat, it will produce excessive leptin, which disrupts the leptin-fat cycle. The consequence is: your brain doesn’t tell you to stop eating and you will keep on take in more calories and storing more fat. More fat->more leptin->more fat. Your body becomes a fat production line without a stop button! Pretty scary, isn’t it?
- Inflammation: We all have millions of gut bacteria in our digestive system. They help us with the digestion and nutrient absorption and live in harmony with us. But if we keep on eating unhealthy diet, our gut cells become “leaky” and these harmless bacteria can now enter our circular system and cause inflammation. Inflammation will disrupt the leptin-fat cycle and we will lose control of our fatness. What makes it worse, excessive fat mass is also inflammatory. This viscous cycle goes on and make us obese.
- Lipid metabolites: The fat we eat is normally metabolized and used as energy source for the cells. But when there is too much fat, the lipid metabolites accumulates in the cells and make the cells less sensitive to leptin. Thus the leptin-fat cycle is disrupted and we will enter the viscous cycle that leads to obesity.
The following diagram (also taken from Stephan’s lecture) summarizes the causes for leptin resistance:
Take away message from this lecture is: overeating, obesity, unhealthy food (especially refine, processed food) and inactivity can lead to excessive leptin, inflammation and lipid metabolites, which in-turn causes leptin resistance.
Leptin and fat are very much like the Chinese yin and yang. They are two opposite forces give rise to each other. When yin gets stronger, yang will suppress it and vice versa. They are in constant movement but at the same time maintains harmony and balance. Thus the balance is maintained all the time unless one gets too strong and break the cycle.
The best way to prevent obesity is maintain the balance between leptin and fat and do not enter the viscous cycle. Eating healthy food and regular physical activity can reduce inflammation and regulate level of leptin and lipid metabolites.