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No, it does not take a conspiracy to make people fat

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Foods that are high in calories, that contain a large portion of fat are simply something people like.   The same is true for starchy foods and sweet foods.   Any chef will tell you this. There’s a reason why so many of them seem to be nearly obsessed with butter.  It makes foods taste pleasing.  Trying to make foods that are low in sugar, low in fat and low in starch as palatable is, at beast a challenge.  They can be spiced and seasoned, but this really does not get you quite the same level of culinary gratification.

Of course, substitutes can be used, which give similar taste to foods.  Many substitute sweeteners exist.  Unfortunately, they do not always work in all products, since they may not melt or dissolve the same way as natural sugars do.  They also tend to have inferior subjective tastes, at least to most people, with undesirable mouth-feels and aftertastes.  There are also fat substitutes, but they have their own problems.   Olestra is a well known example.   The molecule is similar to fats, chemically and physically.  It has the same thick, greasy feel to it.  However, it also has some unfortunate side-effects.  It is not absorbed in the digestive tract but passes through.  It’s become famous for therefore producing an unpleasant side effect known as anal leakage. (Which is exactly what it sounds like.)

The human affinity for sweetness, however, should not be viewed as an addiction in the same way something like cocaine is addictive, however.  That’s just ridiculous.  Sugar is a natural part of our food we are all exposed to and which can’t be eliminated.  Sweet flavors light up the pleasure centers of the brain because we like them and that’s what stuff we like does.   Cocaine is a powerful drug that modifies brain chemistry, working on the dopamine system.  It has strong stimulating effects and produces tolerance and dependence.  With time, users are left dopamine-deficient without it.  It also has an effect on serotonin and norepinephrine.

Why this is the case:

The reason why humans seek out and prefer high calorie foods is actually very simple.   For most of our evolution food was scarce and it was common to not know where your next meal was coming from.  Calories are, by far, he most important basic nutrient, and therefore when the opportunity arose to eat something high in them, it made sense to do so.  If our ancestors went out foraging or hunting for food, it made sense to seek out that which had the highest calorie density.

It’s also more common to find other important nutrients, such as vitamins in the fruits of plants than in their leaves.   Since humans require a steady supply of vitamin C, an affinity for sweet fruits was a good thing to have.

It really is that simple.   It’s a matter of desiring foods and high calorie foods, because that’s what we need.

Evolution is also the reason why humans get fat when they eat a lot of high calorie foods.  Many seem to believe that gaining weight represents the human body functioning improperly or that it is the result of something unnatural.  This seems to be the reason why there are so many “detox” diets, which are based on the entirely false notion that fat is toxic or that some toxic and foreign substance is making people gain fatty tissue.  There’s nothing especially toxic in fat cells.  They’re just full of nutrients.

This has the same basic evolutionary reason.   Every day we burn a certain number of calories, based primarily on the level of activity undertaken.  We also take in a certain number of calories, based on diet.   When we consistently eat more calories than we burn, there is a surplus and that surplus of calories needs to go somewhere.

Perhaps these calories could be eliminated by selectively closing the intestinal wall to further absorption or by boosting the body’s resting metabolism rate.   If we were designing the human body for modern society, that might be what we’d decide to do.  But that would be a very bad decision in a more “natural” environment, where food could be scarce.  If there are extra calories, they are stored in fatty tissue, which is one of the primary purposes of fat.  Our distant ancestors probably never had the opportunity to take this process to the extreme that so many do today, but it does not change the fact that it’s all just the body functioning normally to pack away calories for later.

It’s been said that there’s more to weight loss than just calories in and calories out.  That’s only partially true.  Metabolism is a complicated process and some people do have naturally higher or lower metabolisms, which does mean they may have to work harder than others to keep the pounds off.  It’s also true that some foods have more easily absorbed calories than others.  It does not change the fact that the human body cannot create fat out of nothing nor can it expend energy without burning something.  We can’t photosynthesize.

The problem with obesity is in no way related to food not being nutritious enough. In fact, our food does not lack nutrition:

First, it is critical to understand that when a food is high in calories, it is far from being lacking in nutrition.  In fact, the absolute opposite is true.  Calories are, by far, the most important form of nutrition.   So, in fact, sugar is very nutritious.  The reason it is not normally thought of as nutritious food is because we tend to get more of it than we need and that represents the single largest nutritional problem in the developed world.  Unless you happen to be doing something like a cross-country biking trip or something else that expends a huge number of calories, there really isn’t any benefit to going out of your way to consume a lot of them.   For many in the world, however, it’s a completely different story.

That is not to say that there are not other important nutrients that are necessary for optimal health.   There are numerous vitamins and minerals that are an important part of the diet.  However, unless you live on an extremely restricted diet or have a medical condition that results in difficulties in absorbing or processing those nutrients.

If you are concerned that your normal diet, even if it includes a lot of “junk foods” is not giving you enough vitamins, don’t be.  If you were not getting enough vitamin C, you would have scurvy, and I’m willing to bet, unless you live off nothing but canned meat, you don’t have scurvy.  You probably don’t have rickets either, although its not entirely unheard of in children who are on restricted diets.

There are still a few minor deficiencies that are not entirely rare in the developed world.  Iodine deficiencies were once common but were virtually eliminated by the introduction of iodides salt.  There is still some debate as to whether some groups, such as pregnant women may sometimes be receiving a suboptimal amount of iodine.  Zinc deficiencies are also not unheard of, but mostly minor in severity.   The most common nutritional deficiency in Americans may be magnesium deficiencies.  In fact, more than half of the US population gets less than the daily recommended quantity of magnesium.  This is not generally something that is severe enough to cause any acute symptoms, but it’s still a concern.

The bottom line is that, aside from a few sub-groups, you really do not need to worry about being severely deficient, if you eat a reasonably varied diet.  When it comes to exceeding your body’s basic requirements for nutrients, there are few, if any proven benefits.  This is especially true of vitamins.   You may think that if you go out of your way to seek out foods with very high levels of vitamins in them you’ll see health benefits.  As long as you are already getting what your body needs, that’s not likely to happen.   You can certainly get more, and in most cases, the result is just that there will be a lot more vitamins being excreted.

To put it bluntly:  We do not, as a general rule lack nutrition.  We have a crisis of over-nutrition.

People eat what they want.  NO CONSPIRACY NECESSARY:

So is all the high calorie food the result of some conspiracy?   Not really.  Not unless you consider letting people buy what they want and eat what they want to be a conspiracy.

Most fast food restaurants serve salads.   Some people buy them.   They do not tend to fly off the shelves.   People tend to go for he burgers.  All supermarkets have a produce section and have a variety of canned and frozen foods that are low in calories and high in dietary fiber.   People buy this stuff too, but they do not generally outsell less healthy options.

At the risk of stating the obvious:  big juicy burgers with loads of cheese, bacon on a butter toasted bun with fries and onion rings are delicious.  Pizza with extra cheese, meatballs, bacon, sausage, ham and a nice crust is delicious.   Fried chicken with gravy, mashed potatoes, apple sauce (with lots of sweeter) is delicious.  Those ridiculous taco-like things that are not actually Mexican at all are delicious.  Hot dogs and fried fish and pasta… I’m making myself hungry, actually.

Of course, we should not forget cookies.  Soft-baked cookies with melty chocolate chips.  Or pies of all manner.  Ice cream sundaes, those blizzard things with the candy mixed in.  Canolis and cheesecake and  and tiramisu and multi-layered cakes.  Brownies and brownie sundaes.

Just admit that you love them.  I love then too.   It’s part of the human condition.  I’d be a lot thinner if I didn’t love all this stuff so much.  At this point in our history, we’d probably be in much better shape in general if this stuff was not so delicious.

Nobody needed to conspire to make high sugar foods delicious.  People love them.  The only way you could try to stop them is to ban them, and that would just create a black market, because they’re so damn good.   Companies put sugar in foods because it is what people demand.  Give the choice between a sweet product and a non-sweet one, people will choose the sweet one.

It also didn’t take a conspiracy to make bacon delicious.   If stores and restaurants stopped serving bacon, people would be raising pigs in their living rooms.

A few other things to consider about this “conspiracy:”

  1. Soft drinks are loaded with sugar.  They’re high in calories.  They are an easy way to consume a lot of calories while barely noticing it.   Is this a new problem or part of a conspiracy?  Probably not, considering soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been around (and extremely popular) since the 1800′s and always contained comparably high levels of sugar to today’s formula.
  2. Candies, many of which are composed primarily of sugar, have been popular for hundreds of years.  It became a huge industry during the Industrial Revolution and continues to be.  Believe it or not, your grandparents had candy when they were kids too.
  3. The iconic Hershey Bar first sold in 1900.  The Baby Ruth in 1921.  3 Musketeers in 1932.  Mounds in 1920.
  4. Burger King introduced the Whopper sandwich in 1957, primarily because competitors were outselling them with oversized burgers.

 Therefore, if not a conspiracy, why are we getting fatter:

  1. Our lives are more sedentary.  Much more time is spent in front of a computer or television.  There are more desk jobs than ever.  Kids play a lot of video games and spend less time running around outside.
  2. People have always wanted food that is sweet and high in calories, but it has never been cheaper.  Meat is cheaper than it has ever been.  Sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup are dirt cheap and have made the price of sugary beverages lower than decades past (adjusted for inflation.)  People may have always loved soda, but it used to sting a little more in the wallet to get one.
  3. Portion sizes have gotten larger.  This has a lot to do with the fact that prices have gone down, making it harder to stand out as the low cost competitor.  Consumers will gravitate to larger portions because it seems a better value.
  4. We eat out more and restaurant food tends to be higher in calories.  It also often has things like deserts.
  5. Snack food is more available than it has ever been and it’s more common to eat it.  Sure, candy bars and snack cakes were always there, but they have never been as popular as today and people have never eaten as many.   It has a lot to do with the fact that people move around more and patronize businesses more, spending less time at home.  They are also cheaper than in years past.  There’s a lot less economic advantage to eating home made foods than there used to be.
  6. We eat more “processed” foods than in the past.  There’s nothing about processed foods that is toxic or directly harmful, but they tend to be high in calories and those calories tend to be easily absorbed.

In the end, food manufacturers have just accommodated what humans naturally want.  As foods got cheaper, we started eating more burgers and less canned peas.   When consumers showed they would be more apt to buy bigger products, products got bigger.  When people started being on the go a lot more, more fast food started being sold.

The Solution:

It’s actually pretty simple.  Simple, but not always easy.  Just choose the foods you eat more by whether they are nutritionally optimal than whether you prefer the taste.  It’s not what you want to do.  It’s not what we are programmed to do.  It’s not what I want to do.

Scientifically valid methods of losing weight:
(These are the major ones.  Some might argue that there are ways of increasing metabolism by changing eating schedules or other techniques.  There are also some metabolism boosting chemicals out there that are relatively safe and benign.  I’m no expert on those and they’re really not going to make a huge difference.  But these are the big ones)

  • Eat foods that are lower in calories.  (You can go with a high protein diet or a low fat diet or whatever.  Many seem to find it’s easier to stick to the high protein diet as a way of maintaining low caloric intake.  Whatever works.  All valid diets decrease calories.)
  • Eat a lower volume of food in general.  It could be all the same foods but less of them.   Of course, this will probably leave you hungry.
  • Eat foods with lower absorbed calories.  In other words, it’s not just the calories that matter, but also whether they are easily absorbed.  Less processed foods with a lot of dietary fiber may have lower calorie absorption.
  • Increase your physical activity.
  • Do some combination of the above.
  • You could also boost your metabolism rate by using something like thyroid hormone injections or cocaine.  It works, but I would not recommend these.

Scientifically invalid methods, which will do absolutely nothing:

  • Eat organic foods.  Same foods, just organically certified.
  • Cut out GMO’s.
  • Cut out “additives” or “chemicals” or whatever you see on a food label that looks somehow scientific.
  • Do any kind of “detox” regime under the impression that your fat is full of toxins or somehow toxins are responsible.
  • Fill your rectum with coffee
  • Avoid wifi or cell phone towers or something like that

I lost about 40 pounds  by simply avoiding calorie dense foods.  I chose water, rather than soda.  I like soda better, and always choose it, but I started drinking water instead.

Also, I started skimping on this and put about half of that weight back on.   I need to hunker down again.

Yeah, I wish there was someone else to blame.


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