Like most people, I know eating heavily processed foods is terrible for me. A bag of salty vinegar-saturated kettle chips, or a package of fresh Oreos, gleaming with oil, are just a few of my numerous junk food weaknesses. I know foods like these are mass-produced with cheap ingredients and contain additives and preservatives, but I’ve never let that prevent me from inhaling massive quantities of them from time to time.
I justify my gluttony with thoughts like, “I’ll just workout a little more,” or “I deserve this,” or “This is just easier,” or “I ate pretty good all week, so eating this won’t do that much damage.” Sound familiar?
My whole life I’ve let these convenient rationalizations justify my poor eating habits despite all the evidence telling me to change. After interviewing Dr. Jeffrey Gladd though, it all finally sank in. The details he shared with us, about the consequences of eating a steady diet of junk food, finally made me realize I need to get smart about nutrition.
Luckily, it’s almost never too late to change your eating habits for the better. In this article we share Dr. Gladd’s recommendations to start reversing the damage – now. It’s a long one, but we feel it’s the most important one we’ve written to date. It’s critical we all understand how highly processed foods affect our bodies and why now is the time to change our eating habits.
Experience As A Guide
Dr. Gladd began his medical practice grinding it out in an urgent care center. Long hours caring for others meant his own health was not a top priority. Fad diets didn’t work, so he decided, “Let’s try to eat fruits and vegetables and drink more water. Let’s just eat more real food.” The transformation that followed this decision amazed him. He was eating as much as he wanted. He had stopped taking panic attack medication; had more energy and mental focus and after a few months he had lost fifty pounds. Fifty.
Experiencing first-hand the power of nutrition he said, “I could no longer continue to just write prescriptions for my patients,” so he left primary care and started doing integrated medicine consultations at Parkview. This allowed him to spend more time with patients and promote their health rather then simply mange their diseases. He now has an independent integrated medicine practice which allows him even more freedom to tailor treatment to each patient’s needs.
If, like me, you have never heard the term “integrated ”, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all crystals, rabbit food, hemp clothing, and whacked out chants. However, integrated medicine is nothing more then the evidence-based combination of the best practices of conventional, alternative, and complimentary medicine.
In other words, doctors who practice conventional medicine simply treat certain diseases with prescriptions. This is often a short-term fix that eventually causes more problems, which require more prescriptions. With integrated medicine, doctors attempt to control, or in some cases eliminate, the disease and avoid the need for dozens for prescriptions by combining lifestyle changes, supplements, and prescriptions as needed.
Dr. Gladd sees his practice as a partnership between himself and his patients. “My job is not to tell [them] what to do, my job is to be a guide and a source of education,” he says. If that means a prescription or supplement will help, so be it. Doctors of integrated medicine do not turn their back on medications and supplements proven to work. “I love to get every mineral I need through my diet,” he says, “but that may not happen everyday.”
I always assumed the reason junk food was bad for me was because the fat, sugar, and artificial ingredients would make me gain weight. It turns out that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Gladd pointed out other reasons why processed foods should be avoided and he explained how they damage the body; something I had never before heard.
The most unsettling aspect was that it’s not just a matter of fat and sugar being added to our food, it’s how they are altered to make them more fattening and sweeter that is the root of the problem. Wheat, the primary ingredient in many processed foods, is genetically altered so farmers can spray it with toxic herbicides and pesticides, which the wheat then absorbs, and we eat. To strengthen dough and allow for higher rising, the flour from those plants is sometimes treated with potassium bromate; a carcinogen.
High-fructose corn syrup, a cheap sweetener present in virtually everything, is chemically altered with enzymes to make it even sweeter. The fats added to processed foods undergo hydrogenation; a process where hydrogen is used to make the fats more dense and there for much worse for us. Finally, we must not forget all the artificial preservatives, chemical dyes, stabilizing agents, and “natural flavors” added to make food look appetizing and last on the shelf.
Natural flavors are in quotes because there is nothing natural about them at all. One of Dr. Gladd’s patients visited a manufacturer of these flavors and showed Dr. Gladd pictures of drums, labeled with skull and crossed bones, that contained the ingredients for “natural flavors”. “They can make anything taste like anything,” Dr. Gladd says, “but they don’t have to list what went into that natural flavor. I can’t tolerate it. It’s not real.”
So how is all of this affecting our bodies? Highly processed foods contain damaging proteins that contribute to the general wear and tear of the body, “They’re like shards of glass,” says Dr. Gladd. This is called inflammation and it is a response from the immune system when the body is out of balance. “When the immune system is out of balance,” he says, “it’s not happy.” In the short term, this leads to health problems like obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Long term, it’s an even more frightening scenario. “We likely don’t know most of the ramifications,” Dr. Gladd says. “From endocrine disruption, to fertility, to hormone imbalance; the potential is that the toxicity issue will be enormous.”
Repairing The Damage
There is good news though. Dr. Gladd says, “I believe the body has an amazing innate ability to heal itself.” It’s never too late to start eating healthy and feeling better. The really good news is it doesn’t have to be sweeping life changes made all at once. Dr. Gladd is a firm believer in making changes when it feels natural to do so. He also doesn’t lay down long lists of rules when it comes to nutrition. “The more rules, the more restriction,” he says, “the more we’re not going to stick to it.”
One of the most advantageous things we can all do for our health is to eat locally grown produce that is grown organically. Plants that have to defend themselves from weeds and pests build more of the anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals that work to rebalance our systems, and in turn, reduce inflammation.
Dr. Gladd says cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage are loaded with nutrients and are packed with Indole-3-Carbinol which helps our metabolism, stimulates repair and regeneration of brain cells, and aides liver detoxification.
He also says, “Not only is it import to know what you’re eating, it’s important to know what you’re eating is eating.” What this means is, when it comes to meat, local is important because you can go to the farm and see how the livestock is raised. For him, being able to visit a farm like Seven Sons – seeing cows munching in grassy pastures and chickens running around – is important to him because healthy animals make for healthy meat.
When it comes to preparing these healthy and nutrient-rich foods, Dr. Gladd says, “Raw is good, but a variety of preparations make the most sense.” Certain vegetables release more nutrients when they are cooked, like tomatoes, and varying your cooking techniques will help relieve some of the monotony of eating lots of vegetables every day. He says the best cooking method to retain the most anti-oxidants is a tie between dry girdling and microwaving.
Dr. Gladd says the biggest thing to eliminate from our diets, as soon as possible, is hydrogenated fats. Look for ”hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil” on the label. “It’s a very inflammatory fat,” he says.
The sweetness of our diet is also something we need to cut down on. Sugary foods create insulin and insulin tells our bodies to store energy as fat and makes us lethargic so we don’t waste energy. Furthermore, Dr. Gladd says, “Insulin doesn’t care how natural it is. Sugar is sugar.”
Agave, one of the darlings of the health food world, is actually higher in fructose then high-fructose corn syrup; 75% vs. 55%. Honey is also considered high-fructose, so Dr. Gladd recommends, “Have it and use it, but use it in tremendous moderation.” When the insulin levels in your body drop, the cravings for sweet foods will lessen.
Soda is, of course, loaded with sugar, so Dr. Gladd suggests switching to half club soda and half fruit juice. Straight away, you’ve cut your sugar intake in half. Step it down from there over time until all you need is club soda with a twist of citrus.
At breakfast it is particularly important for us to not eat foods with heavily processed flour or sugar because it determines our insulin levels for the day. “If you start the day right, your cravings the rest of the day will be lower,” Dr. Gladd says. He suggests switching to oatmeal and fruit, or plain eggs. I myself have started alternating between these two options and it does work.
Monkey See. Monkey Do.
When it comes to raising kids with good eating habits, Dr. Gladd says it’s time we toughen up and lead by example. “I think the biggest problem is that we don’t tell our kids ‘no’ enough,” he says. It’s not that he delights in denying his kids joy, but as the parent, he knows he has to say no – and mean it – even if that means his kids walk away disappointed. “If you let them make their own food decisions, they are always going to lean towards sweet, salty, fatty, and crunchy.”
Because parents are busy and can’t be with their kids as much as they’d like, it’s understandable they want to indulge them and make them happy. “We have to think about what happiness is,” Dr. Gladd says. “Allowing them to eat in a way that promotes diabetes and heart disease, ultimately, does not make them happy. There are better ways to create happiness.”
It’s also up to the parents to model good eating in front of their kids and keep good foods in the house. Kids will adjust to whatever they are being served. If all you have are fruits and vegetables to snack on, they might not eat anything at first, but they’ll eventually get hungry and gobble it up. Even as an adult, this works for me. If I don't keep Oreos in the house, I don’t crave them.
Dr. Gladd reminded us that much of what we eat today is slowly killing us because it is so heavily processed. However, we must remember we have it in our power to reverse the damage of processed foods cause. In spite of our hectic lives, we need to find the time, make the effort, and spend the money to eat well. As Dr. Gladd said, health isn’t just the absence of disease, “It’s a state of mind, it’s the ability to function comfortably, grow old, and actively participating in society.”
We don’t have to go through our lives feeling “fine”, but constantly being tired and achy, or being on medication for diseases that are preventable. Little changes and small steps can drastically improve our lives.
What will your first step be?