Why NOT Eat Processed Food!
This article should be Part 7 on stress and sleep in my Alzheimer’s series. And I promise I will get back to that. But the diet part of Alzheimer’s prevention keeps preying on my mind. Why? Because diet matters to all illness, illnesses that can make you sick and take you down long before Alzheimer’s catches up with you. So stress and sleep will have to wait for a bit.
Carbohydrates in Diet
I have written over time about various “diets.” Recent fashionable diets usually revolve around how many grams of carbohydrate the diet allows. The carnivore (meat only) diet dictates no carbohydrates. The LCHF (low carb/high fat) and keto diets prescribe varying levels of low carbohydrates and higher fat. On the other hand a vegan (no meat) diet has lots and lots of carbs because meat is not allowed. Here is the good news for those who don’t want to count carbs. For most of us, this need not be a carbohydrate discussion at all. Instead this should be a processed food discussion.
Fruits and vegetables plucked from a tree or out of a garden are the natural sources of carbohydrates just chock full of nutrition. Milk, including mother’s milk, is also a source of carbohydrates. Unless you are unusual, these are really good for your health. But these same foods processed and packaged/bottled in a manufacturing plant are NOT really good for you. And here is why.
Whole fruits and vegetables carbohydrates contain some combination of glucose and fructose, usually in small amounts (except in the case of starches like potatoes) and two kinds of fiber. Fiber is carbohydrate that the human body cannot digest. The percentage of fiber in fruits and vegetables is quite high. The glucose and fructose in vegetables is low and that becomes important.
Anyway the food goes in your mouth, through your stomach and into your intestinal tract.
The Problem With Processed Food
The fiber has purpose. It slows the absorption of glucose and fructose into your body, coats and plugs up holes in the intestinal lining that might allow undigested and toxic stuff to escape in to your blood stream, and feeds the bajillion bacteria in your intestines.
Commercially processed food has three unfortunate characteristics. Problem #1, the natural fiber has been removed because it can’t hold up in processing. Freeze an orange or an avocado and see if they are edible when thawed. Any fiber in a processed food was added by the manufacturer after processing. That is NOT the same. In nature the amount and kind of fiber in a plant will be specific to the requirement of the plant.
Problem #2, the processing has removed many if not most of the nutrients in the natural food. And problem #3, additional sugar (a combination of glucose and fructose) has been added. The most commonly found forms of fructose in processed food, either high fructose corn syrup or, worse yet, crystalline fructose, will be an unnatural proportion of the sugar content.
Most commercially processed food contains grain. Think bread, cereal, crackers, pasta, chips, cakes, cookies, pie crust, so on and so forth. Grains are starches carrying far more calories in the form of glucose and fructose than garden vegetables. So the more of these you eat, the more excess energy you consume. The excess energy is glucose. the fructose just comes along for the ride.
And a big issue is drinks, juices and soft drinks. Both of these contain extreme levels of sugar. Extreme levels of sugar mean extreme levels of fructose. The fructose in an orange eaten whole with the inherent fiber is not a big deal. But several oranges squeezed without any fiber is another matter. Soft drinks, of course, bring absolutely nothing to the table nutritionally
What Do Glucose and Fructose Do?
Glucose is pretty normal stuff and is a source of blood sugar, a term more recognizable to diabetics than non-diabetics. Dietary glucose raises your blood sugar. The glucose is absorbed by your cells usually with the assistance of insulin, a hormone released by your pancreas. In turn, your blood sugar goes back to normal and the glucose is converted into energy. No big deal for most people on a whole food diet.
Fructose, on the other hand, does not raise blood sugar or cause insulin release, and is not absorbed by the cells for energy. Instead fructose, like alcohol, has to be metabolized by the liver and is converted into fat. There is no other option available. Thus the chronic ingestion of fructose in a highly processed food diet is going to result in too much fat INSIDE your liver where it does not belong. Think fatty liver.
The liver can accumulate too much fat inside, much to your detriment. This can happen with excessive alcohol consumption as well as excessive fructose consumption. At their most severe both can progress to cirrhosis and liver failure. Note that both are associated with “food” that only the liver can metabolize, alcohol and fructose.
This article from Healthline does a nice job providing the high points of fatty liver disease. This you-tube video by Dr. Robert Lustig, What is the Metabolic Syndrome Anyway, goes into significantly more technical detail behind the high points.
Recovery From Fatty Liver
It isn’t uncommon for a person with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to recover just by losing weight. Why would that be? Because excess body fat comes with excess energy in the form of glucose and excess liver fat comes with excess fructose. Glucose and fructose inevitably come as a package, too much of one gets you too much of the other. You can’t see your liver but you can see the body fat. So when refined, processed food is eliminated from the diet, the part you can see (body fat) will begin to disappear and the fat in the liver follows accordingly.
While you are consuming the fructose load with all of the negative consequences, you are inevitably consuming too much glucose as well. Excess glucose has its own penalties. For most of us the excess glucose in processed food will result in high levels of insulin generating a lot of extra weight, nutrient deficiency, and potentially diabetes and cardiovascular issues. Bottom line, almost all chronic diseases are linked together through diet.
The Best Bet for Your Health
So what is your best bet for your health? The best bet for avoiding chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s and fatty liver disease? Minimize processed food and eat the food the way God, not a commercial manufacturer, delivers it.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. She is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry), and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.