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The Standard American Diet



We Americans indulge in the world’s worst eating habits. We eat out often. We get takeout because it’s easy and cheap. It’s no wonder we’re fat. Our food’s full of animal protein and grease, and its nutritional value is often close to zero.

The standard American diet is more than 50 percent meat and dairy, with more than half of the rest consisting of processed and refined junk. We wonder why we’re getting diabetes, heart attacks, and breast cancer earlier and earlier in life.

Given our eating habits, it’s no wonder we spend millions and millions of dollars every day on diet books, yet all diet books seem to say something different. One says this; another says that. While we readers get confused, the authors get wealthy. I don’t know who invented the word “diet,” but if we could find that person, we should banish him or her forever, because “diet” is a four-letter word.

Valid research tells us that diets have a 95 percent failure rate. Most people who go on a diet go off the diet again before it makes any lasting difference. The success of a diet is measured after three years—not three days or three weeks, which is the life span of most diet efforts.

When you go on a diet, you want some action, some visible results. You want to lose weight as fast as you can. Unfortunately, when you lose weight fast, a lot of what you’re losing is fluid. I’ll tell you a secret.

On some weight loss shows, contestants lose huge amounts of weight in the first week, and most of it is fluid. A pint of water weighs about a pound, so if you drink eight pints of water (in other words, a gallon) before you weigh-in, you weigh eight pounds heavier.

This is easy to lose in the first week, but it’s not fat loss. Then, if you’re like most dieters, as you finally begin to lose fat you lose muscle as well—and the faster the weight comes off, the more muscle bulk you lose.

Then, tired of depriving yourself, you put weight back on within a few weeks or months. You put back on the fluid and the fat. The only thing you don’t put back on is all of the muscle that has disappeared. You’re back at square one, but your percentage of body fat is actually higher than when you started!

One thing I’ve noticed is that the more time people spend thinking about food, talking about food, reading about food, and preparing food, the heavier or more frightfully thin these people are. They’re too far on one end of the spectrum, either way.

We make things harder for ourselves, simply because of how we eat. Food doesn’t have to be this complicated. In fact, food is simple.

He or she is a “good cook.” What does that even mean? It means fancy pans and lots of additives, like butter, cream, sauces, and gravies. In my mind, it also means a cook who is likely to be overweight. Lots of celebrity chefs are overweight. Ever wonder why? Mixing, stirring, tasting, more cream, more fat, more this, more that.

A really good cook is a healthy cook.

It’s impossible to sustain healthful eating until you realize one important fact: a meal for human consumption should be a collection of plant-based foods with flesh—protein—as an addition. The majority of our meals, however, are the exact opposite: a huge lump of animal flesh with plant foods as an afterthought—if they’re there at all. Picture a mass of green leaves, a ­couple of tiny tomatoes, and a lavish calorie-laden creamy dressing, which is a small salad to go with your half a cow.

Nutritionists around the world agree that plant foods have the highest level and widest variety of nutrients, which in turn offer us healthy living. And yet many of us still believe the so-called experts who tell us to eat more protein (specifically, more meat), because that’s exactly what we want to believe.

I’m not aware of any scientific study that associates increased consumption of plant foods with a high risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. In fact, the opposite is true. Countless scientific studies from around the world associate an increase in meat consumption with many of today’s worst diseases, including cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) reviewed 1,013 studies on the relationship between the consumption of red meat and colon (bowel) cancer. The WCRF determined that if you consume more than 500 grams (17.6 ounces) of red meat per week, not per meal, your risk of colon cancer rises significantly.