A vegan diet is generally low in caloric density compared the unhealthy eating habits that have become the norm for most Americans. In part one of this two part series we examine the cause and effect of a society that is, for lack of a better word, fat.
One thing few can argue is that, in general, Americans eat too much and usually that means too much of the wrong things. Humans have evolved to crave foods that have aided in the survival of our species. Those who ate foods that could sustain the body through times of famine and seasons of less abundance survived to pass on their genes to the next generation. As a consequence, preference for those sustaining foods became encoded in our DNA through thousands of generations of natural selection.
Have you ever wondered why we like the taste of salty and smoky flavored things? It is because refrigeration and cold storage are relatively new means for preserving food for extended periods. Drying, salting and smoking were the only means preserving food when temperature control was not possible and your ancestors, the ones who could best tolerate the salty smoky foods, passed on their taste preferences to you.
But long before humans even had such rudimentary technologies of food preservation our most primitive ancestors had to rely on energy storage within our own bodies to sustain them though periods of food scarcity. Energy is measured in calories and this is the reason why we seek, covet and savor foods with the highest caloric density. This instinct is so strong that it is almost impossible to satiate our cravings for fatty, sweet and salty foods. This has led to very unhealthy eating habits in a society where a lack of food abundance is not a survival issue anymore.
The perfect example of a food with very little nutritional value, that many crave only because it is fatty, salty and sometimes sweet, is bacon. We crave bacon so much that it is no longer the food we crave but the flavor. Condiments, soups, beans, rice, potatoes, salads, even ice cream and liquor are given the flavor of bacon.
Fat contains nine calories per gram. Protein, sugar and less refined carbohydrates all contains four calories per gram. It is easy to understand then why we crave fat so much but why sugar over other carbohydrates and protein? The answer is simple. For our bodies to store energy we need to convert our food into something that is most easily converted back to energy when we need it. There is a cost to this conversion process, that is, calories are expended when changing from one state to another. Our bodies store energy as fat so dietary fat can be stored for little or no cost, sugar can be used for energy immediately while saving our fat reserves and if we intake more sugar than we need it can be rather easily converted to fat for storage. There is greater cost to converting more complex carbohydrates and protein to either instant energy or stored energy in the form of fat.
This is a rather simplified explanation of why you drool when you smell that cinnamon roll, that sweet fatty package of concentrated energy and yes, bacon cinnamon rolls are growing in popularity.
The problem is that humans still crave high caloric density foods above all other foods. Our bodies store way too much energy, energy in the form of fat. And guess what? It has created an epidemic of health problems that can be attributed to one simple thing. We eat more calories than we need, way more, often hundreds of times more.
A national health and nutrition study conducted in 2009 and 2010 returned some shocking but not so surprising statistics. 37% of Americans were found to be clinically obese. Not just overweight mind you, but obese! That means that in a random sampling of 10 people, four of them are likely to be obese and likely to be suffering from chronic health problems due to that obesity. Now if you expand that criteria to include everyone who is considered overweight that number jumps to 69%. Seven out of every 10 Americans are overweight.
The logical means of correcting the negative health effects of excessive calorie intake is to reduce our overall intake of calories. Calories can be reduced as part of a generally healthier diet regimen or a more drastic approach can be taken by severely limiting calories in controlled fashion to ensure that other nutritional requirements are met though a diet that is entirely plant-based.
In part two we will explore the benefits of caloric restriction bot as a corrective measure and as a sustained healthy eating practice.