Earlier this year, my wife, Alyson, and I dined at a farm-to-table restaurant in Florida with twenty leaders in the health movement, a motley crew of bestselling authors, nutritionists, Olympians, cooks, and physicians. After a long week, we were ready for a feast.
Our waiter scribbled furiously as Alyson, my cute-as-a-button, 105-pound wife, and I ordered:
• Bacon deviled eggs
• Two roasted marrow bones with local herbs and spices
• Two hearty farm-fresh salads with aged meat, nuts, and avocado
• Charcuterie board with a trio of duck, lamb, and pork pâtés; raw artisanal cheese; and a side of homemade sauerkraut
• Sautéed sweetbreads
• Wild sea bass with mushroom butter sauce
• Grass-fed sirloin steak (medium-rare, of course) with heirloom vegetables
As others watched in awe, we polished off the lot, including more than our fair share of wine and champagne. One of the health experts said with a gasp, “How on earth do you two eat so much and stay so lean?”
This book is the answer to that question.
I hope you enjoy it.
In health and happiness,
Abel James Bascom
August 23, 2014
INTRODUCTION: BAND GONE WILD
As we hop aboard Tim McGraw’s tour bus idling outside a Quality Inn in Austin, Texas, I suddenly realize that being healthy is cool again.
Instead of smoking ashtrays, passed-out groupies, and stale beer, the smell of strong coffee wafts through the country superstar’s Zen-like tour bus. A veritable cornucopia of fresh produce, organic seaweed snacks, and an imposing 5-pound sack of Brazil nuts fill the mini-kitchen. Despite filming the Today show in New York City twenty-four hours earlier, these road warriors are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Denny, enjoying an unprecedented twenty-year reign as Tim’s guitarist and musical director, introduces us to the rest of the band.
Fresh off his feature on the cover of Men’s Health after losing 40 pounds, forty-seven-year-old Tim McGraw is a specimen of health. He credits his pumped-up biceps and six-pack abs to his band’s new routine of clean eating and intense outdoor workouts on the road. His tour bus even pulls a trailer dedicated to unconventional exercise gear—hauling heavy chains, sledgehammers, and sandbags across the country.
“Whoa, the Fat-Burning Man. . . . It’s so surreal you’re here!” Deano, the fiddle player, muses, somehow expressing precisely how I feel at that moment. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but more people seem to know me as “Fat-Burning Man,” the tongue-in-cheek title of my hit health show, than as the road-weary musician I’ve been for most of my life. I’d taken time away from music to focus on inspiring others to live better by eating real food and breaking a good sweat. As far as I was concerned, I was just a regular guy babbling into a microphone on my computer and doing my best to make my show valuable to whoever happened to be tuning in. It wasn’t until I received my favorite thank-you note ever from a musician named Denny that I realized people were actually listening. Better yet, these newfound health nuts were actually getting results that blew my mind.
A loyal listener of Fat-Burning Man, Denny has been following the Wild Diet for more than a year. Enjoying hearty meals that include plenty of butter, bacon, and eggs, he’s dropped 46 pounds. Impressed by Denny’s transformation, several bandmates came along for the ride.
“Billy, our keyboard player, only decided to try the Wild Diet because he’s allowed to eat coffee cake.” Denny grins. “It really isn’t that complicated—you just listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry. It’s great. I’m full of energy and feel fifteen years younger.”
“My kids love eating this way,” adds Deano. “They’re totally into organ meats and headcheese. Their friends think eating brains is cool.”
After Deano convinces us to taste his latest culinary fascination, emu oil (it’s not bad, actually), we take Denny back to our place to play a few tunes. On the way, we grab two cups of fresh-roasted “fatty coffee” with butterfat and pure cocoa, our first “meal” of the day. To fuel an epic jam session, we polish off a few pints of green smoothie, sample asparagus and bacon quiche, and indulge in homemade blueberry muffins, pumpkin scones, and Alyson’s newest cheesecake recipe (Peanut Butter Chocolate “Cheesecake” with Hazelnut Crust) —try it yourself with our afternoon tea. A few hours later, our luxurious dinner includes bacon-wrapped sea scallops, wild Atlantic salmon, creamed spinach with toasted prosciutto, and a wee bit of wine. This ain’t no ordinary diet.
Sound incredible? Well, the truth is that I haven’t always had the body of an underwear model while feasting like a rock star. Before people knew me as my fat-burning alter ego whose abs are plastered all over the Internet, I was the chubby kid with chipmunk cheeks.
I’ve always loved food. As a toddler in the eighties, I discovered that the spiral cord on our kitchen phone didn’t quite reach the candy cupboard. So every time the phone rang, I sprinted to the candy and drooled like Pavlov’s dog. As soon as Mom picked up the phone, now safely out of reach, I’d stuff my face with as much chocolate, candy, and cookies as humanly possible.
One night, still dressed in my suspenders and bow tie after playing clarinet at the local diner for pocket money, my dad took me aside for an important talk.
“Abel, your body is about to go through some changes,” he explained with a gentle smile. “With our genes, you can grow up to be overweight . . . or strong and athletic. It all depends on how you eat and exercise in the next few years as you grow into a teenager.”
An athletic strapping stonemason for most of his life, Dad had packed on nearly 30 pounds after he was forced into a desk job when the economy tanked. I listened closely and took heed. I didn’t want to be overweight, and for the first time in my life I realized I had a choice. And then I was off.
I learned in one of Dad’s magazines that “fat makes you fat and clogs your arteries.” So I declared that I would switch to fat-free milk, shun red meat, and I even started to carry around extra napkins to sponge the grease off pizza in order to avoid excess cholesterol. I was eight years old.
I took up every sport I could. A little too excited after watching Rocky for the first time, I choked down a full glass of raw eggs before my morning workout and chased chickens around the backyard. I cranked the brittle gears of my yard-sale Huffy to the summit of the legendary Piper Hill and trained like a Ninja Turtle to get my purple belt in karate. By seventh grade, my baby fat and chipmunk cheeks grew into a chiseled frame with a strong jaw to match. The girls even started calling me “Mr. Buff,” my first stupid nickname.
I’d done it—the chubby kid who played clarinet at Christmas parties had transformed into a handsome, athletic teen. But getting fat doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes it sneaks up on you.
After speeding through Dartmouth College, studying brain science, music, and technology, it was time to pay off a few nasty student loans and chase the American Dream. Turning down offers from Wall Street and the CIA, I took a job as a strategy consultant for Fortune 500s in Washington, D.C., moonlighting as a computer programmer. I quickly learned that spending nearly all of my waking hours under fluorescent lights takes its toll. But there was work to be done, loans to be paid, and no time for hikes in the woods.
My fancy new office had a “Healthy Snacks” program to help us get through the long hours consulting with the bigwigs. I was pleased to find that many of the snacks lined up perfectly with the fat-free, low-calorie diet praised by the media and health magazines. I nibbled on fat-free whole-grain crackers, nonfat yogurt, and zero-calorie Jell-O, and I sipped cholesterol-free soy milk; cloudy, experimental diet soda; and other oddities provided by our Fortune 500 clients in the food and beverage industry.
When I sat down with my new physician for my first checkup as an adult, he avoided eye contact at first, shuffling papers on his desk. His brow suddenly furrowed as he looked up at me with a wide-eyed grin.
“You have great insurance!” he blurted.
From that point on, I peed in a cup and had my blood drawn every time I set foot in the doctor’s office, which was often. My results didn’t look good. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, thyroid problems, insomnia, and many other disorders and diseases of civilization that we’re somehow conditioned to “expect” as our youth evades us.
“You have the body of a middle-aged man,” the doctor admitted grimly. “With your blood pressure and family history, you might be looking at heart disease, thyroid disorder, and even diabetes if you don’t cut out dietary fat and do more cardio starting right now.”
Doc put me on a new painkiller for a running injury, a prescription-strength antiperspirant, several sleep meds, and even an antidepressant that he promised would “help me sleep.”
Gritting my teeth, I followed the doc’s advice. I popped the pills, counted every last calorie, grew accustomed to constant hunger, nibbled on low-fat food that tasted like cardboard, and jogged five times a week.
I proudly became a vegetarian, swapped real butter for zero-cholesterol vegetable oil spread, and replaced farm-fresh eggs with 100% whole wheat bagels with nonfat cream cheese and zero-calorie jam from the supermarket. Without fresh veggies from our family’s garden, I stocked up on bananas, 100% orange juice (with pulp, obviously), and reduced-sodium canned vegetable juice from the Safeway down the street.
But every time I went to see my doctor, I was fatter and sicker than ever . . . and people started to notice. Subtlety was never my boss’s strong suit. One day, he just laid it right out there.
“Whoa, Abel, you’ve put on a few pounds! What happened to you? Too many sweets, eh?” Nope—I was dieting harder than ever.
I took a good, hard look in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw.
Instead of a strong, vital twenty-four-year-old, I had the flab of an unhealthy man twice my age. The impossibly low-fat diet recommended by doctors, diet books, magazines, and the media didn’t appear to be working. Fed up, I diverted my energy to healing myself. I scoured medical textbooks, underground bodybuilding manuals, and the nooks and crannies of the Internet to find the perfect protocol to drop my excess fat and regain my vitality.
I quickly discovered that everything I thought I knew about diet was wrong.
When I started my new “diet,” I did the opposite of what most well-meaning nutritionists might tell you. I chowed down on the most delicious and rich foods of my life—real butter, scrambled eggs, fresh veggies, rich meats, coconut, aged cheese, steak, and chocolate. I flushed my pharmaceuticals and called my mom, an author and herbalist, once a week to reincorporate adaptogenic herbs, teas, and tonics back into my daily habits.
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED . . .
The mounting health problems that I’d been told were just part of getting older—high blood pressure, heartburn, low energy, thyroid issues, insomnia, dry skin, acne, kidney stones, the spare tire, and much more—quickly improved. My sugar cravings, nagging hunger, and mood swings gently faded with each passing week. I began to feel a glowing energy and clarity that reminded me of what it was like to be a young buck in his prime. My double chin quickly receded, and my belly fat followed close behind.
When I stepped on the scale, I was shocked. I had lost 20 pounds of flab in forty days. This fat loss revealed a muscular body and washboard abs that could be slapped right on the cover of a fitness magazine. More important, I had more energy and gusto than I’d felt in my entire life.
But as much as I enjoyed taking my new abs for a spin, I was angry. Why had I been trying so hard to stay on an expensive diet that was making me fat and sick for all those years? Everybody deserves to feel this way.
So I wrote a fat-loss manual and printed twenty copies at Kinko’s to send to friends and family. After ten weeks, my dad, cousins, friends, coworkers, and bandmates each dropped around 20 pounds. Even my dental hygienist eventually lost more than 60 pounds by going Wild, just through what I could mumble during my cleanings every six months.
REAL FOOD, REAL RESULTS
After transforming my own body, I launched my health show, Fat-Burning Man, to educate and inspire others to be happy and healthy by optimizing their bodies with real food, a good sweat, and cutting-edge science and technology. I had a goal to change a million lives with real food and Wild movement, and word quickly spread. Within the first year, we hit that goal, and even beat out Jillian Michaels, head trainer on The Biggest Loser, for Apple’s number-one-rated podcast in health. Eventually, the series hit number one in more than eight countries around the world and won three awards in independent media, including Best Health and Fitness Podcast at the Podcast Awards.
If you like this book, you’ll enjoy the Fat-Burning Man show. I cover almost every subject in this book—from digestion to dead lifts—with detailed, topical interviews with top experts. You can listen in and watch the entire series for free at FatBurningMan.com.
In The Wild Diet, you’ll find that we are not meant to starve ourselves or count calories. We’re wired to eat and live well without getting fat. That’s what we’ve been doing effortlessly for thousands of years, in fact, before we started following the wrong advice.
If you think that you’re stuck with the genes you inherited and there’s nothing you can do about it, read closely. The Wild Diet paints a different picture, one in which we have the power to influence our genetic expression by taking control of the environment around us. As a testament to the healing power of fresh food and a good sweat, I’ve seen my family, friends, fans, and clients lose many hundreds of pounds, reverse degenerative disease, recover from cancer, extend their life-spans, and win Olympic gold medals using the principles you’re about to learn.
I made a conscious choice to write this book in layman’s terms with minimal cryptic scientific jargon. Rest assured—The Wild Diet is based on proven scientific principles and a growing body of peer-reviewed and independent research. But instead of hurling studies and their equal-and-opposite counterparts back and forth, this book gets straight to the point and shows you what works so you can look and feel better than you ever thought possible. If you’d like to do your own homework, please explore the notes section.
Fair warning: Much of what you read in this book may be “controversial” and stand in direct opposition to current conventional wisdom and popular beliefs. While the principles in this program may seem radical today, I believe that they will be the “breakthroughs” of the future. I am confident that if you read this book with an open mind, the knowledge on the following pages will have the power to change your life.
Great. Let’s get started.
How “Healthy” Food Made Us Fat and Sick
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
WHY WE ALL GAINED 30 POUNDS
The average forty-year-old man in 1960 tipped the scale at 166 pounds. Weighing in at 196 pounds, the average man today is 30 pounds heavier.
Like many of us, you’ve probably put on a few pounds over the past few years. And I bet you’ve tried to do something about it. Maybe you even went on a crash diet, forcing yourself to count every last calorie and buy expensive packaged dinners and a Shake Weight. Fighting through incessant cravings with shocking self-control, you probably even shed a few pounds. But as soon as you stopped depriving yourself, the fat came right back, didn’t it? Most diets seem to imply that you can be lean, but only if you’re hungry and miserable.
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be like that.
When the Internet gurus tell you to subsist on cabbage soup, eat thirty bananas a day, or pop caffeine pills to melt off belly fat, don’t listen. There’s a better way to reclaim your youth and vitality. So get ready—I’m going to gently ask you to set aside nearly everything you’ve been told about diet, nutrition, and health. Many of the strategies and principles of The Wild Diet fly in the face of popular beliefs, fad crash diets, and advice from the droning, half-alive “experts” you see on daytime television.
You don’t need me to tell you that our collective health seems doomed. Diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, rare until the turn of the twentieth century, are now predicted to affect almost everyone in the developed world at some point in their lifetime. Health care costs are increasingly crippling our economy, and eight-year-old children are weighing in at 300 pounds. One in three U.S. children born in 2000 will become diabetic in their lifetimes; nearly half of minorities are predicted to develop the disease; and the next generation of children is the first in centuries expected to have shorter life-spans than their parents. This is staggering . . . and also completely preventable.
If you’re reading this, then conventional wisdom about nutrition and fitness has probably failed you. Confounded by special interests, misinformation from powerful industry lobbyists, and sleazy health and fitness gurus, the lion’s share of conventional wisdom about diet and health is wrong, and those who trumpet its claims are misinformed, misguided, or simply misleading you. The Wild Diet will teach you to liberate yourself from the gimmickry, half-baked dogma, and empty promises of the diet and fitness industry.
As host of Fat-Burning Man, Apple’s number-one-rated show, I’ve interviewed hundreds of the top experts across the world in weight loss, athletic training, physiology, brain science, and even indigenous tribespeople to figure out why America got fat. I quickly realized that losing fat and building muscle isn’t a mystery. I’ve whittled this approach to health down to a few simple, easy-to-follow principles . . . some of which will surely surprise you.
What many seek to accomplish with extreme fad diets and the stapling of stomachs, we will achieve by restoring your mental and physical balance. Instead of fighting against it, we will work with your body to improve your health. Despite what you hear from the screaming maws of overcaffeinated weight-loss trainers on reality shows, you’ll soon discover that taking pleasure in nourishing your body is essential to your success. You really can be happy and healthy at the same time.
THE SECRET TO FAT LOSS IN ONE SENTENCE
We don’t need more diets, more books, or more information. We need trusted, step-by-step strategies from people who know what they’re talking about. If you’re familiar with my work, you already know that I’ve never claimed to be an expert or a guru. I’m just a regular guy who has spent the last decade obsessing about nutrition and fitness so you don’t have to. And if you’re not in the mood to read another diet book front to back, I’ll give you the secret to fat loss in one sentence right now:
Stay away from sugar and processed grains, especially in the morning.
Disappointed? Let me give you some good news before you throw this book across the room.
If you’ve given up some of your favorite foods—like gooey cheese, chocolate, grilled steak, bacon, butter, full-fat cream, eggs, wine, cheesecake, ice cream, or anything else delicious—for the sake of “health,” you’re about to have a really good time eating this way. If you’ve exercised for hours a day, gritting your teeth and sweating pure misery, I’m going to teach you how to burn more fat with just minutes of exercise a week. Sound impossible? Take it from the Fat-Burning Man: Burning fat can be a lot of fun.
WHY DIET BOOKS DISAGREE WITH EACH OTHER
When I met with fancypants editors in Manhattan who were interested in publishing The Wild Diet, most said something like this: “So, Abel, your program makes a lot of sense. And your fans and followers clearly get great results. But what’s new about your diet?”
Take a second and type “diet” into Google. How many results did you get? I’m going to take a wild guess and say 14 bazillion.
Heard of the raw vegan diet? Dieters were arguing about it before we invented the automobile. How about low-carb? Check out “Banting,” which became a fat-loss craze in England during the late 1800s. Last year, one of my blog posts went viral after I announced that I’d received a cease-and-desist letter from a fellow Paleo author. He threatened to sue me unless I removed the words “Paleo Diet” from my work because he had trademarked the term to sell supplements. But even the caveman diet has been around since the 1970s—or for the entire duration of human existence, depending on how you look at it.
And if all the fad diets weren’t enough, most “scientific discoveries” touted by the media are ridiculous.
SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY: EGGS ARE GOOD FOR YOU AGAIN!
MAN LOSES 20 POUNDS BY CUTTING OUT HIS STOMACH!
BREAKING NEWS: MUFFIN TOPS ARE ACTUALLY MADE OF MUFFINS!
Here’s the truth—there is no such thing as a “new” diet. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something. The philosophy of the Wild Diet is to honor the natural rhythms of your body and get food as close to its source as possible. Know that this is an ancient way of eating, not a new one. This isn’t a diet book, but a book about how to reclaim your health by following the laws of nature (with a few delicious recipes to boot) for people who don’t like diet books.
Some of what you read in this book will seem like no-brainer common sense. Good. We don’t need more conflicting information and fads—it’s time to get back to fundamentals. Not too long ago, “dieting” and losing weight weren’t even considerations, since most people remained lean throughout their lifetimes. Our body isn’t an adversary that we must “diet” and “exercise” into submission, but a remarkable biological system that adapts to the way we eat, train, and live.
WHY PROCESSED FOOD IS A WASTE OF YOUR MONEY
Modern food manufacturers have overwhelmed grocery store shelves with foodstuff that is nutrient-poor, rotten, spoiled, dead, old, and tainted with antibiotics, synthetic hormones, and petroleum-based flavors. They saved a buck on cheap ingredients and didn’t tell us they ruined our food in the process. Instead of nourishing our bodies with the fresh bounty of small family farms and gardens, we have been conditioned to subsist on marked-up, overhyped industrial-strength Frankenfoods from Fortune 500 corporations.
Since the rise of convenience food following the Second World War, Big Food has cut corners, capitalized on cheap oil, and embraced backward government policy to doctor our food beyond belief. While we continued to eat foods that go by the same names as those made at home by our parents and grandparents, the ingredients quietly shifted: The honey and natural sugars in our sweets, sauces, and sodas became genetically engineered corn syrup; the hand-churned grass-fed butter on our kitchen table became corn oil; wheat was bred into a plant that would be utterly unrecognizable to our ancestors; and the spices that flavored our favorite dishes were pushed out by artificial chemicals from test tubes.
Assembly-line production may work well for the automotive industry, but its ruthless efficiency and profit-based bent don’t serve us well when our health is concerned. Factory food may be convenient and “cheap,” but it’s killing us.
For the titans of industry who run Big Food, the pursuit of short-term profits has trumped good judgment and clouded ethics. After years of tweaking from legions of white-coated technicians and geneticists, the fundamental nature of our food has changed. The land of milk and honey became the land of soy milk and agave nectar. Today, many of the foods we eat “in the pursuit of health” are intentionally designed to encourage overeating.
Have you ever tried a dinky “100-calorie pack” of crackers, cookies, or chips? When you get to the end of the bag (in, if you’re like me, about five seconds flat), you want another one, right? But how many times have you eaten a big, juicy apple (usually about 100 calories, by the way) and said to yourself, “Golly, I really want another apple right now”? Doesn’t happen. Your brain knows when you eat real food. Processed food makes you crave more, so you buy more. Real food fills you up.
But the whole point of eating is to get full, isn’t it? This is the first time in the history of man that we’re tricked into thinking that we want less food in our food. We are surrounded by food, but we’re nutritionally starving. Nutrient-poor processed foods distort your appetite and cause you to consume more calories than you need. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of stuffing your face but never feeling totally satisfied or nourished.
When you’re hungry, your body doesn’t necessarily want food; it craves nutrition. If you try to quell your hunger with empty calories or doctored food, your brain and body will never really feel totally satisfied. The key is to feed yourself nutrient-dense foods that satiate your hunger. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, today’s concrete jungle of freeze-dried franchises and chain supermarkets can make life a challenge for any aspiring health nut.
In America, our standards for food are shockingly low. This section of the book may surprise or disgust you, but bear with me—you’ll see that poor-quality food is easy to avoid once you know what to look for. But first, buckle up—it’s about to get bumpy. What I learned as a consultant inside the diet and health industry made my stomach turn.
The Worst Thing Since Sliced Bread
Something happened to our wheat. Although it claims the same name, the hybridized dwarf wheat we eat today does not resemble the whole grain our parents once ate. For thousands of years, we used hardy ancient varieties of wheat like emmer, einkorn, and khorosan to make bread, pasta, and baked foods. However, the mutant, genetically altered grain that makes up 99 percent of the wheat we eat today has been “dwarfed”—it stops growing at just one-third of the height of the massive amber waves of grain our ancestors sang about.
The blunted stems, high yield, and ease of transport of “dwarf” wheat makes it cheap to produce, but it’s also less nutritious and difficult to digest. Since agribusiness began genetically altering wheat in 1960, concentrations of zinc, copper, iron, and magnesium in the grain plummeted (19 to 28 percent lower in the years 1968 to 2005, compared to 1845 to 1967). Big Food has bred a wolf into a Chihuahua, but that’s just the beginning of the madness.
It’s a wonder to comprehend how expansive field grains are manipulated by man and machine into a 100% wheat bagel or hamburger bun. The truth isn’t pretty. Let’s travel with “dwarf” wheat on its journey from field to sack.
• After machines remove large contaminants like sticks and rocks, wheat endures high-temperature steam conditioning, which prevents the berries from naturally fermenting. Once the chaff is removed, the endosperm, the least nutritious and starchiest part of the wheat, is separated and ground into a fine powder.
• Chlorine, bromates, and azodicarbonamide are chemicals that are banned in Europe but are used widely in America to improve appearance, remove odors, and standardize texture. Bleaching and oxidizing agents (such as benzoyl peroxide, calcium peroxide, nitrogen dioxide, chlorine, or azodicarbonamide) are added to the flour made from the ground endosperm. Since the most nutritious part of the grain has already been removed during processing, the government mandates that food refiners must “enrich” their flour with synthetic vitamins, which can be difficult to absorb.
• The bleached wheat flour sits in containers for one to two months before being packed into sacks or large tanks to be shipped off to consumers or used to make processed food. Since the wheat hasn’t been fermented, soaked, or sprouted to remove toxic antinutrients, this flour contains substances that can damage the gut, causing weight gain, autoimmune disorders, and disease.
TINY LITTLE VEGETABLES
We didn’t always blast our modern wheat with heat and chemicals. Once upon a time, our grandparents knew well that grains needed to ferment, soak, and sprout before they were nutritious enough to eat.
Sprouting and fermenting grains essentially turns them into tiny, ready-to-eat vegetables that are more easily digested. Sprouting grains increases the amino acid lysine, reduces antinutrients like phytic acid and lectins, disables enzyme inhibitors, and releases enzymes to increase the absorbability of nutrients. Essentially, when you prepare grains (or any other food) the way that nature intended—through fermenting, soaking, sprouting, followed by low-and-slow cooking—you maximize the nutrient density of your food.
So what happens when we turn this modern flour into “heart-healthy, low-fat, whole-grain” bread? Here is a breakdown of store-bought bread with a label that screams in big, flashy typeface, “ALL NATURAL INGREDIENTS” and “NO ARTIFICIAL PRESERVATIVES ADDED”:
Enriched bleached wheat flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin), water, high-fructose corn syrup, yeast, wheat bran, vital wheat gluten, butter. Contains 2% or less of each of the following: rye meal, corn flour, molasses, rolled whole wheat, salt, dough conditioners (ammonium sulfate, sodium stearoyl lactylate), brown sugar, honey, vinegar, oatmeal, soy flour, mono- and diglycerides, partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
Here’s what you should know about these ingredients:
• Enriched bleached wheat flour is refined white flour. “Enriched” is a confusing term—it sounds healthy, but it’s not. The bran and the germ portion of the whole wheat have been refined out, leaving you with the least nutritious and most fattening portion of the wheat. To compensate for refining out approximately twenty nutrients, manufacturers add back four synthetic nutrients: niacin (vitamin B3), reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate (synthetic vitamin B1), and riboflavin (vitamin B2). These meager synthetic nutrient additives are not digested or absorbed by your body as readily as whole food sources. Oh, and did you notice they bleached it, too? Awesome, thanks.
• High-fructose corn syrup is one of the most perniciously fattening substances on the planet. This genetically modified, sickly sweet syrup is associated with skyrocketing blood sugar, obesity, type 2 diabetes, B-vitamin deficiency, hyperactivity, tooth decay, and indigestion, among many other maladies.
• Dough conditioners can cause mineral deficiencies, and many processed breads include the same chemical that gives yoga mats their texture. I lived in an apartment above a Subway in college, and after smelling the noxious fumes of whatever substance was baking downstairs every morning, I can tell you that it’s not bread. Subway was recently exposed by a blogger for using the same chemical used to form little bubbles in yoga mats to give their breads a similar bubbly texture. A report from my friends at the Environmental Working Group found that the compound, azodicarbonamide, is used in close to five hundred food products, from Pillsbury Dinner Rolls to Little Debbie products to Wonder Bread.
• Ammonium sulfate may cause mouth ulcers, nausea, and kidney and liver problems.
• Sodium stearoyl lactylate may be corn, milk, peanut, or soy based, and may cause high blood pressure, kidney disturbances, and water retention.
• Brown sugar is frequently refined white sugar with molasses or artificial chemicals for coloring added. Sugar is sugar—stay away.
• Mono- and diglycerides are known to cause allergic reactions.
• Partially hydrogenated soybean oil is associated with obesity, heart disease, breast and colon cancers, atherosclerosis, elevated cholesterol, and reduced sperm count.
To your body, many of these substances are novel and unrecognizable as food. Before you buy anything in a package, take a look at the ingredients on the back and make sure that it’s made with real food. Ask yourself: Where did these ingredients come from—a farm or a lab? As Joan Gussow quipped, “I trust cows more than chemists.”
Pesticides in Our Corn
Here’s a rhetorical question: Why is the same company that manufactured Agent Orange, a highly toxic herbicide responsible for poisoning millions since its use in the Vietnam War, making our corn?
Incredibly, scientists at this company, Monsanto, have discovered a way to genetically splice a toxic pesticide into the very DNA of corn itself. This genetically modified grain is known as “Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis] corn,” and it already accounts for 65 percent of all corn grown in the United States. That means that when you eat this corn, or any product that contains corn-derived ingredients (such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn oil, or maltodextrin), you’re swallowing a toxic pesticide.
Monsanto insists that Bt corn is perfectly safe for humans. Here’s why that bothers me: Our bodies are less a single “human” organism than a high-level ecosystem comprising many different cells, bacteria, and organelles. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that nearly nine out of ten of the cells in and on your body right now are not technically “human,” but belong to tiny bacteria that we’ve only just begun to study (you’ll learn more about them here).
Now, the toxic Bt pesticide that is engineered into the majority of corn grown in America is designed to rupture the stomach of any unfortunate bug that swallows it, causing death. We know that nine out of ten cells in our bodies are made of little bugs, necessary for our health. But wait a minute. . . . Isn’t the Bt toxin designed to kill little bugs by making their stomachs explode?
And mind you, none of this genetic modification is done for the sake of your health and well-being, but for the profits of the same company that invented Agent Orange. Monsanto isn’t exactly known for the safety of their products. How could we possibly trust them with our food?
In the United States, Big Food doesn’t even have to tell you which foods contain this genetically altered corn on the label or whether it was used to feed the animals you’re eating. No wonder Europe won’t import our food. Even China, the country known for feeding poultry feces to its farmed fish, banned our meat and much of our processed food. We can do better.
I don’t know about you, but I thought corn was perfectly fine before chemical companies started turning vegetables into toxic weapons. Growing up, my brothers and I would always fight over the first sign of sweet, crunchy sugar corn when harvest season came. You can’t buy that in a package.
I would never tell you to deprive yourself of real, fresh corn straight off the stalk—but I will recommend you go organic. Organic certification lets you know that your corn is free of intentional GMOs (and toxic weapons) and grown without petroleum-based chemical fertilizer.
HOW TO AVOID GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
The genetic engineering of foods is a contentious topic. Perhaps one day we’ll actually develop GMO foods that are beneficial for our health, but we’re not there yet. The truth is that foods today aren’t genetically modified for the sake of your health, but to cut costs and increase profits for Big Food. While GMOs are banned in many other countries due to concerns about their safety for human consumption, the United States doesn’t even require food manufacturers to disclose whether their products contain GMO ingredients. However, a growing number of consumer-conscious food manufacturers—usually organic—now display the “Non-GMO Verified” seal on their products. Avoid the products below and on the following page and seek organic and non-GMO verified options when you can.
Common Products That Contain GMOs
KELLOGG’S: Rice Krispies • Corn Flakes • Frosted Flakes • Special K • Apple Jacks • All-Bran • Corn Pops • Crispix • Froot Loops • Frosted Mini-Wheats • Raisin Bran • Pop-Tarts • Eggo Waffles • MorningStar Farms Vegan Veggie Burgers • MorningStar Farms Chik’n Nuggets • MorningStar Farms Veggie Sausage • Keebler Chips Deluxe • Famous Amos Cookies • Carr’s Table Water Crackers
KRAFT/NABISCO: Chips Ahoy! Cookies • Capri Sun • Boca Burgers • Cheez Whiz • Cool Whip • Corn Nuts • Crystal Light • Country Time • Honey Maid Graham Crackers • Jell-O • Kool-Aid • Kraft Singles • Lunchables • Maxwell House Coffee • Miracle Whip • Fig Newtons • Oreos • Oscar Mayer • Philadelphia Cream Cheese • Planters Nuts • Polly-O • Ritz Crackers • SnackWell’s • Teddy Grahams • Triscuits • Velveeta • Wheat Thins
FRITO-LAY: Lay’s Potato Chips • Doritos • Tostitos • Cheetos • Fritos • Sun Chips • Cracker Jack • Rold Gold Pretzels • Ruffles • Munchies • Stacy’s Pita Chips • Smartfood Popcorn
QUAKER OATS: Quaker Oats Oatmeal • Life Cereal • Oat Bran • Quick Oats • Instant Oatmeal • Natural Granola • Chewy Granola Bars • Rice Cakes • Grits • Wheat Germ
NESTLÉ: Nesquik • Butterfinger • Crunch Bars • Kit Kat • Nescafé • Buitoni • Lean Cuisine • Hot Pockets • Stouffer’s • Coffee-Mate • Carnation • Juicy Juice • Nestea • Dreyer’s • Häagen-Dazs • Nestlé Ice Cream
CAMPBELL’S SOUP: Condensed Soups • Chunky Soup • Select Harvest • Healthy Request • Pace • Pepperidge Farm • Prego • Swanson • V8
COMMON GMO INGREDIENTS
1. Soy: soy flour, lecithin, soy protein isolates and concentrates (protein shakes). May contain GMO soy derivatives: vitamin E supplements, tofu, cereals, veggie burgers, soy sausages, tamari, soy sauce, chips, ice cream, frozen yogurt, infant formula, sauces, protein powder, margarine, soy cheese, crackers, breads, cookies, chocolates, candy, fried foods, shampoo, bubble bath, cosmetics, enriched flours and pastas.
2. Corn: corn flour, cornstarch, corn oil, corn sweeteners, syrups. Products that may contain GMO corn derivatives: vitamin C supplements, corn chips, candy, ice cream, infant formula, salad dressings, tomato sauces, bread, cookies, cereals, baking powder, alcohol, vanilla, margarine, soy sauce, soda, fried foods, powdered sugar, enriched flours and pastas.
3. Cotton: oil, fabrics. Products that may contain GMO cotton derivatives: clothes, linens, chips, peanut butter, crackers, cookies.
4. Canola oil. Products that may contain GMO canola: processed foods, chips, crackers, cereal, snack bars, frozen foods, canned soups, candy, bread, hummus, oil blends.
5. Sugar beets: sugar. Products that may contain GMO sugar beets: any product that doesn’t specify “cane sugar” but just “sugar” on ingredients, cookies, cakes, ice cream, donuts, baking mixes, candy, juice, yogurt.
6. Alfalfa: used to fatten livestock. Products that may contain GMO alfalfa: all types of conventionally raised meat, pork, poultry, eggs, and dairy.
7. Aspartame: artificial sweetener. Products that may contain aspartame: diet soft drinks, diet foods, yogurt, gum.
8. Dairy: rBGH growth hormone. Products that may contain GMO rBGH: all conventionally raised dairy products: milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and whey.
According to the Non-GMO Project, the highest-risk genetically modified crops include:
Sugar beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
Zucchini and yellow summer squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approx. 988 acres)
Avoid Processed Grains
We’ve known that carbs make us fat for hundreds of years, but the fat-free craze drowned out our common sense. Any food that contains finely ground flour—whether from wheat, rice, or other grains—will stimulate an undesirable jump in blood sugar. The more finely ground the flour and glycemic the carb source, the more quickly your blood sugar will rise. We enjoy wild, black, brown, or red rice or sprouted ancient grains in the evening a few nights a week. But when fat loss is the goal, cutting back on grains is a time-tested trick to drop weight fast.
The proof is in the pudding. You can ask any rancher in Texas:
How do you fatten a cow?
Feed it grains.
How do you fatten a human?
Feed it grains.
Humor me for a moment. What is your favorite part of a hamburger? The meat, the bacon, the gooey cheese, grilled onion, tomato, and seasonings, right? And how about pizza? Most people don’t even eat the crust unless it’s stuffed with cheese. These days, bread, dough, and other starches are often little more than vehicles for their toppings. Flour isn’t delicious in and of itself. Flour relies on added flavor, usually in the form of salt, sugar, or fat, to make most products palatable. Have you ever swallowed a spoonful of white flour? Ick.
DID DON DRAPER INVENT BETTY CROCKER?
While researching the history of food processing for this book, I discovered that the affable “Betty Crocker” was never in fact a real person but a personality carefully engineered by a marketing team. In 1921, the new star of food marketing, Betty Crocker, was invented by the advertising department at Washburn Crosby (which later became General Mills) as part of a calculated campaign to drive American women to the company’s expanding catalogue of convenience foods. For nearly a century, on television, radio, and magazine advertisements, Betty has promoted processed grain-based products with catchy slogans like “grand time savers” to appeal to busy moms. Responsible for moving millions of products made from cheap, shelf-stable ingredients and sold for stiff markups, Betty Crocker is one of the most profitable commercial characters of the twentieth century.
Do you need to cut out bread, pasta, grains, and other starches forever? No way! I’d never deprive anyone of a few treats during holidays and special occasions. But that’s just it: They’re treats, not dietary staples. Indulgences, not health foods. If you do choose to eat grains, enjoy them in moderate quantities (ideally on exercise days) and go for whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, or quinoa to limit digestive stress from high-glycemic domesticated modern grains. Sandwiches and pasta dishes are often convenient but grain-heavy, so look at the recipe section for hearty fat-burning meals that will help you reach your goals.
With few exceptions, including an occasional bite or two of fresh-baked bread as a special treat, I prefer life without wheat, GMO corn, and other modern grains. Once you drop them, it’s like health starts to happen automatically.
The Sordid Story of Soy
For decades, we’ve endured marketing spin about how soy is a health food. But, like many other processed foods, soy isn’t ubiquitous because it’s healthy—it’s being pushed because it’s profitable. In reality, processed soy is no health food.
The soybean was an unpopular crop until food manufacturers intent on creating cheap vegetable oils successfully persuaded the government to subsidize it. After processing the soybean to oil, the manufacturers were left with an industrial waste product—isolated soy protein. In order to boost profits, food manufacturers took the waste soy protein isolate and effectively created a market for it.
Now a veritable cash cow, soy is present in roughly seven out of ten foods on grocery store shelves in the form of soy lecithin, soybean oil, vegetable oil, texturized vegetable protein, soy flour, soy protein isolate, and more. Since nearly all the soy produced in the United States and Canada is genetically modified and contaminated with pesticides, it’s best to avoid any food with soy products or by-products in the ingredients. Be careful—soy can be found in everything from protein shakes and bars to veggie burgers and imitation cheese. Go for real cheese instead. And if you don’t dodge soy for the sake of your health, do it for taste. Compare a soy burger with vegan cheese product to a grass-fed burger with a sharp aged cheddar, and you’ll see what I mean.
Processed soy acts as a goitrogen that disrupts your body’s absorption of iodine and reduces thyroid function. Your thyroid regulates your metabolism, so when it falters, you gain weight and encounter a slew of other negative effects. Soy is also packed with antinutrients including phytates, enzyme inhibitors that block mineral absorption in the digestive tract. Soy contains a variety of toxic chemicals that cannot be fully metabolized by the body unless it undergoes extensive fermentation, which doesn’t happen when soy shows up in processed food products. If you choose to eat soy, go organic and stick to its uses in traditional fermented foods such as miso, tempeh, or natural soy sauce (tamari).
The False Promise of Processed Oil
Packed with trans fats, pesticides, and chemical solvents, industrial seed and vegetable oils have been making us fat and diseased for decades. Deep down, we all know that real old-fashioned butter gives us something that fake butter just can’t—no matter how hard Big Food tries to convince us otherwise. (Yes, we can believe the off-white, tasteless, odorless whipped vegetable spread hocked by Fabio is not butter.) Because the natural fats we crave, like real butter from cows raised on pastures, aren’t just more delicious, they’re also much better for us than the fats we see on commercials.
While real butter is still made by simply churning milk, much like your grandmother may have, modern vegetable oil processing looks more like a meth lab than Grandma’s kitchen.
Genetically modified canola oil, for example, is obtained through a combination of high-temperature mechanical pressing and solvent extraction. Traces of the solvent (usually the petroleum-derived hexane) remain in the oil even after extensive processing. Canola oil is subjected to caustic refining, bleaching, and degumming—all of which involve high temperatures and/or chemicals of questionable safety. And since canola oil easily becomes rancid and foul-smelling when exposed to oxygen and high temperatures, it must be deodorized.